Personal space is defined as the physical distance maintained by two people in interpersonal interactions. It has been compared to an abstract area that surrounds an individual – like a shell, a soap bubble or even a force field. In research-speak, words like spatial distance and proxemics get thrown around, but we all know it better as “breathing space”.
Personal space represents the rights to be free from intrusion by others, whether physically or mentally; but within the confines of a family home environment, that very concept of privacy isn’t so easily established. The boundaries of personal space become fuzzy when various family members live in close proximity of each other, and where the very notion of space itself is limited.
Siblings sharing a bedroom with each other, married couples living with their in-laws, parents with grown-up kids staying with them, grandparents and grandchildren under the same roof – needless to say, these various household dynamics can be suffocating. Family members are entitled to their “me” time when they want it.
Your own space
Yes, family members love each other but that doesn’t mean they have to spend every moment together. Nothing stirs resentment more than the idea that you have lost your rights to privacy, and tension will run high when someone is in your face all the time. Especially at home, your veritable comfort zone.
Personal boundaries are to be set and protected because they are sacred, and personal space should be private and unique to each member of the family. According to Psychology Today, when you don’t protect your personal space, you are more likely to feel hurt and angry for what seems like minor transgressions from others, and this will cause your self-esteem to suffer.
What is said in jest or perceived as kind advice by an older family member, might be misconstrued as overstepping into your personal space; or teenage children blasting out music from their speakers might get on your nerves after a long day at work. Keeping your personal space personal is important in safeguarding your sanity and sense of self.
Get some distance
Maintaining healthy physical and emotional limits means laying down certain ground rules. Family members must learn how and where to draw the line on personal boundaries. It is important as a sign of respect to observe each other’s “me” time.
Physical space can be demarcated in a household for when someone needs to retreat into some peace and quiet or to get in their own zone to practise the guitar. From designating bedrooms as exclusive nooks to its occupants only and off limits to prying parents or active young kids, to creating special areas for individual recreational pursuits like the man cave, rec room, playroom and study – these are practical solutions in allocating personal space in a family home.
To ensure that no one’s personal boundaries are trampled upon, simple house rules can be put in place, such as knocking before entering when the doors are closed and encouraging the use of headphones when listening to music and watching shows on the iPad. Each family member should be able to assert a fixed time in a day when they should not be disturbed and other occupants of the house should respect that.
Protecting personal space means negotiating what you want others to value as your personal boundaries – what you will tolerate and what you won’t. Learning to live together means to have the occasional time apart in order to foster better relationships. As the infamous chocolate ad goes: Give yourself a break.