Personal Space Question...

Discussion in 'Parent Emeritus' started by HeadlightsMom, Oct 21, 2014.

  1. HeadlightsMom

    HeadlightsMom Well-Known Member

    Tonight I attended a work training on de-escalating students in crisis mode (MANDT Training). Much focus tonight was on boundaries (which, of course, reminded me of this forum). As is taught in many classes, "Personal Space" is generally agreed to be 3-4 ft apart (comfort zone between 2 people communicating). To get any closer than 3-4 ft apart is often considered an act of aggression unless it's an "intimate" relationship.

    Question --- How many of our difficult child's speak to us in closer proximity than 3-4 ft when they are aggressors? Do they get inches from your/our face or yell from a greater distance when they're angry?

    Curious.... Your experiences?
  2. SomewhereOutThere

    SomewhereOutThere Well-Known Member

    One way my son uses to intimidate is to get right in your face and look/sound threatening. Often he will ball his fists. He has slammed the wall by my head and verbally threatened me and has actually shoved his father hard. His father is a frail, sickly man.
  3. SuZir

    SuZir Well-Known Member

    Personal space is cultural phenomenon that at times gives me trouble. In USA that 3-4 feet is appropriate, in many cultures it is much less, in mine it is more. Always having trouble with it when living my own country. But of course when someone whose concept of appropriate personal space is different it is not about boundary violation but just different set of boundaries. I just had issues with that with a difficult child's friend, Californian guy who ended up living with us for couple of weeks last fall and after that visiting us at least once a week or more. Really nice young man, but darn did he come close and was loud. He had hard time adapting to more personal space needed in our culture compared to USA. Even after we explicitly explained it to him (when he didn't seem to take a hint that everyone was always taking a step back when he came to talk), he often forgot. He was not malicious in anyway so it was only slightly uncomfortable.

    But breaking that personal space boundary (even in very slight way) can be used to intimidate or to show dominance and that is something I have needed to fight against in my family. Not so much with difficult child, when he was young and could hit me in rage, he did that, but other than that already then but even more so later, he in fact takes more space when he is upset or angry. He fights with hurling insults or sneaky, passive aggressive ways and doesn't get to your face physically (I mean, he does go to other side of the room to hurl all the nasty things that come to his mind, if he can. And afterwards he may go and slice your car tyres (you don't believe how many sets of tyres I have needed to have repaired or bought new ones because of that habit of his), break or hide or steal something valuable of yours, go and spit to the jar of sour milk only you drink or something like that, but he is not into your face type of fighter. My husband, and in some degree my easy child, are.

    It took me years to teach my husband that I really didn't like or accept him trying to dominate me physically. He is a big guy and has always been. Oldest child in his family, tall to his age from the get go. He did learn to intimidate others with his size. While he isn't violent per se, he uses his size to give you a threat. He isn't into your face literally, it is much more subtle. Maybe just half a feet too close, leaning towards you, hands not in fists but very assertive body language, bit louder voice than necessary and so on. It is so subtle and most people have great difficulties defining it aggressive (which is why it works for him, open aggressiveness would be a big no no in his surroundings.) I had to tell him again and again, that he needs to take a step back, that I was not arguing with him, when he tried to intimidate me and if he wanted to talk with me, he needed to give me my space. He did finally learn, but unfortunately only with me. He still uses those same tactics for example with our sons. And difficult child can get really anxious because of that and is not able to keep his own and calmly tell him to take a step back. Till now difficult child has caved, but I have to say that there have been times, when I have been really afraid, that this would be the time that difficult child doesn't back away, but actually attacks back. It would be catastrophic. Not only mentally to both of them, but as I said, husband is a big and strong guy, difficult child is even bigger and pro athlete. It would be ugly.

    I have talked with husband about it. Pointed out that all the men in difficult child's life who can efficiently communicate to him even when he is upset use the opposite tactics. Back away, give difficult child some space, sit down, speak with lower voice instead of louder when difficult child is upset and so on. At times husband remembers, but when he is also upset, he tends to slide to these old habits.

    Unfortunately easy child has copied husband's behaviour in this. He doesn't do it to me, I squashed the first attempts when he was still young and that has stuck. But I see him doing it to his friends and also difficult child at times, when he thinks I'm not seeing it.

    Both husband and easy child are very socially aware and are so subtle with it, that they really get away with it most of the time. I find it very ugly habit, if you ask me, but then again, I'm like difficult child and need more personal space when upset, not less.
  4. CrazyinVA

    CrazyinVA Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Yes. Oldest in particular would get in my face, daring me to hit her while spewing obscenities/insults. It was awfully difficult not to respond physically to that :( More often, she'd threaten me by throwing things or threaten to break or hurt something I cared about .. including our dog. I remember one time she grabbed him by the collar and opened the front door, saying she'd let him run away if I didn't do what she wanted. Oh, and there wasn't a house or apartment we lived where her bedroom door wasn't broken (from her slamming it repeatedly) or a hole in the wall from punching or kicking. Ahhhh memories.... ;-)
  5. nlj

    nlj Well-Known Member

    I think that parent/child is an intimate relationship though, so I'm not sure what I think about this thread.

    I think it's body language that's important, not the distance away, especially if it's my child. I wouldn't expect my easy child children to stay 3/4 feet away from me. In fact I would probably be upset if they felt that this was appropriate.
  6. SuZir

    SuZir Well-Known Member

    For me this really depends about situation. When things are calm or friendly, I'm of course okay with people I have a close relationship (and that certainly includes my kids and husband, but also friends and extended family) coming closer than the personal space I like to keep with strangers. (Hey, I have proof I have let at least my husband closer than three feet away at least twice ;) Sorry, had to.)

    Also with strangers there are situations where being closer than few feets away is normal (for example in concert or sport stands or full bus or subway and so on.)

    But when there is an argument or tence situation, at least I need that space even with those, with whom I have close relationship with. I really hate it, if someone for example tries to touch me when we argue. Or in fact even when it is just me who is upset, if other one doesn't 'ask' (and 'asking' and me giving permission can be, and usually is, nonverbal) first, if touching is okay.
  7. HeadlightsMom

    HeadlightsMom Well-Known Member

    Great responses, everyone! I always learn new things in this forum!

    MWM --- Your experiences largely mirror ours (except my husband isn't frail - he's athletic). But our scenarios are very similar. Size, health, and noise level matter greatly in personal space.

    SuZir --- Fantastic that you highlight cultural differences. Thank you for that, I hadn't considered that (so easy to be ethnocentric). But I have misstepped, myself, in different cultural settings and not realized it until later. Such an important consideration. When in Rome....

    CrazyinVA --- Youch. Your dog story catches in my throat (MWM has a dog story which did same for me). Fortunately, our difficult child never did that to our dog. If he had, well.........I'm not sure I'd have let him stay. We once considered adopting another child (a 10-yo girl) through foster care, but came to learn she'd been raised in a family who practiced satanic animal sacrifices. I wish her well, but she did not come home with us. I was afraid for our dog. Oh, and you mention bedroom door kicked in -- same here. Our difficult child had a thing for threatening to break windows. Never broke them at our house, but did at school. Did/does your difficult child break windows?

    LucyJ --- Good points you bring up. Perhaps I should clarify.... I'm specifically thinking of personal space boundaries during times of anger. You're right, our kids are "intimate" loved ones. But there is a difference between having a loving close-up experience and having an angry close-up experience. And you make a GREAT point about body language. Thanks for bringing that up. Body language tells so much.......whatever the distance.

    ** We often think/speak of boundaries as centering around actions we will or won't let difficult child's cross. But this idea of personal space is a good one to explore. I have numerous memories of our difficult child getting in my space -- very aggressively, very publicly (San Jose, CA Airport -- had to barricade myself in bathroom and contact airport security....also Busch Gardens, FL --- strange story of aggression from difficult child while we were waiting in Rhino Rally ride line in jam-packed crowd). Both times, difficult child was chest-bumping me (he was 12 or 13, very much in my face and trying to start a fist fight with me --- I did not engage and got security). Our difficult child loved to chest-bump people. Very aggressive and very much face-to-face.

    This Personal Space is meant just to be about personal space during conversation. Like, consider how far apart a duo or a group standing together in a circle might stand if they were engaged in conversation. And, remember, I work in the public school system, so this was, in particular, about students and teachers engaged in conversation (lawsuits revolve around this topic, so it is explored in depth).

    Thanks, again, for all the great insights, everyone! As I said, I learn so much in this forum! Appreciate it! :)
  8. CrazyinVA

    CrazyinVA Well-Known Member Staff Member

    The dog story was towards the end of her living with me - things were really at their worst then. My "kicking her out" (i.e., her throwing one last piece of furniture across the room, followed by a 911 call by me and her being escorted out by the police) probably happened within a few months, if not weeks, of that incident. It was 11 years ago, so the timing is mixed up in my head. She's much calmer now - as far as I can see, anyway. No, she never broke windows. I suppose I should be grateful for that!
  9. HeadlightsMom

    HeadlightsMom Well-Known Member

    CrazyinVA -- Whew! So glad to hear things are calmer with her now. Same with our difficult child (I think....knock wood!). I hear ya on mixing up memories and timeframes. Hey, when we have a heaping pile of incidents over years, they all blur together after a while. :)
  10. SomewhereOutThere

    SomewhereOutThere Well-Known Member

    Re personal space: I think it's a personal thing. I don't like anyone standing too close to me in conversation. That includes my adult children. They don't seem to like it either. 36 never stands too close when talking. He deliberately does it to crowd and intimidate only. Other than that, although we are a hugging family, when we speak, everyone stands far apart, maybe six feet away.
  11. Lil

    Lil Well-Known Member

    My son certainly does the body language; fists clenched, jaw clenched, stiff as a board and literally shaking with anger and he's slammed his door and put his fist through it many has to be replaced and he has scars all over his knuckles. But he's never been violent toward us. One time I smacked him on the back of his head - just like you'd do someone who's done something stupid - and he whirled on me fist half raised. I'm a big woman, so we are nose to nose and I just stood my ground and said, "Don't. You. Dare!" He didn't. I think, however, he knows that I'd kick his butt out and his dad, who is a former Marine and prison guard and outweighs him by more than 100 lbs, would clean his clock!

    Why anyone thinks that kind of behavior is okay is beyond me!