Personal Space and Human Territory in Self Defence.
“Speak softly and carry a big stick” – Theodore Roosevelt
Understanding personal space and territory can be vital in avoiding conflict.
Proxemics is the study of how humans use space, time and distance as a kind of non-verbal communication. Social intersections and behaviour can all be dramatically altered if everybody sticks to the agreed social boundaries which are in place.
Not obeying these boundaries is a sure fire method of ensuring some form of confrontation ensues. Not only that you won't know when somebody invades your personal space, you won't know that you're invading somebody else's! When you can understand proxemics and boundaries it becomes much easier to avoid conflict and to notice when it is likely to occur.
Edward Hall defined the boundaries and distances which the majority of us will abide by. He described 4 zones starting at almost touching. It is vital that you know your boundaries and can identify when somebody comes too close.
This is the space reserved for partners, children and close family members. You can whisper or embrace in this zone. Nobody should be in this space without both parties agreeing.
This zone covered the imaginary bubble around 30-45cm from you.
This is the space for good friends and family, normal interactions take place here and you can talk freely. This is space you consider yours and again, depending on the situation, it is usually unacceptable to be in somebody's personal space. If anyone else enters this area without a mutually accepted reason you should consider their motives!
This zone is between the intimate zone and up to around 4 feet away.
This is the space for interactions with people you don't really know. They may be completely genuine and come into your social space so they can ask for directions for example. But still people in your social space should be treated with suspicion if you don't want them to be there!
Social zone covers between 4 and 12 feet away.
Public space is rarely used for interactions aside from public speaking and announcements. This zone is not usually an infringement on your space but it always depends on the situation. If you was to be in a car park with only your car anywhere near. There is no reason for somebody else to be even this close to you.
The public zone covers 12-25 feet and beyond.
It is important to consider that people regard their personal space as if it was their own property and react as so if it is violated. Most people can remember a time a stranger chose to sit next to them on a bus when there were many other empty seats. Often people feel anxiety or anger if somebody gets too close, much the same if a stranger was to take a stroll in your garden.
If you was to allow that person into your garden for a walk about that says a lot about your relationship with the person and the same thing applies for personal space. However, unfortunate as it is, in modern society we have no choice but to encroach on others space sometimes.
Maintaining personal space becomes increasingly difficult in line with the amount of people per unit of space. So 5 people on a train carriage wouldn't be too difficult for everyone to stay in the social or public zones, however, 50 people in the same train carriage and it comes much more difficult. London Underground trains have a capacity of around 200 per carriage resulting in people being on each other’s intimate zones during rush hour.
Another example could be in a lift or queue or crowd. Because of the psychological stress these situations put on people we have developed norms which most people abide by to make their commutes as stress free as possible.
Ever made accidental eye contact with somebody on the train? Avoiding eye contact is one of the methods we use to deal with being in each other’s personal space in a civilised environment.
The zones are a rough guideline and aren’t universal, often an issue which leads to conflict. Factors affecting personal space include age, culture, location and emotional state.
As we get older we tend to require more personal space. In England we customarily greet each other with a curt nod or a handshake. In other countries, particularly Asian countries their standards for personal space is much lower. Evan as close as France, faire la bise (a greeting involving a kiss) would likely be considered an invasion on personal space in England.
Road rage could be explained using this model too! A car is our property and our personal space is magnified when we drive to encompass the whole vehicle. When an inconsiderate driver cuts in, not only does it make us have to wait longer but they invaded our personal space to boot.
Just like pack animals humans like to have their own territory, this is called home territory; there is also public territory which anyone can freely enter. In some cases public territory can be temporarily “owned” by another. It is usually in this area that conflict arises.
Home territories are only beneficial to who owns it while public territory is mutually beneficial to everyone. Your room or house only really benefits you while we all need to work, go to the shops or attend school and doing so will benefit people as a whole. Because of this mutual need, humans develop social standings in order to avoid conflict; usually these norms aim to preserve personal space. Unfortunately it is a necessary evil of modern urban life to be close to other humans!
What all this has to do with self defence
Not being aware or intentionally not complying with personal space and public territory norms are the foundation of much upset. Treating public territory as if it was your own space is a sure way to cause some sour feelings. Playing loud music on public transport would be a good example of this!
The real problem occurs when somebody intentionally or not, extends their own personal space into another’s and behaves as if they owned the territory. This is no longer breaking social expectations but borders on criminal intent.
Your space is yours alone, you may compromise to get what you want, such as to get to work during rush hour but, just like your actual land, if somebody is on it without permission you have the right to ask them to leave. The more they resist the more you can push back.
Any attempt to intrude upon your space, without obvious reason, should be seen as a possible threat. For most crimes, especially the ones where self-defence may be useful, a criminal would have to get close to the victim. If this can’t be achieved, the crime won’t be successful. If you keep somebody in the public zone, 25 feet away, his chance to cause you harm is severely limited unless they have a ranged weapon.
Another big problem is actually the victim infringing the aggressor’s space, which I will cover another time. But this can also be avoided if the proxemics zones and territories are respected.
Remember, keeping somebody at a distance reduces their options while giving you time and the space to keep moving.
“The exercise of intelligent forethought and of decisive action sufficiently far in advance of any likely crisis” – Theodore Roosevelt