The concept of personal space is an interesting one. We’re social beings by nature. We have an innate need to be appreciated and acknowledged for our personal contribution or expression in everything. We insist on withdrawing into a personal space when we are convinced that such appreciation or acknowledgement will be replaced by ridicule or rejection. I can’t imagine why anyone would prefer to recede if they have the opportunity to bask in the affection and attention of those that appreciate them endearingly. So it stands to reason that such withdrawal must be motivated by the absence of such an embrace.
It’s a distraction, like so many others that we’re surrounded with. The fear of rejection is established so early in life that we respond from a position of habit without realising that it goes against our innate nature. Our ability to be absorbed or immersed into the being of another underlies our sense of belonging. The less we feel like we belong, the more likely we will be to prefer our own company to the company of others. For this same reason we insist on establishing a personal space that excludes all others, because it also protects us from criticism or rejection about those things that we feel most passionately vulnerable about. Chances are, we include total strangers in those spaces through acquiring what we want, or indulging what we need provided they have no social or emotional attachment to us.
No wonder then that we are more inclined to social networking than social interaction. Face-to-face interactions are fast giving way to impersonal ones. It’s not because of convenience or constraints, but because it’s safer than being there in person. It’s easier to hide our vulnerabilities through a few choice words as a response, than it is to retract an involuntary facial expression. So it makes sense that we are more likely to express ourselves more willingly online with limited traceability to who we are, because to withdraw without repercussions or accountability is so much easier.
Personal space therefore appears to be a contradiction in terms because the need for it signifies an imbalance that makes it a necessity. When faced with overwhelming odds in one area of our lives, we seek balance in another. Most often, that space we can pursue such balance is in the absence of others, since it is the very presence of others that gave rise to the imbalance to begin with. The easy answer is to choose more carefully who you surround yourself with. The reality though is that there are repercussions of excluding the detrimental elements that may outweigh the benefits of righting that balance. Establishing your personal space to recover from that imbalance, even if just for a moment, therefore appears to be a necessary compromise that most are willing to make.