Updated date:

Rights and Responsibilities in Our Personal Space

MsDora, a certified Christian counselor, explores facts, attitudes and habits that can help us maintain our physical and mental wellbeing.

Personal space provides more than comfort and privacy; it also provides a silent stage on which to display the essence of who we are.

Think of it as the bedroom which everyone in the house recognizes as ours. It is our right to keep our door locked or unlocked, according to our need for privacy. It is also our responsibility to create in that space our best display of what we consider a wholesome environment, whether the doors are closed or open.

In 1966, anthropologist Edward T. Hall introduced the concept that similar to the way animals mark their territory using urine and physical posturing, humans use personal space and concrete objects. The theory is known as proxemics1, a form of non-verbal communication through our perception and use of space. It concludes that in our space, we keep four types of distances (intimate, personal, social and public) according to the type of relationship.

Personal Space Expectations Diagram

Natbrock Alicia Tom, photo author, illustrates Hall's theory that physical distance indicates four types of relationship (intimate, personal, social, public) between communicators.

Natbrock Alicia Tom, photo author, illustrates Hall's theory that physical distance indicates four types of relationship (intimate, personal, social, public) between communicators.

So how do we establish sanctions in our space? How do we use distance to make our relationships safe and comfortable? What are our responsibilities toward the individuals we allow in? Here are 5 essential characteristics which hold the answers to such questions and produce positive outcomes in our interaction with individuals from all four distances.

(1) Creativity

We have the right to create boundaries for the protection of our personal territory. Boundaries also “protect our sense of personal identity and help guard against being overwhelmed by the demands of others."2

We can implement our own ideas, or we can learn from others. For example, when we need physical space for a time out, we create a “Do Not Disturb” plaque. We create secret compartments in our houses for special items we do not want family and friends to touch. At our office cubicle we create rules defining what is and is not acceptable. In public places we create diversion from the smiling bystander by directing our gaze toward the billboard.

It is our responsibility to create our blueprint for interaction with others. It helps us decide who fits where inside our space.

Types of Territory in Proxemics*

Body TerritoryPrimary TerritorySecondary TerritoryPublic Territory

Invisible bubble we maintain around us

Living space: example, home or car

Structure with reserved entry like school or workplace

Open space like park or shopping mall

(2) Control

Bear in mind that we control the space; we do not control the people within the space. It is not our responsibility to force adults to change inappropriate behavior; it is our right to enforce physical or emotional distance, if we choose. We do not demand that people enter our space at specific distances against their will; control undermines trust.

We control our space not by manipulating people, but by maintaining the principles which we choose to govern our space.

(3) Civility

The Personal Space Expectations Diagram above establishes that the physical space between us and our core family is less than with other individuals. It increases as we move away from intimacy and is greatest with strangers. There are additional common sense rules3 like the following which boost both civility and comfort in our everyday interactions.

  • Knock before entering a room or office.
  • Avoid touching people we don’t know.
  • Refuse to search through the personal belongings of other individuals.
  • Observe other people’s body language (example, leaning away from us) which may suggest that we are too close and making them uncomfortable.
  • Unless the meeting place is crowded, leave a seating space beside the next person.
  • Acknowledge personal space on the road; avoid tailgating.

(4) Cooperation

Although we cannot compel the people in our space to cooperate, we can encourage them by using the following methods, among others:

  • Communication will help us understand what causes them to perform contrary to our expectations. We might discover cultural differences as mentioned in the table below.
  • Concern for the well-being of individuals who do not cooperate will reinforce their sense of worth and may awaken their sense of responsibility. They may interpret concern as support and be motivated to offer their support in turn.
  • Incentives in tangible forms are most appropriate for those at social and public distances like coworkers or community teams, and we can find family-friendly ways to reward those closer to us (for example, hugs and assurances).

It is our responsibility to help bring out the best in others. We can cooperate with those who do not shine in our space by allowing them to find the appropriate distance at which they will.

Culture in Proxemics*

People from the contact culture stand closer together and talk more softly. Those from the non-contact culture utilize more distance, talk more loudly and with wilder gestures.

Types of CultureRule on TouchSample Territories

Contact Culture

Physical touching permitted and even considered necessary

Latin American, Arab, Italian, French, Turkish

Non-contact Culture

Touching reserved for intimate acquaintances

North American, Norwegian, Japanese, most Southeast Asian

(5) Cleanliness

In a physical space, it is our responsibility to keep out dirt, debris and other environmental hazards.

In a space without walls, it is our responsibility to disconnect from unscrupulous behavior including but not limited to: lying tongues, filthy language, illicit sex, drug abuse, domestic abuse, fraud and the like.

We have the right to set the standards of cleanliness in our space and to practice zero tolerance toward offenders. We also have the right and responsibility to model the cleanliness we want in our space.


In our space, we practice our rights and responsibilities primarily for our comfort and safety. Other individuals want the same things we want. They deserve the kind of respect we expect from them.


1Communication Studies, Proxemics, Copyright 2015 by Communication Studies

2Kolb, Karen: Basic Life Skills Made Easy, Personal Boundaries, Copyright 2008-2015

3Mayne, Debbie: About, Etiquette Rules of Defining Personal Space, Copyright 2015 by About

*The source for Proxemics Territory and Culture is Proxemics already referenced above.

© 2015 Dora Weithers


Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on May 17, 2015:

Akriti, thanks for reading my posts. This is special to me too.

Akriti Mattu from Shimla, India on May 17, 2015:

Read a few of your posts. Loved them. This one is my favourite. Voted up :)

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on May 13, 2015:

Janelle, I appreciate your kind comment. Happy to share!

Janellegems on May 13, 2015:

Excellent Hub and one that is really vital in our lives. You brought out some good points to ponder on regarding personal space in different areas. Thanks for sharing this great information.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on April 23, 2015:

Alicia, I appreciate your comment. Life offers so much for us to think about, some things will get neglected; so glad when our writing helps. Thanks!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 23, 2015:

This is a very interesting and thought provoking article. Although I'm aware of people's need for personal space and respect their wishes and requirements, I haven't thought much about the topic before. Thanks for sharing the information.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on April 23, 2015:

Faith, thanks for your comment. It reminds of the story of an old woman who hugged everyone. Like you, she could tell when her hug was not appreciated, and she would say to the person who hugged reluctantly, "That's okay, honey; that was really for me." And she kept on hugging.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on April 23, 2015:

Shanmarie, I appreciate your visit and your feedback. Thanks!

Faith Reaper from southern USA on April 22, 2015:

Important hub, MsDora. You have done a lot of research here in examining the varying stages of personal space. I know I need my personal space, but I am a hugger and do tend to pat people on the back, without realizing maybe I may be invading their personal space. I tend to be a friendly person but I am pretty good at reading people who are standoffish and so I do ... : )

We should respect everyone's personal space and I like your chart there too.

Up ++++ tweeting and pinning

God bless

Shannon Henry from Texas on April 22, 2015:

Interesting and insightful. Much food for thought. Thanks.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on April 22, 2015:

James, thanks for sharing this observation along with your appreciation for dogs. You're encouraging -- and funny!

James C Moore from Joliet, IL on April 21, 2015:

Ms Dora, You have provided good info on an under appreciated aspect of pyschology. Also, this hub kind of explains why I like dogs so much. Its the space issue. We're both territorial. We like our space. I notice a dog will bark at you when you're three houses away from his/her house. Also, I don't mind if a dog's barking wakes me up. I'm glad they're on their job.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on April 21, 2015:

Denise, your comment is an important contribution to the topic. I know that you speak from experience about those having disabilities. Thanks for your input.

Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on April 21, 2015:

This is definitely an important principle to remember. As parents, we would do well to teach our children about personal space, how to respect it of others and take care of our own. With those having disabilities, explicit instruction is necessary, as they do not readily understand the principle, and tend to frequently violate the personal space of others.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on April 21, 2015:

Suzette, thanks for sharing that example. Some of these people are not even aware of their offenses unless we tell them.

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on April 21, 2015:

Interesting article and I enjoyed reading this. I hate it when I'm in the checkout line at the grocery store and some person is standing over me, in my personal space, because he/she can't wait a moment until I'm through the line. This certainly is a relevant article.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on April 21, 2015:

Thanks Venkatachari. You are so kind. Thanks for your very positive feedback.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on April 21, 2015:

Chitrangada, I can see that healthy relationships are important to you. Thanks for your kind comment and your support.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on April 21, 2015:

Mona, I think that these principles can help us manage both physical and psychological space. Thanks for your kind feedback.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on April 21, 2015:

Audrey, yes, it is easy to forget. Thanks for affirming our need to be reminded.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on April 21, 2015:

Thanks, Romeos. I appreciate your encouraging comment and your support.

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on April 21, 2015:

Very useful and important topic discussed by you. You have done it so well with clear perception. It is very important for anybody to keep these personal and public spaces in a very comfortable way without annoying others.

Voted up, useful and awesome.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on April 21, 2015:

Excellent article and very important one too!

How do we use distance to make our relationships safe and comfortable---This is so important. Giving others space, at the same time enjoying our own space can lead to a very healthy and lasting relationship, I believe.

No one likes encroachments and we should try to maintain balance.

You made some very important and necessary points in this hub.

Thanks and voted up!

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on April 20, 2015:

I've always thought of space in a subconscious sense, but this spells out everything we think and feel about space and more. Wonderful article, Ms. Dora.

Audrey Howitt from California on April 20, 2015:

I found this to be a very interesting hub--I think we forget how important personal space really is and people seem to need varying amounts of it depending on the circumstances i think

Romeos Quill from Lincolnshire, England on April 20, 2015:

A thought-inducing theory of Hall's ' Proxemics ' you've diligently researched MsDora and your five ' C's ' and their enclosed bullet points were very informative.

I suppose that just as we leave various sized gaps between letters, words and paragraphs to communicate and relay our messages from one to another in order to come across as intelligible as possible with minimum or zero misunderstanding, why not indeed in the same way as your ' Personal Space Expectations Diagram ' illustrates, with its clarity of simplicity in parallel to the example?

You are so good at researching social sciences and look forward to reading more of your articles today.

Thumbs up, happy to pin you and share your erudite work with friends.

Thank you and wishing you and your family a relaxing evening too.


Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on April 20, 2015:

Manatita, I appreciate your keen insight on this topic. Of course, the soul as well as the body needs it space. Thanks for underscoring that.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on April 20, 2015:

Homeplace Bill, happy that I wrote on something important to you. Thanks for your kind feedback.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on April 20, 2015:

Bill, it is a pleasure to read your kind comment. Thank you.

manatita44 from london on April 20, 2015:

Excellent and important article on the importance of boundaries. Explained very well. There is yet another area which goes beyond the personal. Perhaps your purple man should cover this.

People can be alone even among intimate relations. The fear and insecurity of the Soul is not always related to others, and we sometimes need our psychic space. I believe you know this. Much Love.

William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on April 20, 2015:

I am a believer in proxemics... my personal space is very important to me. Thanks for a great article on it, MsDora!! ;-)

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 20, 2015:

I love behavioral articles like this one. Fascinates me...human are so interesting. Thanks for a wonderful article, Dora!

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on April 20, 2015:

Frank, thanks for your observation and kind comment. You're encouraging as usual.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on April 20, 2015:

Word, so glad it made sense. Thanks for your kind comment.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on April 20, 2015:

Flourish, thanks for helping to explain the importance of personal space. You saw it firsthand.

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on April 19, 2015:

I like the approach you took here Msdora.. instead of considering Entering somebody's personal space as a normal indication of familiarity and sometimes intimacy, you give us the balance side or view.. useful hub as usual my friend :)

Al Wordlaw from Chicago on April 19, 2015:

Hi MsDora, this was superb. I enjoyed the reading very much. It all made sense about the rights and responsibilities. Thank you for sharing!

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 19, 2015:

When I was doing HR investigations this so often came into play. Some people who were "close talkers" or from different cultures often were misunderstood as harassers while others used space as a bullying and harassment technique.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on April 19, 2015:

Jan, thanks for your kind comment. I liked learning these details myself. I guess sometimes we just feel uncomfortable without realizing why. Understanding proxemics may help us understand the discomfort, and better yet, help us prevent it.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on April 19, 2015:

Eric, I am in agreement with views you express. Thanks for sharing them in your feedback.

Janis Leslie Evans from Washington, DC on April 19, 2015:

This is so very interesting, MsDora. I've never heard of the law or theory of proxemics, at least not in this detail. This is fascinating information. It seems that although we must engage in these behaviors everyday, it probably goes unspoken. Until, of course, one's space is invaded. Then it's on, right? LOL! Thanks for educating us, voted up and interesting.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on April 19, 2015:

This was just marvelous. It is such a delicate balance. I think that being aware of ours and our neighbors space is critical to happy coexistence. Hugs are important but it is just as important to know when not to. For me that mental space is the one that deserves the most respect.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on April 19, 2015:

Thanks for your feedback, Jackie. Have a great new week!

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on April 19, 2015:

Great points and like we may have our rights but there are responsibilities to go with those rights. We can't be stepping on other's toes while we have our rights. It even reminds me of the scriptures that tell us to respect the beliefs of others to not offend them.

Great food for thought as always, Dora!

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on April 19, 2015:

Thanks, Pamela. I learned so much while researching it, and will be more aware now especially of respecting other people's space.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 19, 2015:

This is a very interesting hub. I have never give a great deal of thought to my personal space, yet I have heard that Americans like more personal space than people from some other nations. You brought up a lot of good points in this article.

Related Articles