“Excuse me, you are in my personal space.” A statement that someone may make as a punchline for a joke, or otherwise, it is a barrier that is not taken too seriously. Sure, we all have an understanding of what personal space is—it’s self-explanatory. But why does it actually matter?

Understanding what makes personal space so important in our culture and society is the first step to take in respecting other people’s personal space. Allowing other people their own personal space is a baseline for respect, and it can also represent much of our internal lives. Keep reading to find out what makes it so important and what your personal space boundaries say about you.

It works as nonverbal communication

Distance speaks great volumes, even if your words do not. Imagine when you have been angry or irritated with someone in your life. Did you stick around to allow them to further agitate you? I bet you went into another area to stay away from them. This was you exercising a form of nonverbal communication.

As humans, we use distance to speak. Perhaps if you have gotten into an argument you are either incredibly close to the person you are speaking with or you stay far, far away. Both of these uses of personal space show how you are using distance as a tool to either isolate yourself or intimidate the other person.

It shows degrees of closeness in relationships

I would wager that you let your best friend stand a lot closer to you than a work colleague. Sharing personal space is an intimate practice. Allowing someone into your space indicates a stronger level of familiarity.

Keeping someone at arms distance—or even further—shows that there is also a lack of emotional distance between you two. The closer you allow yourself to be to one another emotionally is likely reflected physically as well.

It offers feelings of protection

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our personal space was incredibly important. It acted as an invisible barrier around all of us when in public spaces. Keeping socially distant, six feet away from one another in public—this is a clear representation of how personal space acts as a protective barrier.

On top of keeping us safe from illnesses, maintaining physical distance between other individuals can keep you physically safe. When you are maintaining your personal space between other people (especially strangers), you can safely observe their behavior. This can prevent you from falling victim to an act of violence or other forms of assault.

It allows for greater focus

Think about a time when you have been trying to get some work done in a public space, like a library or coffee shop. Now imagine when someone sits too close to you that is making too much noise. (It has happened to all of us at one point or another!) What do you do in these situations? You move!

Believe it or not, this is you maintaining your personal space boundary. Having other people within our personal space is incredibly distracting. If you have difficulty focusing at work, while doing homework, or when tackling any other task, you may just have too many people in your personal area. Try reorganizing your space to create more of a private working area for greater focus.

Keeping a firm boundary for personal space is not an easy thing to do. If you find that you have a hard time asking people in your life to respect your personal space, I encourage you to seek professional counseling. We all deserve to have our personal space respected. Together, you and I can work to ensure your boundaries are respected. Reach out to get started today!