At a recent dinner party, the woman sitting next to me flung her arms around as she spoke. Her gestures were random movements with no rhyme or reason. Most alarming was the disregard for my space; she regularly threw her hands very close to my face.
The Problem With Her Gestures
Everyone needs open space around him or her. This space gives the person room to relax and breathe. Some people are comfortable with a small space, while others need more. Some are sensitive to other’s energy and need more space to protect their own energy. Still others may have been traumatized in the past and require more space. Different cultures have different expectations of personal space. In the United States, people typically need about three feet. This means if you are closer than three feet from someone, you are in their space and may make them very uncomfortable.
Gestures that invade someone’s space can put a person on edge. This is especially true if the gesture is unexpected. At the party, I quickly began to feel like the target of an endless assault. Soon I was very uncomfortable.
Assess The Effect You Have On Others
Your words and gestures affect others. It is your responsibility to make sure that effect is positive. You do this by making sure you don’t invade someone’s space without his or her permission.
Of course it helps if people speak up when they are uncomfortable. It is easy to politely ask someone to stop a behavior that you find problematic.
In this instance, I was unfortunately unable to ask her to stop. When threatened, the brain goes into fight/flight/freeze mode and takes control. My normal response, learned over many years, is to freeze. As a result, while I could hear the word “STOP” screaming in my head, my brain would not let me speak or move. It took some time and effort to break free of the freeze and leave the area. I regret this. It caused me a lot of stress.
It also means the woman never recognized the traumatic effect of her behavior. Therefore, she didn’t learn how to moderate her behavior.
Respect the People Around You
Instead of sitting back and expecting others to speak up, pay attention to the people around you. They have varied backgrounds and experiences through which they filter everything you do and say. (You do it too.) Pay attention to verbal and nonverbal cues that there may be a problem. If you see something, check it out. It will make the experience better for all of you.
There will not be a post in two weeks due to the holidays. I’ll be back January 10th. I wish you all very merry holidays and a wonderful 2017.