Let’s Talk About Personal Space
I don’t know about you, but I’m a big personal space person. When I’m with someone socially, I like to maintain a safe distance between myself and them (crowded clubs aren’t my most favorite places), but I also need space in any place that I’m living in that’s just for me, that’s my domain, where I can go and be alone and recharge without any one intervening. (Introverts, unite!) It doesn’t have to be a room with a door, but it needs to be an area that I feel everyone knows is “mine.” For me, that space allows me to distance myself from others and take a break from being confronted or entangled with someone else’s energy. But, I'm also someone who likes to feel connected to those around me. So how do I honor my need for personal space while maintaining intimate relationships with the people in my life? Luckily, feng shui can help me navigate this.
Distance is Crucial in Feng Shui
In feng shui, we consider distance to be a major element of any space. Specifically, we look at how far apart people are from other people, how far apart people are from objects, and how far apart objects are from other objects. Distances are such an important part of feng shui because people are always moving around in their spaces, and we consider the act of putting people in different places to be a critical feng shui tool. We also believe that the space between objects is just as important as the objects themselves as they provide us with choices and alternatives.
How Distance and Connectedness Interplay
The distance between people, places, and objects conveys social cues, a sense of intimacy, and levels of connectedness. For instance, a diameter of approximately 1,500 feet is the distance a typical person in our culture will walk to a park, a bus stop, or a store. This circle becomes the person’s “home territory.” If something is outside of this “home territory,” people will no longer walk there but will instead start driving (and we all know how disconnected we can feel when isolated in our individual cars). We also know that when a building exceeds five stories, or approximately 50 feet in height, those living on the higher floors do not view the people on the street as being of their intimate concern. As the social theorist Jane Jacobs explained, without these “eyes on the street,” neighborhoods cease to be as safe or feel as connected, and the quality of life deteriorates (and we saw this play out in New York City). This theory further applies to large homes that are spread out laterally more than 40 feet in any direction or in which the master bedroom is on one side of the house and the children’s bedrooms are on the other. In these situations, people feel less connected and often struggle to communicate with each other, even though they’re living in the same house. There’s too much physical distance between them to maintain a sense of intimacy.
But the opposite is also true: when the distance between people or between people and objects is so small that they're bumping into each other or other things, people can feel confined, angry, or frustrated, prompting them to lash out at those around them or run away. They are also more likely to view these spaces as smaller and more claustrophobic. This can be the case even though the space may not actually be small - it just feels smaller because there is a greater restriction of free movement, and individuals don’t have enough personal space to feel comfortable and relax.
The Meanings Behind Different Interpersonal Distances
So what’s the ideal distance between people to maintain personal boundaries but still feel a sense of intimacy and connectedness? Well, that depends on who you are and the type of interaction you're engaging in. The chart below, based on Edward Hall’s model, outlines the meanings behind various interpersonal distances depending on the type of interaction. This also helps feng shui professionals understand how to best position people, rooms, and buildings based on what the client needs.
So the next time you're with someone, take note of the distance that you're standing away from them and consider what this tells you about how you're feeling in that moment: do you need personal space or are you craving a more intimate, close bond? I know I probably feel most comfortable in the "Social Rules" section of the chart, but when I'm with close friends or family, I'm ok to sit or stand closer. Having an awareness of the distance you're putting between you and another person will not only give you more insight into how you feel about certain people and in various situations but also your own personal space needs and preferences.