UKPT News and Blog

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How big is your personal space?


We've all been there. You're on the bus/train and there are lots of empty seats. Someone you don't know gets on and sits on the seat right next to you. You wonder why. You ask yourself, 'wouldn't they rather sit in a nice spacious area with no one cramping their style?'

We all have a need for personal space around us – that's the distance we prefer other people to be away from us as we interact with them. According to some theories there are four zones of personal space…

INTIMATE up to 18 inches

PERSONAL 18 to 48 inches

SOCIAL 48 inches to 12 feet

PUBLIC greater than 12 feet

We know instinctively what feels uncomfortable for us. It may be very different to what feels uncomfortable for someone else. So that person who sits next to you on the bus may have a personal space preference very different to yours. You might not be happy to have strangers within 48 inches of you, but they might be happy with 18. You feel cramped, they feel comfortable.

We all have a sense of personal space, which some theorists believe we were born with. You might be a "touchy feely" person, whereas someone else might prefer to keep their distance. It can be quite uncomfortable to be with a person who doesn't have the same sense of personal space as you.

So what does this have to do with paruresis (shy bladder syndrome)?

I went out to a restaurant recently and visited the ladies toilet during my time there. I quite expect that the following scenario will also apply to men when they are in cubicles. The restaurant toilet was a very good one in terms of paruresis. There was a line of half a dozen cubicles, not too visible from the door, not all visible from the mirrors, with effective locks on the doors. It was completely empty, apart from myself – perfect. I went into the cubicle to do what I had come in to do, and just as I was getting comfortable, someone else came into the toilets. Out of all the cubicles they could have chosen, they chose the one right next to me. It made me feel intensely uncomfortable. They couldn't see me, but they must have known I was there. (Or maybe people who don't have paruresis don't take any notice at all who else is in the toilet at the same time as them. That's an interesting thought, but not my thought for today.)

How far away from me was the person in the next cubicle? Certainly within the 48 inches limit of personal space. Although I couldn't see them, and there was a partition wall separating us, that person was definitely within my personal space. Apparently people who experience anxiety often have a heightened sense of personal space, as we tend to be always on the lookout for potential threats. This adds to our discomfort when other folk are around. Even if they are on the other side of a toilet cubicle partition.

Visit the UKPT website for more information about how paruresis affects people. Find out how other people have overcome their paruresis.

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Is paruresis (shy bladder syndrome) curable?


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Thursday, 18 July 2024

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