During all CCG training sessions we talk about certain rights afforded to individuals in crisis. (try our cpi certificate or our crisis intervention training) One of the most important is the right to personal space. People in crisis have the right to their own personal space. You, too, have the right to personal space.
You are a first responder, and no matter what role you play in a crisis, you have a right to be safe in your space. What that space encompasses depends on your comfort level. It might be arms reach, it may be 5-6 feet, it may even be up to 21 feet depending on the type of situation you may be dealing with. No matter the distance, you have the right to decide. Each of us has our own level of physical comfort, and that is the distance where you are comfortable. The other person isn’t too close, nor are they too far away. When determining this for yourself, be realistic. Are you in danger where you are? Does the distance seem appropriate and reasonable for the given scenario?
The overall space we allow between us and someone else, often shows the level of trust we have with that person in a particular scenario. The amount of space you allow, therefore, can change rapidly depending on the circumstances. The level of aggressiveness shown by the other party, or their past history, will often determine how close I get to them physically.
What’s key to remember about this topic is that everyone has a right to personal space. A person in crisis has a right to personal space, it’s not an exclusive right to me as a responder. Until another individual takes it to the point where they are an imminent danger to themselves or others, that individual in crisis also has the right to their own personal space. I have to give them that space. I need to allow them to own their own little piece of the earth.
Tony Blauer, renowned self-defense expert, has this awesome philosophy, which makes perfect sense. He says, “Real fights happen in the space of a phone booth.” Now, for those of you who have never seen a phone booth, (Gen X’ers) it’s approximately 7ft high and a little more than three feet square. It’s a standing rectangle of glass, that you step into, which used to house an actual phone you could make calls with. Anyways, it’s a very small, confined space. It’s big enough for one adult;, two would not fit comfortably. Go back to Tony’s statement, “real fights happen in the space of a phone booth.” If we get into a fight, and you just happen to be in that phone booth, when I throw a really hard left hook, you’re close enough to me to get hit. If, on the other hand, you’re five to ten feet away, (outside of that imaginary phone booth space) I could throw as hard a hook as I want, and you’ll be fine. The point is that I’m not going to close distance with anyone, until I decide the situation calls for closing that distance. I’m not going to intrude on somebody’s personal space until I have no choice left to avoid doing so. If they’re an imminent danger to themselves or others and I have to move in, then I prepare myself for what may happen, inside that phone booth.
Until that point, we both need to respect each other’s right to personal space. Even while I’m trying to de-escalate and diffuse the situation, I’m giving the other person their personal space, and they’re allowing me to have mine. It’s a simple matter of respect.