Trauma Centre Australia

CRITICAL INCIDENT & TRAUMA RESPONSE

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Trauma of Personal Space Invasion (PSI)

March 21, 2014

Take a moment to consider and reflect on your own physical and mental space. Yes we can empirically observe and measure physical space intrusion. It is a mental concept where by an individual perceives a space invasion. This can affect the psychological balance of human beings. Imagine for a moment sitting alone at a cafe while enjoying a Sunday calm solitude that sends your mind to a comfort zone of happiness and contentment. At that moment another patron enters and sits at your table coughing profusely and un-announced slaps his/her paper down and eye balls you while accidently bumping you. Within seconds your blood races and a pending explosion is forthcoming. The tension and stress level near uncontrollable rage proportions.

This example depicts a social altercation known as (PSIS) Personal Space Invasion Syndrome. There is little doubt that a violation of one’s personal space will send us toward hyper stress, leading to stress levels that affect our functioning. The eminent conclusion is ‘Anger’; and this does eat away at our good health. Trauma psychologists acknowledge that physiological and biological changes occur when anger levels continually increase. Heart rate, blood pressure, hormones and adrenaline alter.

Recent studies of space were first investigated in the 1960’s by E T Hall who was an American anthropologist and cross- cultural researcher.  E T Hall observed mans behavioural use of space and is remembered for developing the concept of Proxemics, which describes how people react or behave in various types of culturally defined personal space.

A study by Middlenurst, Knowles and Matter (1976) sought to understand the relationship between the speed of men’s urination in a public toilet and personal space. While I hasten to report there were many methodological questions, specifically whether the observer contributed to the results. However the findings support the notion that an invasion of personal space affected arousal this causing a slower flow.

Personal space varies from culture and nation however for westerners E T Hall viewed personal space as an extension of the human body defining four zones, they are as follows.

1. Intimate Zone- Whispering and embracing (within 18 inches of your body).

1. Personal Zone- Conversing with close friends (18 inches – 4 feet).

2. Social Zone- Conversing with acquaintances (4 feet- 10 feet).

3.  Public Zone- interacting with strangers (10 feet – 25 feet).

We all acknowledge that we have a personal space and many have quantified this by distance, but there is also psychological space, the violation and intrusion of a burglar after a home robbery. Reported emotional symptoms include anger, fear, resentment, grief which is a similar response to rape, assault and other violent crimes.

The fallout from both personal and psychological invasion appears because many victims are left with long term trauma scars. Robbery and perceived personal space intrusion can leave people experiencing recurrent and intrusive thoughts, dreams and cause hyper – alertness with changes in sleeping and eating habits and palpitations.

Recovery from PSI and psychological pain will follow a validation and emotional journey of accepting these reactions and talking about the experience to a trauma counsellor. Time and talking about the feelings is the step that will help to put the event into perspective, seeking help is what will enable one to address the issues from these kinds of experiences.

Peter Horton

Psychologist—C.E.O of Trauma Centre Australia