Thursday, November 3, 2011

Some Thoughts on Personal Boundaries

Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time with me probably knows that I have a rather large personal space bubble. I don't much like to be touched. I'm OK with occasional hugs that mean something - "I'm sorry you had a crappy day" hugs are fine, as are "I haven't seen you in a year and I missed you" hugs. But I don't like flippant or teasing physical contact, I don't like people stroking my face (had a group of people who tried to do this to people one year... creeped me the heck out), and, most of all, I really don't like casual acquaintances to touch me.

I'm understanding when people don't know this about me and try to give me affectionate physical contact. If it's a one-time thing I'll let it slide, but if it starts happening a lot (some people are just much more likely to express themselves physically) I will explain to them, "Well, thank you, but actually I don't really like to be touched. It's not really my thing." Most of the time, they just go, "Oh! OK, I didn't know, I'll try not to do that again," and we're all fine.

And then... sometimes things like this happen.

I had an encounter once where I ran into a couple people who I know are particularly touchy-feely. I knew they were probably both going to try and hug me, and I simply didn't have the energy to deal with that. So as I approached them, I said, "I'm sorry, I'm not feeling well today" (not entirely true, but it's a good introvert fallback phrase). One of them said out loud, "No hugs today, huh?" and I sort of smiled back and said, "No, please, not today," and walked past them.

Crisis averted.


One of them then chased me down and hugged me anyway. When he finally let me go, he said he hoped I felt better and I left.

This made me angry me for at least a week and a half after it happened.

I have similar experiences every once in awhile. Usually it's extroverts who do this to me, but not always - sometimes just outgoing introverts (no, that term is not an oxymoron). I think they think it's cute or endearing or kind of a playful teasing action.

Well, it's not. It really, truly isn't.

It's one thing if you don't know. If I've never told you this, there's a little leniency there. And my very close friends who I feel comfortable with are allowed more physical contact (on good days when I'm not tense or on edge).

But if I outright say I don't want to be hugged in that moment, and you ignore that and hug me anyway... that's harassment. Even if you didn't mean it like that, that's what it is. You've decided that I don't really mean it, that it's not really that big a deal, that you don't have to follow the rules I've presented. Except, uh, you kind of do. Because this is my body and if I say you can't touch it, then you can't touch it. No matter how innocent or playful it's supposed to be, no matter if you think it'll cheer me up (you're wrong). If you step over that line for any reason, you make me feel uncomfortable and unsafe.

Personal boundaries aren't a joke. They really aren't. And ignoring them makes you creepy.


  1. Poor Hannah! That person is a jerkface, whoever they are, and I wouldn't blame you if you never talked to them again.

  2. It is such an unloving and narcissistic thing for a person to think "Well MY hugs are going to be great for her, even though she said no."

    If it is a bad RA day you can always say, "My RA is really acting up and any physical touch, no matter how light or tender, is very painful."

  3. Mom: I have definitely done that. Heh, I have even lied about that occasionally, which I probably shouldn't do, but some days I can't think of any way to keep people from trying to hug me. "I'm in physical pain" does seem to work most of the time.