As a member of the Desert Sands Student Advisory Program (SAP), I attended a meeting Tuesday, March 15, 2016 at the Betty Ford Children’s Center in Rancho Mirage.
One of the topics discussed concerned proprioception, which refers to our personal physical space. It is readily understood when we think about anger expressed between couples, from a boss or teacher, or directed at a child. Can you picture the antagonist leaning forward, perhaps with a pointed finger? What does the recipient do? Generally s/he recoils, feeling anger in response, and is unlikely to receive the intended message. It is hard to listen when feeling attacked. Body language is often addressed with adults in therapy.
Another type of proprioception involves one person being too close. It feels like personal space is violated. Imagine sitting on a sofa in an otherwise empty waiting room and of all the available spots, a stranger sits right beside you. Uncomfortable, right? Or a conversation with another adult (non intimate) who stands so close you can smell their breath? Yuck. You probably take a step back. Maybe there is an unwelcomed touch. Time and again, teachers are heard saying, “Hands to yourself!”
Children can be innocent culprits of invading personal space. As a child psychologist, I experience this when doing play therapy with children. Joining them on the floor, it is not uncommon that a youngster talks two inches from my face, steps on toys, and even steps on me! When this is the case, the children need guidance and awareness of suitable proprioception. We will stand with our arms outstretched and create a circle around ourselves. We talk about the importance of asking and being invited into another person’s circle.
For many people, respect for proprioception is natural. The good news is that for others, it can be taught and learned.