Approaching a dog – social conventions on physical space.

When you come across a dog, you don’t know whether it is going to bite you or not. So the safest thing to do is to crouch down and appear nonthreatening. You put out your hand, palm down, in the form of a fist. This way your fingers are not exposed. That way the dog can come up to you on its own terms and in its own time and decide if you are safe. It is up to the dog to determine whether you get to touch it or not.

The same is true of people. There are number of people, myself included, who have problems with physical space. I was abused as a child in multiple ways, and I only started learning about boundaries in my 40s.

Because of my past, I have problems with physically being around people. I am very uncomfortable with people coming up and randomly touching me. This is true even if it is someone I know very well, even if it is my husband. If he and I are alone together in the house he can still startle me with touch. If I have my back to him, such as when I’m doing the dishes or I am working at the computer, and he comes up to me to touches me or give me a hug, it frightens me. I have told him repeatedly to give me a warning because it because it makes me scared. He doesn’t quite seem to get it. It is foreign to him.

We have a family friend who has a young son who does not understand boundaries. He is like a bouncy puppy. He is a little overwhelming to me, and it turns out, to many others. As soon as I walk in the door at their house he opens his arms and walks into me for a hug. If we are walking outside, he will come up beside me and throw his arm around me. It is very startling. We haven’t been visiting with this family for very long, so there isn’t a history between him and me. Essentially, I haven’t given him permission to touch me.

He has very few friends his age, and has expressed difficulty making female friends. He is very socially backwards in many ways, and his parents have noticed this but are unaware what to do about it. His mother is very forward and direct like him. She does not seem to understand that not everyone is, so she does not know to teach her son how to “read” whether it is safe to be forward and direct with them.

I’m of course older than the middle-school girls this boy deals with, and even I didn’t know why I feel so uncomfortable around him. If I don’t know, then they certainly don’t know. I can suppress my feelings for the sake of not embarrassing him, but they don’t hold their punches. He’s becoming more and more socially backwards.

It was so uncomfortable that for a while my husband and I considered only visiting with them when he was not there. We have finally realized that God has put this child in our path for a reason, and that we are to be like surrogate parents to him. I still don’t know what to say, or how to say it, but I’m trusting that the Holy Spirit will give me the words, as Jesus promised his disciples.

I really don’t want to embarrass him by telling him how uncomfortable his behavior is to me and many other people. But I do feel that he wants to get along, and wants to know how to “play” the social game. It has rules that sometimes aren’t easy to learn.

One thing I learned when I was working with college students with learning disabilities was that sometimes dyslexia isn’t just about words. Some students with LD have a problem “reading” people and feelings as well. The social rules that we all take for granted are very hard for them as they don’t pick up on nuances at all. They become further and further isolated from the rest of their peers because of this.

I don’t want him to feel isolated, because that is a recipe for another school shooter.