PHOTOGRAPH: ambrozinio, 123rf.com
When things get busy and chaotic at home, it’s natural to want to escape from everyone for a little peace and quiet. In fact, taking some personal space is healthy, and something you should do every now and again – not just to recharge your energy but also to reclaim your sense of self.
Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist from Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness at Gleneagles Medical Centre, says personal space is the area around a person – usually a couple of metres or so – that he or she would prefer others not to occupy. He says that when this personal space is invaded, it can make one feel uncomfortable or even unsafe – something that is likely the result of evolution.
Nothing to feel guilty about
You shouldn’t feel bad or guilty about wanting or needing personal space, away from your hubby and kids. Dr Lim says that while physical closeness between a couple is desirable, if Hubby demanded this all the time, you would probably get annoyed. An excessive need for physical closeness is also a sign of insecurity and a need for control on your husband’s part – problems that can affect your relationship.
“Being physically close to your kids is also a wonderful feeling and essential for bonding,” Dr Lim adds. “However, even new mums need personal space. In the early days after birth, excessive closeness can point to an inability to ‘let go’ of your baby. That’s not what healthy bonding looks like and may indicate the presence of psychological issues.
“As your kids grow older they’ll want to do things by themselves. You should allow them to because it helps them be more independent. Plus, it reduces your stress levels.”
When you lack personal space because you feel you have to constantly be with your husband or kids, you miss the opportunity to retreat into yourself and focus on your needs. This can lead to frustration and irritability, not to mention, burnout.
“When everyone at home is clamouring for your attention all the time, it can really sap your energy,” says Daniel Koh, a psychologist at Insights Mind Centre.
“This can set you up for a bad day, and whatever negative emotions you experience may build up, resulting in emotional exhaustion after a while.
“When you feel that you have to ‘be there’ for others all the time, you tend to put yourself last, or neglect yourself altogether, and this isn’t healthy in the long run.”
Easy ways to reclaim your personal space
The good news is you can still enjoy your personal space without leaving your home or being away from your family, says Dr Lim. You can indulge in all kinds of personal activities in the presence of your hubby and kids, from reading a book or watching a show on your tablet, to doing yoga or craft work. Here are ways to “escape” within yourself while still being with your family:
Find activities for your kids to engage in.
If their hands and minds are kept busy, they won’t distract you, or demand your attention, as much.
Have a shared family area.
This is a space in which you, Hubby and the kids, can do different activities while being together. Dedicate special spots in this area to different members of the family and “teach your kids to respect these physical boundaries”, Dr Lim advises. For instance, there can be a corner for your kids to play with their toys, an armchair for you, and a recliner for Hubby. If having personal space to you means getting the chance to read, then stash your books in this area so you will start to associate it with words like “escape”, “retreat” and “peace”.
Redefine being by yourself.
Accept the notion that you can be by yourself even when your kids and husband are around you.
Set aside time to stay in this space.
Let your family members know to leave you alone during this period, unless something urgent comes up. Daniel says this is important to avoid interruptions.
“Tell your kids to play by themselves or with their dad, and reassure them that you’ll come back to them after, say, 30 minutes. Your husband should support you in this, otherwise the whole process is pointless.”