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  • locha61

Keep Your Hands to Yourself

What is it with people who touch other people at work? Either they are not in tune with the body language of others or they do not care. I recently had an experience at work where a man repeatedly touched my shoulder each time he was within a foot from me. The first time he did so, I was repelled but thought maybe he "didn't mean" anything by it. I told myself I would ask the person who dispatched him to my desk to tell him to keep his hands to himself if he had to replace equipment again. Then he entered my workspace again when I was bent over putting my purse in my drawer. He took me by surprise. As he entered my cubicle he said, "behind you" and brushed my shoulder as I stood up. I immediately stepped out of my space to prevent him from touching me again. The occurrence happened so quickly, I couldn't think straight and it took me some time to process what had happened.


When something like this happens our brain recognizes it as a threat and our body reacts to the experience by releasing biochemicals like adrenaline. This release prompts the "fight or flight" response which prepares us for action and during this process our cognition slows down. It's unnecessary for us to "think", in fact it may be dangerous for us to analyze the situation before taking action. For example, if a train is coming at you, it's probably not a good idea to analyze the speed of the train and evaluate escape options before taking action. It's a survival mechanism to take action and jump off the track then evaluate the decision once the threat no longer exists.


When a person's boundaries are violated, as were mine, our brain registers the threat but the part of our brain that activates when a threat is present doesn't measure the level of threat such as between a train coming down the track or a person's unwanted physical contact. In other words our body responds the same to any threat; the same biochemicals flow if someone jumps out of a closet and scares us as it does if we are in a car accident.


After I pulled myself together; meaning that the flow of adrenaline and cortisol slowed, I processed what had happened. I found him and told him not to touch me again but not before he actually TOUCHED ME AGAIN. Yes, he had the audacity to reach out and squeeze my shoulder as I was telling him not to touch me again.


I ended up making a report -- without regret. It's puzzling to me that anyone would physically touch another person in the work place in light of the #METOO movement AND COVID 19.


Understand that when you touch another person without their consent; it's just creepy. I have heard from other women at the office that he is "touchy". I feel good that I spoke up; for myself and for anyone else who will not speak up because he's "just a nice guy who touches" or for the woman who doesn't want to "get him in trouble" or who wonders what she did that made him touch her.


Sadly, this is not the first time I've had to deal with touchy men. And although my first thought when it happens is to second-guess my reaction with thoughts such as: "maybe it was a mistake", "maybe he didn't mean to", "I don't want to make a big deal out of nothing"; I have learned to honor my feelings and my judgement. I take action and I have no problem telling someone I don't want to be touched. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not a cold person. I don't mind hugs from people I know well and from those with whom I have a warm relationship. But warm relationships take time to develop and most people do not fall into that category with me. The moral of this story is that it's always a better practice to avoid touching another person at work unless doing so might save a life.

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