Situational Awareness: Your Invisible Circles


All of you have a natural sense of the space (distance) that you keep between yourselves called your personal space. Your invisible circles. Your ‘safe’ perimeter. Your personal boundaries.

Particularly when you are among strangers, your situational awareness is at work (even unknowingly) while you constantly gauge and adjust your distance between yourself and others – while standing, while walking, and even while driving.

Here’s what you need to watch out for…

Next time that you get into an elevator with others, pay attention to what happens. Everyone mostly re-shuffles themselves to be furthest away from each-other or to ‘balance out’ the invisible circles between everyone so they are somewhat evenly distributed. It’s a natural thing. Interesting isn’t it?

Here’s the thing – what if you were the only one in the elevator when another person steps in and proceeds to ‘invade’ your personal space while standing awkwardly close to you? Even though this person is doing nothing wrong, it would ‘feel’ weird and uncomfortable to you, right?. Your natural reaction will probably be to move further away to a more comfortable distance – whatever that is for you.

This is true anywhere. Whether you’re walking along or simply standing somewhere. If someone gets ‘too close’ and comes into your invisible circle, it suddenly gets uncomfortable.

When this happens (someone invading your personal space), there are a few additional things you might consider getting into the habit of doing.

1. Observe if that person is projecting aggressive body language. Do they seem ‘normal’?

2. Is the person talking (to you, someone else, or them-self) in any verbally aggressive tone?

3. Look at the person’s hands. Is there a weapon (hidden or otherwise)?

‘Sizing up’ the person can be accomplished nearly instantly. Quick observation while listening to your own ‘Spidey-senses’ may provide enough warning regarding a potential issue or threat – enabling you to take preemptive action, be it moving further away or preparing for an incident.

The simple point here regarding situational awareness during an invasion of your personal space (your invisible circles) is to go a step beyond simply ‘noticing’ and shifting your position. Train yourself to also observe the ‘invader’ and size up the situation as being a false alarm (probably 99.9% of the time) or a possible threat (all it takes is once)…

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I can even relate a recent story having somewhat to do with this… Mrs.J and I were at our local Rite Aid store while picking up a few supplies. While standing at the end of an aisle looking at a particular product, a man brushed past me while at the same time loudly announcing ‘EXCUSE ME!’. As he walked past (within an inch) he had plenty of room to have otherwise shifted his walk while leaving plenty of ‘space’ between us. Instead he chose to invade my invisible circle. As he walked past and while I looked at him, he maintained eye contact for several strides as he walked toward the register. My ‘Spidey-senses’ instantly told me that this man was aggressive (maybe having a bad day or maybe just the type who’s always looking for a fight). My immediate reflexive reaction was to impulsively return “You’re excused” as I maintained eye contact till he looked away – which in retrospect I probably should’ve just kept my mouth shut (it’s not worth it). As we checked out a few minutes later, and although he had already left the store, before I exited I had Mrs.J hold the bags in case this nut job was waiting outside. He was not. But the point is, I was acutely aware that there could’ve been an incident and I was ready for it. It all started when this guy purposely invaded my personal space in an aggressive way. I could’ve remained ignorant about it (not anticipating a potential ambush) but instead my gut told me that this guy was ‘over-the-top’ and might present a problem. Just ‘be aware’…


  1. He could have been sizing you up for a possible attack, wanted to see if you were a sheep and would back down. Responding like you did might have told him that you would fight if need be.

  2. Very helpful information and links. Hubby says I am not aware of my surroundings as I should be sometimes. I think these tips will help. Thanks!

  3. Good points Ken! I use a lot of situational observance tactics everyday but more so in the city. There is a really nice upscale mall about a half hour from me and they have recently been inundated with the rif raff ( bangers ) who had to find new hunting grounds after their local mall was closed and demolished. The upscale mall owners have done a pretty good job of keeping a lid on things but fist fights and stabbings do occur occasionaly.

    When I travel in the ‘burbs or inner city I keep my spidey sense on full and always park where i can easily escape should I have to.

    What bugs me is that I often don’t hear or see someone sneak up behind me. For instance, I was in a convienence store buy a coffee a couple of weeks back and it was kind of noisy due to the PA system music and the amount of people in there. I paid for my coffee, took a step back and turned to my right and accidently knocked down an elderly guy who was standing very, very close to me. i helped him up and apologized but was thinking to myself, how the hell did he get that close to me and I never noticed?

    This hurt my pride a little because I like to think I’m very aware. Now, I stand with my left shoulder facing the counter and my right facing the line.

    Lesson learned on my part.

    Snake Plisken

    1. Snake, you are blind in your left eye, remember. That’s how he got that close to you. HA HA…Hang in there snake and good to know you are still out there.

      1. Hey Plow Boy, good to hear from you. I’m not sure if it’s blindness or a lazy eye! I also have only 40% hearing in my left ear from a blast that ruptured my left eardrum while escaping NYC! :)

        Take care!

        Snake Plisken

  4. Situational Awareness is THE most important key in our survival mindset I believe. Far too often, far too many people are in Condition Oblivious and have no idea of who/what is around them, much less WHERE they actually are.

    I consider myself fairly heads up in SA, however two summers ago, three bangers in their small sedan “thought” I had committed some kind of driving infraction that was directed at “them”,(not at all) I avoided their vehicle as they were speeding in excess of 90 mph, and blew right passed me. Quarter of a mile later, they were pulled off the road, then immediately pulled right in behind me, like they were glued to my rear bumper. As a retired police officer, I knew what they were up to, and simply called 911. At the top of a very long hill, we, were met by a contingent of the local gendarmerie, and the parolee driving tried to feign a “mistaken identity” after being told I was indeed legally armed, and Yes, I was planning on shooting him, IF, it went that far. I was astounded that I had not “noticed” them pulling off a quarter of a mile ahead of me, I was in Condition Oblivious! If not, I was certainly HUA! We’ve got to be constantly aware of the who/what/where is around us. Great reminder to pull our heads out and pay attention!

    1. i was walking to my local 7 Eleven one night, bought me something to eat. while I was walking home, i noticed 3 african americans following me. i crossed the street, they crossed the street, i walked faster, they walked faster, so i got inside in time, they threw rocks at my window, i called the police, 2 minutes later, the police showed up and they were gone. i live in a place with a lot of cops, thank god, and theyre actually all good cops. im an ex army soldier. i always keep my situational awareness. and in that instance, im glad for it

  5. On a somewhat related thought … when driving I always make sure I have left my self enough room to flee in the event of an emergency situation. Think car jacking at a stop light … I always leave sufficient room between me and the car in front of me so I can maneuver out of a otentially bad situation.

    1. @Roger, I do the EXACT same thing… I am always very aware of the distance between my vehicle and the vehicle in front of me when coming to a complete stop, and I always leave enough room to pull out from behind them if I have to… It’s total habit for me now.

      1. This is something that is taught in most defense driving schools, for service truck drivers. Also leaving an out, when following. Most service trucks, vans, trucks cannot stop as fast as most newer sedans.

        Awareness of your surroundings is also stressed, so after so many years of being drilled on this. It just comes as second nature.

      2. Ken, I (we) also try to leave enough space to pull out if need be. An advantage of that too, is if the idiot behind you hits you, you will be less likely to hit the guy in front. all good.

  6. Teach your kids about personal space and situational awareness. Kids tend to focus quite narrowly on what they are doing, and don’t notice what others may be doing around them.
    I feel I have a good awareness at all times, but that’s because several ‘things’ happened to me as a kid that could have been prevented if I had been paying attention.

    1. I was recently walking in a very crowded store with my kid, who kept reading something on the phone he was carrying. I said, stop doing that, and pay attention to what is going on around you. I was asked “why” (and was expected to say “it isnt’ polite”), and replied, “it is poor security, poor safety if you don’t know who is around you and what they are up to.”

      I have talked about this previously, but it didn’t seem to sink in. Oddly enough, this time it seemed to.

  7. I wear a .45 in the belly of my hoodie at all times and my right hand never leaves it when I’m out in public. All business is conducted with my left hand. Great equalizer, calms my nerves. thanks

    1. A little street cravmagra ( spelling??)
      Any way the second strike is always to the nuts, be it kick or open hand,straight to the nuts and finish him!!

    2. The problem with the groin kick is most thugs expect it especially a woman, and therefore are prepared for it. Better for a woman at least to use a neck shot, just as disabling and more unexpected. Another vulnerable kick that will help you escape is the knee, take it out and they can’t follow you.
      I like the Boyd’s loop mentioned above. The rule we teach our young students is: “When there is trouble the best place to be is somewhere else.”
      Good reminder though to be situation aware.

  8. Avoiding the ‘monkey dance” seems to be more difficult for men than women. De-escalation is the best option. Keep your eyes open and your mouth shut. Remember Boyd’s Loop: Observe, Orient, Decide and Act.

  9. Opps sorry above it supposed to read ….

    The problem with the groin kick is most thugs expect it especially “FROM” a woman,

    not; ” most thugs expect it especially a woman”

    1. Good points Angele. Striking an attacker squarely in the crotch is best left to practicing martial artists. what I suggest is a punch or side kick to the pubus bone ( located one to two inches above a man’s penis ). Lots of nerve endings in that region and it doesn’t take a lot of power. Plus, that area on a male is easier to hit than trying for the nads where even a very strong punch or kick can be deflected by a thigh twist.

      I’ve used this technique before over the years and it’s been very effective.

      So ladies and gents, there ya have it from …..

      Snake Plisken

  10. I work at a Psych Hospital and have for 12 years. This is a great article. I have to keep aware at work at all times as we have several VERY aggressive patients who get set off with little warning. It is always important to be aware of the space around you. Some people see me as paranoid now when I go out because I keep this awareness on throughout the day.

  11. due to some, events, in my past… spacial and environmental awareness is always active.

    for more on this subject, a good read is the website “nononsenseselfdefense” by mark macyoung. it is a dot com btw. he teaches a no bs way to staying safe and how to identify crime before it happens so one doesn’t have to resort to violence. yes, the majority of crime is a process. it just seems to jump out at you because most people aren’t trained to see the signs of it coming.

  12. Great article. I sometimes feel my space being invaded when checking out at the grocery store or places like Walmart. I cover my hand while putting in my pin number but every now and then some bozo will stand too close, even getting behind me sometimes. I’ve turned and looked at them, but they seem oblivious. I would never stand that close to someone using a credit card machine. Does this happen to others? I’ve never called anyone out on it. Believe me when it’s happened I’m definitely alert in case they were up to no good.

  13. When driving in a friend’s car I notice that as soon as the doors are shut she instantly locks the doors electronically. No waiting. I have begun to set my burglar alarm earlier in the evening and read that people are setting home alarms when home during the day and early evening. I try to avoid bank machines and only use the one attached to the bank and scan people before entering the vestibule. After tossing the gym bags in the back seat we leave immediately especially at night. We don’t stare at other drivers or give them any rude hand signals. I don’t open the door to strangers.

    1. Trekketoo, happens all the time, they are too dense to get the hint to back up, I also shield the card machine to hide the numbers, I never use a debit card, use a protected credit card. The close standing “fragrant” individuals really make the moment…

  14. Question, when it comes to SA how can you compensate for hearing loss. I’m mostly deaf in one ear and as a result it is harder to pick up the sounds that most people could hear without thinking about it. Are there tips and tricks for compensating for bad hearing without being obvious. I’m a single girl and as a result when I walk to work in the morning I always feel like My SA could be better because I have ‘cotton’ in my ears so to speak.

    1. @ Elle Prepper… are you able to wear a game ear? They look like a hearing aid, but used by hunters to listen to subtle sounds of/for game animals at a distance. Some would say their effectiveness is questionable, but it’s something to maybe check out. You can get them at most outdoor supply stores with a decent hunting section.

      1. @ Elle… Sorry. I should be more clear. Game ear is the name to a actual product. I meant it to use it generically. Hunter’s sound amplification device is kinda long winded.

        1. I’ll look into that, IDK if they will work with my kind of hearing loss but they have to be less than the hearing aid I would need

        2. @ Elle Prepper…Another thing you my want to try is to check with the local “clubs”. My mother has gotten free glasses from the local Lions Club (Ken, sorry if not allowed to name, but it’s for medical) and has told me they can assist with other needs.

    2. Elle Prepper
      Jon had a good suggestion to try.

      and how about this? Maybe hokey, but,
      what about glasses/sunglasses with mirrors in the edge, so you can glance behind?

      1. Anon,
        I was on your wavelength – same type of idea… improved range of vision to compensate for hearing loss. :)

    3. Hi Elle,

      I don’t know the cost, but I have a friend who has very small hearing aids that she inserts in her ears, so you cannot see them. Not sure if your hearing loss would be helped by an aid with that type of design, but it works great for her and strangers have no idea she has hearing loss.

      If a hearing aid won’t help or is too costly, it may sound crazy (and is NOT inconspicuous) but when you are walking alone, what about a pair of regular or sunglasses with one of those little side view mirrors attached like bicyclists use? Maybe that’s too geeky, but at least you could see behind you to help compensate for reduced hearing.

      1. The problem is the ones that work for my hearing are 400 a piece and not covered by medical, (cosmetic loss) I could try the mirror, but with regular glasses, i’m not sure how well that would work, I’m also not in a place I can comfortably wear a hat most of the time (Dress code). I do as much as I can consciously, I try to stay out of skeezy neighborhoods especially in early morning, and I try to keep my eye on whats going on around me, and I’ve walked the routes enough that I’m fairly confident of who the frequent fliers are and can filter them from the strangers, (while still keeping an eye on them) who warrant more vigilance.

        I’ve been lucky I haven’t had any serious trouble but I’m always trying to be aware of what’s going on around me, so I don’t make myself a target, living in a major metropolis with a bad rep for carjack, purse snatch and sexual crimes.

    4. Elle, Given your apparent condition (hard of hearing), then simply compensate in other ways.

      Look around. You are aware of SA (situational awareness) so just utilize your other senses to compensate as best you can. Shoulders up, confident, and look around as you walk. Pretty soon it will become 2nd nature to be aware of your surroundings.

      While “hearing” is advantageous, if you can’t hear too well, then use your eyes and your instinct.

  15. Thanks, I think sometimes we just need to hear that we are doing the right thing, I do try to look around, and I’m decent at body language, but sometimes its hard when your hearing plays games with you. I’ve been practicing SA for a long time without really being aware of it (Ten years of retail kinda teaches you that, and so does teaching) I’m not trying to be perfect, just find new things that can help, as I’m a teacher and so I always am curious and want to learn.

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