Personal Space and Boundaries: Is There An Archetypical Nurse?

Earlier this summer, something weird happened to me twice, on the same evening at the same event.

My husband and I were enjoying an outdoor concert. Like most of the people attending, I was dancing to the music. 

Suddenly, I felt someone behind me, fiddling with the neck of my tee shirt. Startled, I spun around to find a woman I’d never seen before, about 40 years old, tucking in the tag of my shirt that had popped up from my collar. Before I said anything to her, she ran back to her place in  the crowd, at least three rows of people behind me. 

Don’t Touch Me illustration by/copyright Julianna Paradisi 2022

Her presumptuous behavior angered me. How dare she touch me? Even as a nurse, whose job it was to touch people, I asked their permission. Asking permission honors a basic personal boundary.

To illustrate the seriousness of personal space boundaries, years ago I had a friend. She was petite, and attractive. She told me that one dark evening as she walked alone to her car in a parking lot, someone put their hand on her shoulder. Having recently completed a self-defense class, she grabbed the hand, and threw her potential assailant to the ground. The man, who she did not know, later sued her for causing the broken arm he suffered from the encounter. He argued that he had simply wanted to meet her, and she had over-reacted. The judge threw the case out, citing that my friend was justified on the grounds of self-defense since he was unknown to her, approached her uninvited, and then touched her in a dark parking lot.

In my case, I chose not to confront the woman, and continued to enjoy the concert. In protest, however, I reached into my collar and pulled the tag back out, allowing it to wave freely as I danced.

When the concert was over, my husband and I stood in line for a table at the venue’s restaurant. Amazingly, as we waited, once again I felt fingers fiddling with my collar at the back of my neck. A different woman, about the same age as the first, was tucking in the tag of my tee shirt!

This time, after turning around to face her, I said in a composed, stern voice, “Don’t touch me.” 

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,”  she said, smiling. Then she added as justification, “I’m a mom, and I just can’t help it.”

Exasperated, I confronted her,  “As a mom, you are probably teaching your children to not let strangers touch them, right? But here you are, touching a stranger. Do you see the problem here?”

She started to cry. “I’m sorry.” Then she left the restaurant.

I shared this story with a friend who coincidentally works with archetypes. “Wow, that’s like a glitch in The Matrix: You experience an attack, then relive it; the second time you know where the bullets are coming from! What do you think it is about you that attracted these two women to not only notice you, but felt compelled to touch you, to make you aware of them?”

I admitted that I do seem to draw people’s attention, sometimes in fun ways, even when accompanied by my husband. For instance, on a recent vacation trip, our server at a restaurant gifted me with a dragon hand puppet for no apparent reason other than she liked the boots I was wearing. When we tipped her, she said it was too much, and gave some of the money back!

“I have no idea,” I said to my friend. “Is it possible I give off some sort of nurse vibe? Is there such a thing as a nurse archetype?”

We laughed, and moved onto another topic.

 I believe the above experiences don’t have anything to do with me at all; they were the impulsive violations of a boundary on the part of the two women. 

But, as an artist I also work with archetype and myth. Dreams, images, and fairytales often arise from ancient stories handed down through generations, making their way into art.

Is there such a thing as the Archetypical Nurse? And if so, can this archetype take a physical form? Can a person embody an archetype?

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