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I realize that this topic has been covered (probably many times) before, but here is my situation:

My fiancè's sister has before her some unique challenges. First, she is handicapped (by her own definition) prior to sustaining a traumatic brain injury. I did not know her prior to this injury, so I cannot speak to how she was prior to her injury in terms of personality, personal habits and her interaction with other people.

She is a lovely person and I do like her very much. I would appreciate her company even more if she would refrain from touching me. When I say "touching me", I mean that she hugs, touches my hair, caresses my arms/shoulders/back, and basically follows me around until I'm cornered to again hug and kiss me on the cheek. I am a compassionate and empathetic person which means that I have kept this under wraps, about how I feel but it has now reached a point where a simple visit turns into a source of considerable stress for me.

I so very much wish to know how to get this across in a kind and polite way without hurting any feelings. Again,I cannot and will not be anything less than gentle and kind: I will try my best to avoid hurting any feelings.

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    What does your fiance think about these interactions? Have they said/done anything about them? – scohe001 Jun 13 '18 at 0:38
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    He actually does acknowledge that she is "quirky" but takes her actions in stride. His other sister has picked up on my discomfort and has admonished the "touchy sister" to keep her hands to herself. This was limited to one incident and the very next visit, the touching resumed. My fiance actually finds it kind of funny watching me trying to evade her following me about. – thatgirlwhodraws Jun 13 '18 at 1:05
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One of my former partners worked with a wide variety of neurologically diverse folks in an informal art therapy environment, and this sort of physical boundary issue seemed pretty common. They were just a very touchy, feely, huggy bunch... Well... Some were very huggy and some would flip right out if they were touched...

Given that some were hyper-sensitive they had a few basic rules about physical contact.

  • Always ask if you can hug, or touch someone.
  • Respect the answer.
  • Smiling and waving is just as nice as a hug.

This seemed to keep the peace for the most part, but reminders weren't uncommon.

When I would visit my partner at work, I was a little put off by the immediate request for hugs, I'm not exactly all that touchy feely. What I found that worked just as well, as far as making them happy and giving myself a little breathing room, was fist bumps. Particularly "exploding fist bumps", adding the little explosion sound effect at the end really seemed to make it something special and a few of them really got a kick out of it.

As for broaching the subject, it's usually fairly easy. Just keep it simple and honest. (One of my favorite things about interacting with neurologically diverse folks is that "simple and honest" usually works.)

You know we're friends n' all, but I feel a little crowded when people touch me without asking. Would you mind asking next time?

(Wait for an answer, worst case they'll question whether you still want to be friends)

Of course I want to be your friend, you're awesome, but awesome friends respect each other, sometimes that means asking before they hug. What do you think about that?

The point is to explain it in terms they're likely to understand without coming across as standoffish or rude. They're not picking up on nonverbal cues, because they don't know how. So be verbal, just be gentle.

  • "and sometimes that means asking" - the only thing I worry about here is if they have trouble with boundaries already, adding a "sometimes you can do this without asking" might be an additional complex hurdle to struggle with. – Ash Jun 13 '18 at 4:53
  • @Ash that's an implied part of the conversation, essentially you're just telling them that you'd prefer they ask with you. The wording here is a very rough outline, it very much depends on the person, their level of understanding, and the relationship thus far. – apaul Jun 13 '18 at 4:54
  • Hello again, Any and all responses will be considered... So again, after my first post we were once again invited over for a 4th of July cookout and the whole family plus a couple of family friends were in attendance. I always approach these family gatherings with a fair amount of trepidation as I enjoy visiting and conversation, but do not enjoy being hugged or touched outside of greeting upon arrival/ saying goodbyes, etc. I tried the first suggestion given of the "fist bump" and was met with a very funny look and then a big bear hug, followed by more following, touching, hand-holding... – thatgirlwhodraws Jul 6 '18 at 23:22
  • I am at a loss. Again, my fiancé was no help at all in recognizing my discomfort and settled himself in a chair that was essentially inaccessible to his sister: not like she even noticed with all of her attention focused on me. I finally excused myself to the restroom and then ducked into the guest bedroom to gather my thoughts and pep-talk myself into getting through the next 2-3 hrs before she found me again and dragged me back to the party, petting me every step of the way. Yes, now I am very frustrated and the tension is building... Please help! Labor Day is the next family social event. – thatgirlwhodraws Jul 6 '18 at 23:25
  • @thatgirlwhodraws let me guess, you skipped the conversation about boundaries and went straight for the fist bump? – apaul Jul 7 '18 at 0:27

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