Don’t use other people as stim toys

A lot of us are taught that stimming is wrong. And, further, a lot of us are taught that stimming is wrong FAR more forcefully than we’re taught about other people’s bodily autonomy.

This can make it really confusing to understand physical boundaries. And sometimes, when people are figuring out that stimming is ok, they stim in ways that are physically invasive to other people. Also, sometimes people stim in ways that are physically invasive to other people in order to *avoid* doing the specific things they’ve been forcefully taught not to do. (Eg: someone holding a friend’s hand and playing with it rather than flapping).

But, so here’s the thing. Stimming is fine. Using someone else’s body for stimming is usually not fine. Here are some rules of thumb about things likely to be perceived as physically invasive:

  • Touching someone’s hair
  • Touching someone’s clothing or possessions
  • Waving your hands or an object close to someone’s face
  • Repeating someone’s name over and over
  • Staring at someone or something close to them as a form of visual stimming (counting parts or visually tracing lines will look like staring)

Asking permission first tends not to solve the problem:

  • Most people will find it invasive even to be asked
  • Some people will say yes anyway, and then afterwards will think you are creepy
  • Unless you have reason to think the answer is probably yes, and you’re good at asking questions in a way that makes it clear you’ll take no for an answer, it’s probably better to assume it’s not ok
  • This is particularly true of stims that involve someone else’s body or personal space
  • It’s sometimes less true of things that involve objects, but I’m having trouble explaining circumstances under which touching objects might be ok.

Some of these boundaries are often different with sexual or romantic partners. Stimming with each other often *can* be consensual in those cases, but it’s important to make sure it *is* consensual.

But stimming is not the problem. Invading other people’s personal space is the problem.

It’s important to learn how to meet your sensory needs and stim without violating other people’s physical boundaries. I wrote a post with some suggestions on how to do that a while back, but there are a lot of other strategies that work too.