I volunteer at an organization with a very busy retail store, lots of activity, and tight quarters.

I have been a volunteer there for over three years and worked with this individual on an infrequent basis over that time.

This weekend, I evidently touched him on his back (probably travelling behind him and not wanting to be stepped on) and it resulted in him approaching me and telling me that my behavior made him uncomfortable.

As it was an unconscious or unintentional touch, at first I had no idea what he was talking about. He said there was another incident where I touched him to look at his sleeve tattoo, which I don't remember and assume was a while ago.

Generally, while volunteering I am pretty reserved and heads down with my work but occasionally the environment creates an atmosphere for teasing or joking (all very above board silliness, nothing off-color).

I was very upset by this confrontation, not sure what he was insinuating and really not sure why something as simple as a touch while passing someone would send someone in to confrontational mode.

I talked a bit to the manager of the store who told me this gentleman is the most sensitive man she knows, and she knows she can't do something as simple as teasing him about anything.

In hindsight, he is very monotone, does not show any facial emotion, talks about experiencing insomnia, and generally keeps to himself. There have been instances where he has invaded my personal space, and as he sometimes has overpowering b.o., its not pleasant but generally I try to be friendly and approachable.

After thinking a lot about things and doing a little research, it occurs to me that he might be schizophrenic. I know he was unemployed for a long time, but on some type of disability (or at least I assume he was due to the length of time, etc). In hindsight, I can see something about him, to me, has always been "off" or different, but I thought it was just his personality.

Trying to resolve this situation within myself, and not have it negatively impact my volunteering (its a three hour weekly committment), has generated some questions.

1. Could this man be schizophrenic?
2. Since his condition was not disclosed, how should I treat it while being empathetic? His confrontation creates a lot of awkwardness for me and makes me now uncomfortable.
3. In cases of a difference of perception, where someone's reaction to something seems overblown how is it possible to modify my own behavior to avoid future confrontations? I don't want to overcompensate by completely cold-shouldering but then again I found the situation kind of scary.

I want to be sensitive, but without full disclosure its really difficult. Its hard to be accomodating when someone has unpredictable reactions to a seemingly normal situation. Unfortunately, the environment is such that not bumping in to each other is virtually impossible. However, if he does suffer from schizophrenia, I don't want to fuel any fears or perceptions of persecution, etc.


1937 days ago
Hi - its not possible for us to make a diagnosis or even speculate if he has any diagnosis. When the touching incident happened, did you say sorry? When he said it made him uncomfortable - what did you say? I think you should forget about this and be aware he's prefers space - no need to totally avoid or give the cold shoulder as you said. As long as he does his job, it doesn't matter if he sticks to himself.

1937 days ago
Some people like their bubble. Something in his past probably makes him sensitive to being touched. Just do your best, respect his comfort zone and keep volunteering. I always try to live by to each their own, but if you're worried you could try talking to him.

1937 days ago
Yes, there is no way anyone, not even the manager, can speculate on a diagnosis! I am not sure what made you think schizophrenia?? There could be many reasons for his reaction to touch, and I agree that all that is needed is for you to accept that he has his boundaries and respect them. Even though it was accidental touching, it obviously disturbs him so just do your best to give him plenty of space. If it ever arises again, you could just gently apologize and explain again it was an accident. He is under no obligation to provide "full disclosure" of his medical condition (if such exists)to anyone other than his employer (and even then there are protective limits)