Safer Part 2 – Self, Situation and Surroundings
Welcome to part 2 of my series of posts on self defence. Introduction part 1 here.
In that post I talked about how talking about self defence feels like it is victim blaming and in trying to help people stay safe we end up restricting them. Really all self defence is victim blaming. Since we cannot control the actions of others, we put the onus on victims or targets to defend themselves. It’s not right and not fair. By teaching self defence we only maybe stop the people we teach from getting hurt.
If more people are consistent in what behaviour is acceptable, then those who hurt others are more likely to face consequences and have to change. Changing culture is incredibly hard work and many things are embedded into generation after generation. Bolstered by myths and ignorance. I have fallen prey to false and misleading advice myself. Much of it sounds convincing, particularly when delivered by a confident or popular person. Indeed people who do cause harm bank on these myths to get believed over the victim. Things also change over time as better research is done and as people evolve.
Part two is about the foundation of your self defence techniques. Without a strong foundation you are setting yourself up for difficult encounters on a regular basis, where people take advantage of your kindness and openness. These are not bad traits that should be changed, but good ones that need protecting. Anyone who practices martial arts will tell you if you have a shaky foundation, your stance, your mental state then your techniques will not work properly. Maybe not at all.
Although this is a really long post, I am sure there is a lot more to add. I did have to publish at some point though and spent far longer than I expected putting it all together. Not to mention suffering massive anxiety about giving out bad advice. I would welcome your thoughts in the comments.
I would like to stress again, that this is not about stopping doing things, but doing them in a way that makes you feel safer. It is knowing what risks you want to take or minimise.
The most important thing is to do what is right for you, right now. Only you can know that. It will change over time as you gain confidence.
My number one tip for self defence is to know yourself. It’s harder than you think and involves facing things you’d rather not admit. There are always things we can do to improve how we present to others, how we interact with others and how we use and control our own bodies. Now this is being really critical about yourself (not always a great idea), but don’t forget that all weaknesses have a strength and all strengths have a weakness. Be your own best friend and be honest with yourself. Just make sure that you don’t put yourself down. Accept yourself as you are (not as you think you are), faults and all.
My mum once announced that she always runs up the stairs. Her husband immediately said “no you don’t”. Fast to her was really a slow jog to everyone else present. The point is what you believe can often be different to what others believe. Everything is relative to the people you mix with and the culture you are in. Don’t expect people to behave and think the same way as you do.
To turn around Mum’s story, if we change the people, the context changes. In the original group, Mum was one of the eldest and the least fit. If she had been among her peers, she may have been the fittest and her statement may have been true.
Some things can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think people think a certain way about you, you can subconsciously be projecting that image out to others. Say you always think (or have been told) you are accident prone. Then when others are around it makes you nervous of dropping something, so you become shaky and you will in all likelihood drop something.
When I first started karate I was very timid, and I was always trying to take up less space, never looked anyone in the eye. I was nervous and anxious all the time and had a hyper alertness that had my eyes darting all round making me look furtive and suspicious. In trying to be inconspicuous, I actually made myself more noticeable.
I never really understood why I had to change my body language – until I tried it! I just wanted people to accept me as I am. I still think this, but there is no harm in trying people’s suggestions. Very few people see you as you really are, more how they are.
Opinion is constructed by social norms and unconscious bias. It is often formed within seconds of meeting and can last for a long time. We have to accept this fact and change what we can and want to change.
Occupying your own space
It is quite common for men to take up a huge amount of space, legs apart and arms outstretched. Women tend to sit cross-legged and arms close to our bodies. The biggest problem with making ourselves smaller is that we aren’t actually occupying our own space. See Dirty Dancing’s This is my space, that is yours.
We all have an aura, which isn’t just new age mumbo jumbo it is our electrical and magnetic fields. I’ve always thought of it a bit like a bubble we move around in, and if you make yourself really small people can get inside your bubble. The truth is by making ourselves smaller we restrict the energy flow/frequency around us and make breaks in our fields making it easier to feel like we are being invaded. We all know those people who stand too close, and make us uncomfortable.
All battles even the physical ones are more mental than physical
Triggers – Face your fears
What are your physical triggers. Are you claustrophobic? Do social situations stress you out or over-excite you? Do you have allergies? We’ve all seen that person allergic to bees totally freak out, when what they really need to do is stay completely calm and still. Not at all easy to do. While I’m not allergic to bee stings, as far as I know, I can stay calm. However ants completely freak me out and I’m still working on staying calm and not to immediately jump up and brush frantically at myself.
I really hate having my neck or head touched in any way, in fact I’m not keen on physical contact at all. I deal with it upfront and tell people, like hairdressers, dentists and opticians straight away. They are usually quite understanding and helpful. After all they want you to come back. If they are not, you know they are people who do not respect your boundaries. Karate has helped me build a tolerance of physical contact in a way where I feel safe and I know the intent before hand.
Honesty really is the best policy
What are your emotional triggers. For some it can something completely benign and none threatening but associated with a bad experience or painful memory. It could be a song, a smell, an object, someone’s turn of phrase, anything really. I had a friend who used to totally lose it if someone put a tomato in front of her. Turned out she had choked on one as a toddler. We get taken by surprise and then we get embarrassed for feeling so jumpy over such a harmless thing.
There are obvious triggers such as discussions of rape, deaths, car accidents, but if these are yours then you are probably already on the lookout for the signs of these. I’m not a fan of the trigger warnings that seem to be popular on blogs these days. I understand why people want them and why some people need them, but we should be able to deal with difficult things that are written. This will help us when things sneak through in other mediums, or (hopefully not) in real life.
Work on identifying when these might appear and how you are going to cope with it. See breathing below as a really helpful step. Some things you can build up a tolerance to and possibly stop it being a trigger. My Sensei likes to use being afraid of spiders as an analogy. Changing things takes time, so don’t expect things to get better without working at them.
I am not saying that you have to accept what people say to you either or even stand up to them. You have to work out what is the right course of action for you.
Fail – Invest in loss – let go
Try lots of different things and approaches. Either you win or you learn. Get comfortable with failing, because at least then you learn and expand. Keep what works and let go of what doesn’t work for you. The more you try the more solutions you will find and the more confident you will become. You might have guessed I like quotes :). They work for me.
Allow yourself to feel
Feelings are natural and normal, if you feel angry, upset, fearful, allow yourself to feel it. You cannot help how you feel, but you can choose how to deal with it and move on. If you can take time out to wallow in it a little, it will help you understand what you are really feeling. You have to find the anger behind the anger. The internet is really useful for finding out why you might be feeling what you are feeling. How ever unusual or unique you think your situation is, there is always someone else who has been through it and offering advice. Often there are lots of people going through similar issues. You are not alone.
Where is your line in the sand? What behaviours are you willing to put up with? What would you absolutely not? How flexible are you? If you have a flexible and helpful nature you may find yourself letting people move your line in the sand until you are back up against the wall, leaving you with only hard choices.
Be clear even if just to yourself what is unacceptable and what you are willing to be flexible on. Then decide for how many times or chances you are going to allow it to happen and it will be different for different types of people. Family and close friends will often get more chances. Unfortunately this is where you have to do the hard boundary setting with the people you like the most and want to help the most.
Just be careful not to make your boundaries too rigid that you cannot try new things.
Like setting boundaries for children’s behaviour you have to follow through for it to be effective.
Saying NO simply without explanations
No is a complete sentence, you don’t need to explain yourself or go into details of why you can’t or won’t do something. Women in particular are prone to start making excuses, or trying to say no in a softer, kinder way. We have largely been taught that our no’s don’t really mean No, but ‘Maybe’ and are frequently pushed to change it, not just by men either. I have personally been laughed at and told I that’s cute for saying No.
What we really need to do is repeat our No firmly and calmly. Again like the boundary setting or as part of this, it is the people that we are closest to that it is hardest to say that to. Every now and again practice by saying no to something you can do. Maybe just a meet up date, don’t take the first one offered, even if you can. It will make you feel guilty, mean or rude. Like in this example of saying no to a friend.
It is something we learn as children. We can help future generations by being emphatic in teaching this. Once someone says no that it means NO, whether they are the child or the adult. This example is great about teaching a child how to say No in relation to what is done to them.
Give yourself permission
Sometimes we don’t fight back, verbally or physically, because nice people don’t do ____ fill in your own blank. I was told as a child after kicking my brother that only donkey’s kick, girls don’t. I don’t remember why I kicked him and I really hurt him, pretty sure he had been winding me up somehow. This really stuck with me and until I started karate I had this unconscious do not kick block. I was not allowed to be angry.
So if the worst happens, it helps to have told yourself, it’s ok to poke someone in the eyes if they are trying to strangle you. It’s ok to cause someone harm if they are trying to harm you. (However it’s not ok to keep harming someone when you are free to escape).
This works for so many things. Learning how to control your breathing, particularly when stressed or in pain can help you to stay active and keep your brain working in a productive way. The trouble is when we are in shock, first we hold our breath and then we breath quickly and shallowly.
I use my kata Sanchin as a form of meditation and stress relief. I think of the opening circle as surrounding all the problems and anxieties in my life or sometimes just everything to do with one issue and bring it close to me. Breathing in for the whole circle. Then for the small circle breathe out and think of letting go. Then for each time the arms come in breathe in allow those feelings to be and when the arms go out think of releasing and those feelings as done and served their purpose. Sometimes I just think my way through it to do the breathing part.
My friend sent me this video. Which is really easy.
Getting too involved
Sometimes we are too helpful, we get involved in things that aren’t our problems or issues. Instead of just giving advice or even just listening, we try to solve the problem. This is not about being a bystander, this is about whether
- a person wants or needs your help
- deserves help. Do you keep giving the same advice and they haven’t tried it?
- the issue is more about them than the issue
When you get too involved, it can drain you, and use resources you need for yourself. This post sums it up nicely.
Listen to your gut, if it feels wrong. It may well be, doesn’t matter for what reason. Practice reading it like walking down the high street and choosing left or right of a person, try to see what feels right. Everybody takes on more information than they realise in unconscious observations. This is the core of your intuition and may tell you how to avoid or prepare for trouble.
Learn what it can do and what it can’t.
I know that I run out of energy and dehydrate quickly. My balance and speed is good but I’m a sprinter not a marathon runner. My strength is below average and I know that one blow to the head is likely to make me dizzy or unconscious straight away. I have one short-sighted eye and one long-sighted eye. My hearing is good but my processing of words is less so. I could go on but you get the idea.
So take running away, which is often cited as the best self defence technique. I know I could run fast and I’m not likely to fall, but I would need to get to a safe place nearby, as my energy levels may let me down. I also know that my speed would be impaired if the temperature is cold. I know that I need to protect my head no matter what.
I also know that when something really awful happens, that my personality flips from a sensitive, easily hurt and stressed person to a very calm, practical, take charge person. This is actually quite common and has been documented in reactions of people during disasters, usually the other way round. Where a confident, practical, take charge person has just run terrified or collapsed with shock. Yet in their day to day lives, they are the people that we turn to.
Every woman has heard the phrase “are you on your period?” for when we get angry or even slightly raise our voice. Very annoying, but we cannot ignore the fact that we have a cycle and that hormones do affect us and in turn we affect the people around us. I would argue that we should absolutely check that the reason we are angry, crying or whatever isn’t because of the monthly hormone dump, usually around the 14th day. This doesn’t mean whatever you are upset at isn’t a valid feeling, it just means that you bottled it up instead of dealing with it.
Now I know very little about how using the pill or coil affects your cycle, so I would be very interested in views on that. Maybe you don’t need to worry at all.
I also believe that men have cycles too, where they are more likely to get angry or irritable.
Improve your strengths and weaknesses
Once you know what your can and can’t do, you can work on making your strengths and weaknesses stronger. For example. I have worked hard on knowing my boundaries and practised saying no to friends and family in a clearer less apologetic way. I’ve learnt to listen analytically to criticisms of me and ways I behave, not always to change them but to see if they have a point or if it is more about them than me. I will cover this more in part 3 on awareness.
This is about risk assessment, establishing what is normal for the situation. Women are actually already pretty good at this. We all know we are taking a greater risk going out in the dark and to stick to well lit, busy areas. To be more wary amongst men and of men in general.
Suzy Lamplaugh Trust is 30 years old this year and is the leading preventative personal safety charity in the UK. They have extensive advice in many specific situations. Including lone working, going running, doorstep safety, dating, and an extensive list of helplines. So I’m not going to go into too much detail as they already have it covered.
- Pre plan, tell someone your plans. Tell someone where you are going and when you are expected back.
- Learn how to read body language and energy levels of others.
- Know your route and destinations, where you can park, places you can go for help.
Attacks from strangers are rarest and usually the easiest to prevent and get away from.
In short what can you do to minimise risk?
This is the practical, what is in this, or the environment you are going to. What can be useful, what or who can help you, what can trap you.
Where is a good place to park. Where are your exits, what obstacles are in your way. What things in the room can help or hinder you, chairs, tables, stuff to throw. Locks on doors.
Who are the people can help you if you need it and where are they located. What is normal for where you live? Who are your neighbours, What are their routines?
What about the people you live with? Work with? Can you trust them? What are their routines? Triggers? What can you or others do to circumvent/interrupt trouble? Learn about the three Ds of bystander intervention.
What can you do to make your home safer and easier to escape? Like removing easy access to knives. I’ve never liked knives on display. Swords can be locked behind glass. Can you get a lock fitted on a safe room? Remember everything that can be used for defence can also be used as a weapon.
Men are most at risk in their teens and twenties, when in out and in or near other groups. Women are most at risk from their former or current partners, which makes things a bit trickier for us.
Don’t get paranoid about all this, do a little at a time. Build confidence by knowing small things really well. The chances of needing to physically defend yourself out and about are small and largely easily avoided.
This advice is true to the best my knowledge, but remains my opinions based on what I’ve been taught, personal experience and personal research.
If you have been affected by any content in this post, please speak to a professional. Again there are many useful helplines on the Suzy Lamplaugh Trust website.
Posts to follow will cover: