Today I’m back to “red flags.” These are the hints that something may be awry. Also called gut feelings, intuition, instincts, it refers to trusting yourself when you’re uncomfortable or sensing something amGirls learning about red flags and trusting their intuition when sensing something wrongiss. Some red flags are subtle, some really blatant. They are all specific behaviors that somebody is doing that bumps into one of your boundaries.

Red flags also come in different “flavors.” By that I mean they are tactics to try to take down specific boundaries. Consider these three red flags, and what they have in common:

▪ Keeps asking you out after you’ve said no
▪ Pushes you to drink alcohol or use drugs
▪ Refuses to wear protection when engaging in sex

If this were a class setting, I’d give you a few seconds to think about it. If you want to, take a bit of time yourself to think about these three.

What they have in common is an explicit rejection of boundaries you’ve already stated.

If you’ve already said no to dating, repeatedly asking is not flattering. At best, it’s awkward.  At worst, dangerous and (very) rarely life-threatening.  Do you really want to go on a date with someone who ignores your boundaries?

Alcohol and drugs are known to impair our cognitive functions and physical reactions. Indulgence should be a choice. If someone is pressuring you, wonder why. Never underestimate the human need to fit in, to belong. Perpetrators will frequently exploit that, especially in a social situation.

Refusing to wear protection when having sex. What could possibly go wrong? The statement assumes you’ve already had a discussion, or you’re having the discussion. Maybe you’re not ready for parenthood, or don’t want to deal with an STD. Now do you think the person with whom you’re having this discussion is unaware of potential risks? They’re aware all right, just don’t feel it’s a big deal for them, and your boundary is just a nuisance.

As I’ve already said, the flavor of these three red flags is that of explicitly negating your boundary.  Of saying your needs are just preferences, probably trivial, and not taken seriously. You may be past the state of sensing something amiss, you could very well be experiencing some strong feelings of violation, or embarrassment, or even shame that your boundaries were disregarded. We all know that many boundaries do change over time and with different people, and you get to decide which are more fluid and which are more fixed. Because your freedom to make your own choices, to be able to trust yourself in sensing something wrong, is essential to real personal safety.

Speaking of which, our Personal Safety Essentials class is happening tomorrow night. Self-Defense for Teen Girls ages 12-14 is this coming Sunday, and Self-Defense for Teen Girls ages 15+ is March 13th (but that one may be full now). I should be posting a Spring schedule in the next week or so.

Stay safe, live life.

I used to work a regular 9 to 5 job, before shifting my focus on teaching self-defense. A feature of many regular jobs is having co-workers. Some you like, some you get along with, and others, not so much. At one job I had two co-workers who really did not like each other, we’ll call them Sally and Nicky. They pretty much did the same tasks for different supervisors, but often disagreed on processes. And every so often, their disagreements would get a bit loud. Specifically, Sally would get loud.

Now, when Sally got loud it wasn’t just that her vocal volume went up. She began verging on, and often crossed over into, verbal abrasiveness, even abuse. That’s not really surprising. When we take on expressions of anger, such as raising our voices, the emotion — even if we don’t intend it — will often also rise. (We discuss that in our self-defense classes, as one reasoTwo co-workers who dislike each other, an intervention may need to happen.n why using your voice is so important.)  Sally would ALWAYS deny that she was angry, her voice just got naturally happened to get loud. But the reality was, it didn’t JUST get loud. She’d begin throwing in derogatory comments on the other person’s overall competence and intelligence.

One day Sally and Nicky began one of their discussion just outside my cubicle. As usual, it began in quiet tones, but within a couple of minutes Sally’s voice began to rise. I got up from my desk, walked over, looked each of them in the face, and said, “indoor voices, please.” Then went back to my desk. They kept it down for another minute, but then Sally’s voice again began rising. Again, I walked over and said in a firmer tone, “indoor voices please.” This time the remainder of the conversation was held in conversational tones.

Later that day Nicky thanked me for intervening. Because Sally’s voice never rose to the point of agitation, she didn’t get to that verbally abusive level.

I’m not saying this will work in any and all situations. I had insider knowledge, a “special sauce.”  I knew the participants well enough to recognize that Sally did value the appearance of appropriate workplace behavior. I also believe she thought I had influence with the bigger boss. Those two factors probably contributed a LOT to why my “special sauce” intervention worked.

One critical aspect of bystander intervention is that while intervention is important, in our ideal world we’d all interact with other people in non-harmful manners, we’d all have that level of self-awareness and care. In that ideal world, we would not have to intervene, but if we did we’d be more comfortable and confident doing so. Maybe we’d all know and care about our friends and colleagues, so we have our own “special sauces” that would appeal to their better selves. We don’t live in that ideal world, so how do we signal to others joining our social and work groups that our norms are more respectful and non-harmful? We explicitly state those boundaries and expectations, we hold each other (as well as ourselves) accountable for actions, and we have appropriate consequences for inappropriate behavior.

I personally never overheard a Sally and Nicky argument after that. Unfortunately, they did continue, out of my earshot, because it seemed I was the only one to speak up. Was I the only person who had the recipe for the “special sauce?” No, but apparently I was the only one not too uncomfortable speaking up.  So even if you feel let off the hook because someone else already said something, no you are actually not off the hook. Please consider how to do your part to create a safer environment, so you can lessen the odds that you’ll ever have to use your more drastic self-defense skills.

This morning I was reading an advice column where the inquirer had told their family that, even though they hosted every year, because of the pandemic there would be no Thanksgiving gathering this year.  Yet that Thanksgiving morning family members showed up, each with an excuse why it was okay for them to be there. The inquirer wanted to know how to “lovingly” shut the door to uninvited guests who are putting you at risk.  How you can still be setting boundaries, effectively and without damaging relationships.

The responder, quite accurately, got to the point that there’s a difference between caring about others’ feelings and assuming RESPONSIBILITY for said feelings, and we should set our boundaries according to our needs and safety. Check out this article for the details.

The responder states the answer is patently obvious, which is true.  You could say (and I am paraphrasing and expanding what the responder wrote), “Cousins, Happy Thanksgiving!  What brings you here?  I already told you we weren’t having our usual gathering. Why would you come anyway? I am very much looking forward to a time when we can again safety be physically together.”

But what is also obvious yet unstated by the responder is the long-term effects of socialization, expectations, and fear of facing negative emotions.  Not to mention lack of support from others in the family.  Setting boundaries in families are among the most challenging interactions we can have.

It would have been another step for for responder to go into a bit about socialization, where certain people are expected to put others’ comfort over their own safety. When I ask, many students say they have not set boundaries in the past because they did not want to damage a relationship (note they didn’t seem to be as concerned with the other person’s actions in damaging the relationship). Second common reason was not wanting to deal with others hurt or angry feelings.

This is a lot to unpack for setting boundaries, and it is crucial to understand and deal with your own discomfort if you are to successfully set boundaries.

The object of safety planning is safety, yes.  And, for most efficacy, put some effort into planning.  Someone acts, you respond, what’s next?

Over the last few months I’ve talked a lot about setting boundaries. Most of the time is it successful, in large part because most peoples’ intent are pretty good.  Also in part because most perpetrators want easy targets — they don’t want to have to work hard.

However, sometime there may be repercussions or consequences. This can happen where there’s a difference in power, where there’s an employer/employee relationship, or coach/athlete relationship, or teacher/student relationship. It can also happen when peers are involved.  Part of making your personal safety planning effective is in plotting out those “what’s next” possibilities.

Consider the other person’s possible responses when you set a boundary, and plan your responses to them. Assess the probabilities of each of the possible responses. This should be based on your past experiences with that person. If you set boundaries, could your boss deny a promotion or raise, or demote you, or fire you? Can a coworker or classmate begin a round of gossip, or even try to sabotage some of your work? Can a coach limit your play time, or even cut you from the team?  Will that person get a bit huffy, stomp away, and then nothing else happens?  Or will they just say “OK,” and it’s all good?

Assess the people around — are they likely to be allies or detractors? Is it safe for you to talk to some of them beforehand?

And, if necessary, do you have an exit strategy?

Watch the Netflix documentary Athlete A for some good examples of choices around boundaries.  I wrote about that a few weeks ago.

And even if you’re not liking some possible outcomes of setting boundaries, think of the results of NOT setting boundaries. Which consequences would you rather live with?

You may know this site as Strategic Living Personal Safety and Self-Defense Training. But today, for this post, we are Strategic Living Personal Safety and Selectivity Training. Because recognizing and selecting when to say YES or NO is an important component of your personal safety. As a bonus feature, an important component of your peace of mind.  You make choices every day, selecting whether to say YES or NO to requests.

That includes when someone wants your time. They may be a stranger, a co-worker, client, acquaintance, exercise buddy, family member, BFF; could be live, could be on some webinar platform such as Zoom, could be on Facebook or other social media. Maybe they want advice, or want to give you advice, or tell you about their day, or make sure you know their opinion. Maybe they want a discussion, or pick a fight, or are testing your boundaries to see what they can get out of you. Maybe they just need to connect with another human.

By all means take that into account, and consider what you want. Much of the time, you can select whether to engage or not, and at what level. Recognize when you can make that choice.  Think of it as selectivity training.

Perhaps because I’m a bit older, I take measure of my time. I’m at the age where I’ve lived more years than are ahead, and my use of my time has more urgency.  (If you are younger this is still true, but you may not think about it with the same sense of urgency.)  My time is valuable. Once spent, I can’t get it back. So I choose to spend more time on people and events that I will enjoy, or from which I will benefit, or that will result in a sense of accomplishment or feeling that I was able to help, or it’s sustaining and self-care. If somebody wants to waste my time, I probably don’t need to let that happen. I can select to end the conversation, say no, walk away.  Perhaps they will consider me rude; oh well, that is their prerogative. And that’s it. Move on. Live your life. Stay safe, and live life.

Today is Thursday, January 14, of the year 2021.  Next week Joseph R. Biden will be sworn in as President of the United States, in a ceremony that threatens to be quite memorable. I generally don’t get very political in these posts.  Issues and principles, yes. Today is an exception; we are living through interesting times.

Thanks to last week’s events, some starkly clear lines are truly impossible to ignore.  [If you are reading this way in the future, just look up the events leading to President Trump’s second impeachment.]  Last week the Capitol Building in Washington, DC was over-run by a large group of Trump supporters in town to attend a rally.  At this rally, the outgoing President of the United States said some things that incited them to then march to the Capitol Building, break in, and cause damage to people and property.  Among the unruly masses seem to have been some more focused individuals, who had goals of finding specific elected officials, restraining them, possibly physically harming them. In addition, it seems that some individuals who swore to uphold the law instead forwent their oath and enabled the mob. This is not the rule of law.  This is not democracy.

Why am I bringing this up, why is this important for your personal safety? (Yes, sooner or later this does get back to personal safety.) I’ll bet you can answer that question. Your personal safety is only as secure as your ability to rely on social institutions for justice and redress. Frankly, that’s been on shaky ground anyways for a long while. However, the last 4 years have exacerbated and highlighted inequities.

What makes this especially relevant are not just those who incite sedition or commit insurrection. They are the tip of the iceberg, the most visible element and that which gets most attention. But there are also the enablers. Those who create and echo lies, engage in the gaslighting, mislead others, often for their own profit. Those who denigrate facts for their own benefit, and to the detriment of others.  I’ve written before about enablers (most recently about the documentary Athlete A), and why more people don’t report crimes committed against them.  To repeat:  It’s not just the perpetrators, though they are a critical ingredient.  It’s also those who support perpetrators.  Those who engage in distraction, gaslighting, and threats to intimidate those targeted and garner support from bystanders.    Not just the Trumps, but the Giulianis, Alex Joneses, and Steve Bannons, who stand to gain from their support but at the expense of others.

Stay tuned for more living through interesting times.

The last couple of months I’ve written about recognizing (and fixing) boundary violations, finding support, and building community.  All are essential aspects of personal safety.  And, for my final post of this year (still 2020), I’m turning towards feeling safety, i.e., recognizing what is (or is not) “safety.”

  • Safety is situational.  We all move through different environments each day.  Leaving home, commuting to work or school, going out for lunch, meeting up with some friends in a park afterwards . . . each place has its own levels of safety.  What does safety look or feel like for each?
  • Safety is making choices.  Safety is the ability to navigate your course in life while minimizing the risk of harm.  The ability to make informed choices is a prerequisite for sustainable safety.
  • Does familiarity = safety?  Most of us feel safer in familiar environments.  Places we already know, when others we know, like and trust are nearby.  “Where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came,” to trot out that old TV sitcom theme.  Or even if we are physically alone, we can be on the phone with someone (while we may feel safer, we may not actually be safer).  “There’s safety in numbers,” says the cliche.  At the same time, most assaults against women are committed by someone known.  Over half homicides where the victim is female is committed by a current or former intimate partner.  The assailant abuses familiarity to gain access to commit assault.

Think about your different environments.  Work.  School.  Home.  Shopping.  Commuting.  Public space.  Social gathering.  Maybe you can add something specific to your life.  Pick one.

Get out a piece of paper and a pen, or colored pens.  Consider how you’d know you’re “safe” in that place.  Make a list.  It could be bullet-point or mind-map organized, just begin putting thoughts down what safety in a specific space would look and feel like.

I picked Home.  Take a look at this video for what I consider important for feeling safety at home.  Now do the same yourself.  You may come up with similar results, or yours may be different.  Regardless, they are your choices.  Make them.

 

Safety at Home from Joanne Factor on Vimeo.

 

These last 2 weeks I’ve been outlining finding support after assault.  Self-care is a critical aspect of anyone’s overall safety plan, and the central pillar of self-care is knowing who among your family and friends could support you after any assault, regardless of outcome.  Two weeks ago I began outlining traits of those individuals, with my thumbnail sketch of what a supportive human does.

  • They listen.
  • They believe you.
  • They remind you it wasn’t your fault.

Two weeks ago I described what listening looks and sounds like.  Last week I described what believing you and reminding you it wasn’t your fault looks and and sound like.  Today I have a few more words on blame and fault-finding, and then move on to creating community.

First, some words about those who habitually blame victims for their own assaults. This is chronic in domestic violence, where the abuser is manipulating the target’s perception.  Very often also manipulating the perception of those around, cutting off ways of getting support.  This is often described as “gaslighting.”  It is a long-term strategy for you to relinquish control and hand over decision-making.

Getting support? Not from them!

Getting support? Not from them!

A major process in our culture is an adversarial approach — our justice system and political system are set up to pit two sides against each other, there are defined rules and referees, they duke it out like a boxing or martial arts sparring match, and a winner is picked. So it’s not really a surprise that some of us expand that view, that life is a brutal competition.  It bleeds into other parts of our lives, where there are no explicit rules, no referee, and it’s not a good fit.  And it’s all about power.

There does not need to be a long-term relationship for blame-shifting to occur.  People who harm others often try to shift attention away from themselves and their actions to what the victim did “wrong.”  The stereotypical ones include “what was she wearing,” “how much did she drink,” and “she was flirting.”  Others in our communities, like ourselves, want to stay safe and part of their process, though, is to find out details about what happened to others and resolve to not make the same “mistakes.” Except there’s a big problem with this approach.  The person targeted may have done something different, and it may have made a difference, or maybe not.  There are people who do “wrong” stuff all the time — they smile at strangers, they drink a lot, maybe even pass out on a friend’s couch.  And didn’t get assaulted.  Because there was no assailant present.  The common elements of all assault isn’t clothing choices or alcohol consumption or flirting, it’s the person(s) who made the bad choice to take what they wanted, regardless of consent.

Do you want to wait until after an assault to figure out who your supportive friends are?  Probably not.  Rather, you can be cultivating those relationships now.

My colleague Yehudit Sidikman of ESD Global suggested in a recent blog post that you practice talking about “what-if” scenarios with those important people in your life.  One of her examples is, “mom, if something like this [kind of assault] ever happened to me, how would you react if I told you?”  Or begin a conversation with a good friend like, “ I’ve never had this happen to me, but I am wondering how you would react if I came to you and told you that [add story].”  Maybe there was a recent assault in the news, you could use that as your example.  Or a particular #MeToo story.  Their responses can give you some information about what they think about assault and blame.  We do all know that there’s often a gap between what a person says and what they will do, so please temper this with what you already know about them.   But, perhaps more importantly, it will also give them food for thought. And this does not have to be a “one-off” discussion, and should not be a one-off.  You transition that “what-if” into a conversation on what it means to be supportive, to be a friend, do you want to be supportive, when do you feel it important to be supportive.  When these conversations happen with a few people in your circle, and it becomes less awkward, you get a better sense of where people are at.  You find those who share your values, and you maybe even move others to really think about what support means.

Building these relationships takes a while.  And it is critical.  And that’s how communities begin, one relationship at a time.

Why don’t you begin with the very next conversation you have with someone close?  Today is not too soon.

Today, November 11, is Veterans Day.  The one day where we as a nation formally thank those who served our country with their military service. Parades, taking out old photos and uniforms, visits to memorials.  We recognize all those who served.  At the same time, as a nation we are less caring about veterans’ getting support they need.

For about 12 years (between 2003 and 2014) I worked with Dr. Wendy David, Dr. Ann Cotton, and the VA Medical Center in Seattle on the Taking Charge project.  This 12-week self-defense program was for women veterans who were suffering from long-term, chronic PTSD as a result of sexual assault while in military service.  (Unfortunately, the program ended when Dr. David retired.)  If you are familiar with PTSD, you know it’s not pretty.  Watch this short video for more on the effects and possible causes.

While this blog post not an exposition on PTSD, I have to note there’s a significant correlation between social support and the likelihood of an assault survivor developing PTSD.  One commonality all the participants in Taking Charge had was a lack of support from those around them after their assaults.  Our culture does come with a large victim-blaming component, and sorting out those who can be supportive from those who won’t is likely to be critical to your long-term health and happiness.

Last week I began outlining how to find those individuals who would be supportive, with my thumbnail sketch of what a supportive human would do.

  • They listen.
  • They believe you.
  • They remind you it wasn’t your fault.

Last week’s post was on the first bullet point, listening.  Today I’m moving on to the other two.

They believe you.  Most women are assaulted by someone known to them, particularly in cases of sexual assault.  They may be a friend, a co-worker, a classmate, a colleague, a family member.  Because of that, others you know will also know that assailant.  When you confide in someone in that same circle, it can get complicated.  That person may be struggling to wrap their brains around what you are telling them, which may be totally counter to their own experiences with the assailant.  They’re trying to figure out how someone they know as a kind and generous soul could have done something so wrong.  We humans do not do well with that sort of cognitive dissonance.  That can come out as questioning your account of what happened, which comes across as non-supportive.  One option is to confide in someone from another social circle.  Another is to cultivate relationships of support, which is the topic of next week’s blog post.

Finally, a supportive person will remind you that the assault was not your fault.  Period.  End of sentence.  It is so common for the person assaulted (or targeted) to go over details again and again and again in their heads, trying to figure out if they could have, should have, done something different.  Maybe there is something they could have done differently.  It may or may not have made a difference.  It’s overlooking the fact that someone else made that choice to harm someone.  That’s right, the assailant is not like a fast-moving river into which you slip and fall.  Rivers don’t make choices to injure or drown people.  But people do.  The assailant is the person who is responsible for their actions.  If you are the listener, please make it a point to remind your friend/family member of that.

And, in a nutshell, that’s how you know someone is supportive.  But, do you really want to wait until you are in need to find those trusted, supportive folks?  No.  Next week we’ll look at building supportive communities.

I’ve been teaching self-defense for over 25 years.  And for most of those years I’ve been teaching that self-care is an essential part of everyone’s safety and self-defense planning. Self-care covers a wide range of actions, like exercise or meditation or listening to music or watching funny cat videos on YouTube or a glass of wine or seeking medical care or . . . pick your top three ways to calm yourself when upset or anxious.  My personal favorite is playing music — drumming along to some of my all-time favorite songs, or muddling through a guitar chord progression with overdrive and reverb.

But, if I had to pick just ONE self-care practice as most critical, it has to be getting support from other people. We humans are social creatures. Any assault, or attempted assault, regardless of outcome, often feels isolating and like a loss of control over important aspects of life. Connecting with another human helps offset that, but only when that other human is supportive. We do live in a highly victim-blaming culture, and have to recognize that not every one of our acquaintances (or even family or closer friends) will be open to supporting you.

Over the years I’ve heard from several students that, when confiding in those who they assumed would be supportive, were met with statements such as “what did you expect,” or “you sure won’t make that mistake again,” or “I hope you learned something from that experience,” or “how could you let that happen to you.”  As humans, we will often look to safety, or at least to mitigate and manage risks.  Some people’s interest in hearing about others’ misfortunes is to “inform” themselves so they won’t make the same “mistakes.”  And sometimes they will think they are helping by informing you of their conclusions.  It may not mean they are a bad person, but it does mean they don’t have (or are not willing to make available) emotional bandwidth for you.

But let’s get back to getting support. How would we recognize that supportive human? Is there a covert signal or secret handshake?

By what they do. Here’s my thumbnail sketch of what a supportive human would do.

  • They listen.
  • They believe you.
  • They remind you it wasn’t your fault.

    One woman is getting support from another.

    Getting support from a trusted friend or family member is an important component in healing from assault.

I’m going to go over each of these three items.  In this blog post, it’s listening.  Next couple of weeks will cover believing and not blaming you.  And then we’ll tie it up with steps for the future.

First, though, I strongly suggest that you give a potential listener a heads-up that you’d like to share something uncomfortable.  Give them a chance to assess their readiness to offer support.  Or, if necessary, set their own boundaries.  Even the best supporters are not available 24/7 to everyone (self-care, remember?).  An important part of getting support is that the support has to be voluntarily given!

Someone who is listening is really LISTENING, rather than trying to figure out their snappy reply.  Listening is NOT letting you talk for 10, 20, or 60 seconds, then interrupting with “hey did you try THIS?  You coulda done THAT, you shoulda done THAT, I woulda done . . . ”  Thank that person for their time, and move on.  They don’t have bandwidth for you.

Rather, listening involves taking in what that other person is offering.  A really good listener will treat what you’re saying as a gift, and if they have the emotional space they will be paying attention to what you are saying and the event’s impact on you.  You may hear something more like, “That sounds horrible, I’m so sorry you had that experience!  I am here for you.”  And now is where listening is super important.  The listener could assess if you need to just talk, or if they are looking for advice, or if they have their next steps and want your help.  And, dear listener, it’s OK to ask.  Do keep in mind that part of the trauma of assault is the feeling that control over ones life has been torn away; one goal of the listener is to help empower those hurt by making sure their choices are really theirs.

Next week, we look at the other two items on my list, believing and reminding that assault is not your fault.