Good morning, it’s another sunny day in the glorious Emerald City. Summer is already more than halfway over, at least if you’re a student in the Seattle Public Schools.

This last week and a half I’ve spent far too much time late at night watching the Olympics on TV. Not that I’m following any particular sport or athletes, I’m just overall impressed at the training and skill levels and performances. Their dedication, focus, and persistence is inspiring.

One of the bigger stories out of this Olympics is Simone Biles’ withdrawal from some events. You know who she is, right? Gymnast for the American team, and one of the top gymnasts of all time. She’s amazing. I admire Simone Biles.  And she withdrew from some events, my understanding is due to a lapse in mind-body connection. Something they called the “twisties.” Frankly, I cannot fathom how anyone can keep their mind-body connection during their routines, but again I’m not a gymnast and don’t have that concrete experience. And that’s what makes those athletes’ performances so engaging to me.

There’s been a lot of opinion expressed on social media and broadcast media. Some of it is actually informative, some not so much. I am very impressed with Simone Biles, and not just for her skills and performances. Her recognition that she has to have her own priorities straight (in this case, her wellbeing over pressure to compete), that she can and did take the reigns of control over her participation, and her openness in making it a public discussion. Given her level of achievement and drive, I am certain she did not make this decision lightly. And I trust her judgement about her readiness to spin and flip in the air over and over, and once again land intact.  And for that I even more admire Simone Biles.

Simone Biles does not need my validation. I’m not talking about this for her. I’m talking about this, amplifying her, for us more everyday people, who sometimes feel pressured to please someone else at our own expense. Simone Biles is a truly exceptional athlete, and she is still as human as the rest of us. While the pressures on her may be more public than those on most of us, we too can face intense scrutiny over our choices and decisions. And we too can decide what’s best for us, what can be harmful to us, and figure out how to prioritize our well-being in concrete actions. So, let’s do more of it.

On another note, July’s classes were all in-person, August’s self-defense classes too will be in-person, and I’m happy with how they are going and students’ participation. Yes, I’m still asking that all students be fully vaccinated, and even for outdoor classes we’re masking up. I’ve got a lot happening in August, and my Fall schedule should be posted soon. I may even have to cut back on blogging, such as I did last week, just for increased class time. Stay tuned for more updates.

As always, stay safe, live life.

Today I’m talking about another book:  Outsmarting the Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout, PhD.  Dr. Stout is a clinical psychologist who was on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, and specializes in recovery from psychological trauma and PTSD.  I read one of her earlier books, The Sociopath Next Door, a number of years ago, and after reading James Fallon’s book decided it was time for an update.

Outsmarting the Sociopath Next DoorIn this book, Dr. Stout focuses on the very practical concerns of managing the effects on your well-being of those in your life, from whom you cannot just walk away, who lack a conscience and cannot form emotional bonds with others.  Whose mode of operation is treating life as a zero-sum game, where there are winners and losers and they are determined to be winners and rub in that you are the loser.  The three groups she looks at are 1. your own children, 2. people you have to work with, and 3. exes involved in child custody battles.  She offers very specific recommendations about how to structure your interactions with these individuals, once you recognize them for what they are.  

A big barrier is likely just recognizing someone as a sociopath, with its implications for how to work with them.  They won’t “get better” if only you were a better parent, better spouse, better employee.  That their behavior is not your fault, no matter how much blame they try to hand off to you.  That you have to pay attention to your own emotional welfare.

One phrase in this book that caught my attention is “closed system.”  In our self-defense classes I refer to this as “social isolation.”  You and the sociopath are in a relationship that may be covert, and you may be embarrassed or afraid or insecure and not talk about it. Or the relationship may be well-known, but what goes on behind closed doors is kept mum.  Dr. Stout points out (as do we in our classes), that violence thrives in silence, and she suggests that you find a person you trust, and who would be supportive, someone to confide in, who is also outside the social group you share with the sociopath.  So if the sociopath is a co-worker, talk with someone not at your workplace. 

Dr. Stout believes that with diligence, persistence, and planning, you can be outsmarting the sociopath next door.  Sociopaths, according to her, have a limited range of motivation and pretty much stick to their script.  Can you work around that, as they are trying to push your buttons for the reaction they want?

Dr. Stout also strongly suggests that when dealing with agencies such as law enforcement and the courts, you refrain from using the word sociopath (or psychopath, or any other clinical diagnostic labels) to describe that person.  That will not get you the support you’re seeking, and in fact may get YOU labeled as the trouble-maker.  How’s that?  Read the book.

And that’s all for today.  Be sure to check out the summer schedule for LIVE IN-PERSON classes.

Stay safe, live life.

Today is May 26, 2021. I have some decisions to make. Scheduling classes for the summer. Usually it’s not a big deal, kind of like a jigsaw puzzle putting together dates with class types, but this year I have to choose between running live in-person classes or sticking with virtual Zoom sessions. Do I require in-person class attendees to be vaccinated for COVID-19? To show proof, or trust they are truthful?

Do you trust yourself?

I read this book years ago, “Yes” or “No”: The Guide to Better Decisions by Spencer Johnson. Johnson is known for writing business self-help books that rely on allegories to convey their points. In this one he goes through a tale about a young man needing to make a decision and the advice he’s given by a mentoring group while on an extended hiking trip. We never find out what the issue or choices were, the whole point was the process of arriving at a decision via a series of six questions. The first three questions were in the rational realm, but the second three were more in the domain of the heart. One of those key questions to ask oneself is “does this decision show that I trust my instincts?”

Do you trust yourself?

Sure, all of us on occasion have misjudged situations, misread body language, acted on our prejudice and assumptions. But what happened afterwards? What did you find out? Did you find feedback to learn more about yourself? Were you honest with yourself?

Do you trust yourself?

Or, did someone subsequently try to shame you, or insist that your assessments are always wrong? Always would be wrong? With constant picking on your choice of clothing, restaurants, or movies. Disparaging comments about your family and friends? Expressions of contempt for your opinions on matters cultural or political?

Over a decade ago one student told me about her self-development strategy. She sold cherries in Pike Place Market over the summer, One student learned to "read" people when she sold cherries at the market, and learned to trust herself.when she was home from college. Now, who’s in Pike Place Market in the summer? A whole lotta tourists, who really don’t need cherries. They may need a snowglobe with the Space Needle, or a chocolate salmon, or a T-shirt that says “my parents went to Seattle and all I got was this T shirt.” But not cherries. So she came out from behind the stand to interact more with visitors. From that experience she learned to assess body language and attitudes, and more quickly figure out who may be a customer and who may be a creep.  (BTW, I also talked about this in my blog post 2 weeks ago.)

As I’ve noted several times, the great American sage Yogi Berra is said to have said, you can observe a lot just by watching.

She honed her sense of trusting herself.  You can, too.

Stay safe, live life.

The final day in March, 2021, is another nice, sunny day in the glorious Emerald City. I love sunshine. Rain and darkness certainly have their essential restorative qualities, and inspire me to appreciate the contrasting clarity and brightness of daylight even more. And, on a more metaphorical level, yes of course it connects with self-defense, this IS a self-defense page, of course I’m going to talk about self-defense. To daylight something is to bring it to awareness, to attention. Usually that something is that which many people would rather ignore, like the elephant in the room.

This is coming up, again, in the wake of a slew of assaults committed against persons of Asian descent living in America. Yes, this America, land of the free and home of the brave. I’ve been reading that many of those targeted are reluctant to come forward, to report the assaults. To possibly bring further unwanted attention to themselves. There’s a hope that if nobody talks about the elephant, the elephant will go back to sleep in its corner (until the next time).

Of all the people in the metaphorical room, some may ignore the elephant because they’re unaware of the presence of the elephant because they personally are not impacted. Others because not only are they personally not affected, they are also choosing not to pay attention because it’s not important to them. And some because not only are they not personally impacted, they don’t think it’s a serious or even a real impact for anyone.

If a person not personally affected by the elephant can successfully ignore that elephant, they have some power (the word privilege can also used here) whether they want to acknowledge it or not. If they can define another person’s concerns as insignificant, well that’s more power. If a person can successfully silence those voicing concerns about that elephant, they have real power and privilege.elephant in the room

To ignore the elephant when you are profoundly impacted, isn’t that fear of someone else’s power. Fear of retaliation, of consequences for inconveniencing someone more privileged who doesn’t want to deal with your elephant.  There are many situations where using one’s voice at that instant is the best tool, but others where timing is also important.

Seattle-based author and activist Ijeoma Oluo wrote this article about living in fear and living anyways, about silence not helping her. Even though the article is almost two years old, it reads as relevant today as it did then. She also talks about the love and support she’s received from her communities to get her through the hate and death threats.

A significant reason many others don’t speak up is they feel they do NOT have that kind of support. And the burden to speak up should not fall solely with the victim, especially as we know they could be opening themselves to further threats and danger. Because they are not the problem. The problem lies with those committing violence and as well as with people who enable them directly, and indirectly encourage conditions that promote violence.

And violence thrives in silence.

Those of us who see the elephant but are not directly impacted also need to speak up for what is right and provide support.

Not sure where to begin?  Try one of these Bystander/Upstander Intervention Trainings.

STAY SAFE, LIVE LIFE

Do you feel dismayed but helpless, again, in the face of yet another senseless act of violence?

Like many other Americans, I was dismayed to hear of the murders last week (Tuesday, March 16, 2021) in Atlanta of 8 people, mostly women of Asian descent. Dismayed, but sadly not really surprised. I was again dismayed, and not really surprised, at the subsequent discourse, if these homicides really fall into the category of hate crime.

A hate crime is broadly and ofttimes vaguely described as a criminal act, with the addition of being motivated at least in part by the victims’ perceived race, religion, ethnicity, gender expression, national origin, etc. There are federal hate crime laws, as well as hate crime laws in 47 states. These would be added on to underlying criminal charges. First, though, they would need to be identified as hate crimes by law enforcement and prosecutors. You can read a bit more in this article, and why it’s application and enforcement became problematic.

We emPowerment self-defense teachers often talk about the “red flags,” about paying attention to a person’s actions. Back to Atlanta earlier this week. The murderer bought a gun that day. He then went to one spa and murdered people. And, rather than leaving and walking to the next doorway, to some other business, to continue his shooting spree, he got into his car and drove to the next target, another spa. And then to a third. These businesses were targeted. All spas, connected to Asian women. This looks pretty deliberate, and not like someone who is just “fed up” or “having a bad day,” as one law enforcement officer tried to explain the murderer’s actions. I’ve had bad days too, gotten “fed up” with circumstances — I bet you have too — and yet somehow I’ve managed to figure out how to get through those times without committing homicide (I bet you have too).

And it is past frustrating when those who have authority to wield power to name an action — “is it REALLY a hate crime?” — drag their feet on what seems to be obvious.

Which is a significant part of the issue. A few months ago I blogged (and FB Lived, and made a video) about Homeroom, a restaurant in Oakland that turned processing sexual harassment claims around. Rather than the waitstaff telling the manager that a customer was harassing them and the manager deciding if it was really harassment and what, if anything to do about it, the waitstaff themselves now determined the level of harassment and the manager then had a clear prescribed  course of action. See below for links to the media.

When those who have been victimized have little to no say in defining their reality, in labeling what they lived (or not) through, they are disempowered. Invisible. Out of sight, out of mind? So that we more privileged people can get on with our lives without too much discomfort?

It may seem that quibbling over a label is a distraction from the real story, which is that 8 people were murdered in another senseless act of violence. Those labels do matter, they do contribute to whether or not we recognize our history of violence, and how much we acknowledge that systemic ignorance needs to be daylighted. We can’t change history, but we can learn from it so we can change the course of our future.

What can we do? Support our Asian friends and colleagues publicly; listen to them and work to imagine their perspective. Learn some bystander intervention skills. And let our public servants know that this misuse of power is not acceptable.

I can whole-heartedly recommend these sources for online bystander/upstander intervention training:

• Hollaback!: https://www.ihollaback.org/harassmenttraining/
• Center for Anti-Violence Education: https://www.caeny.org/upstander
• Defend Yourself: https://defendyourself.org/bystander-intervention/

Violence thrives in silence.

Speak up, and live life.

 

Media about Homeroom (the restaurant):

• Blog: https://www.strategicliving.org/creating-support-and-safer-spaces/
• FB Live: https://www.facebook.com/98483803840/videos/218376709673444
• Vimeo or YouTube: https://vimeo.com/487661680  or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCwGDdXlEmo

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

Although many students in class already get this, a good number don’t. Or intellectually get the idea, but it isn’t yet incorporated into their lives.

Setting boundaries for morning coffee

I would rather have my coffee constrained in the boundaries of the mug, than free-form over all over the table.

“Being nice” versus setting boundaries. The two are not mutually exclusive. They do not form opposite ends of a dichotomy. This is not “Godzilla vs. King Kong.”

Being nice and setting boundaries are two completely distinct concepts.

I looked up “nice” in a thesaurus. Synonyms include: good, pleasant, agreeable, enjoyable, delightful, good-natured and charming. I didn’t see anything about being a doormat or not setting boundaries.

A boundary is a noun, an object. “Setting” a boundary is acting on that object. Nothing there refers to niceness. Nothing.

You can set firm boundaries in a nice way. You can set weak boundaries in a snarky way. You can set boundaries in many different ways. Setting boundaries itself is neither “nice” nor “nasty.” It’s the words you use, the body language, the tone of voice, that determines the level of niceness.

And, if the other person objects just to having a boundary set, it really does not matter how you set them. They will object to any boundary, and I would seriously consider limiting my connection with that person.

If you are one of those who struggles to set an appropriate boundary, try this exercise. Take out some paper and a pen. Write down what you can say (and how to say it) that really does NOT set a boundary; it’s more submissive, and you are hoping that the other person will take the hint without you having to actually set a boundary. Then write down a brusque and pointed way of setting that same boundary, also complete with body language and tone of voice.

Now start filling in the middle — change some of what made the second one abrasive to smooth it out, and change some of what made the submissive one too weak to strengthen your message. Envision your body language, and what the distance between you should look like. You can do this!  We do practice this in our self-defense classes.

Stay safe, live life.

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?