Today’s topic may seem a little tangential, but bear with me. CVS Pharmacy, a large nation-wide chain, announced just a couple of weeks ago that it reached its goal of full transparency for beauty imagery produced by and for CVS. Apparently they made a commitment to educate its customers about the difference between “authentic” and “digitally altered” photos.  Apparently they are committing to reducing the overall use of highly photoshopped images in marketing.

It’s not exactly a secret that advertising images are highly edited, to the extent that the person depicted is not physiologically possible. (Generally that person so objectified is female.) And CVS has cited studies that point to a connection between the prevalence of such images and a negative impact on the mental health of women, particularly those ages 18 – 35. That seems to have been exacerbated the past year by the pandemic, which saw many women spending more time online, seeing more images of themselves via Zoom-like platforms, and being exposed to more online marketing.

OK, so about 1 in 3 women are less confident in their appearance now than they were a year ago. That’s an issue, and what does it have to do with your personal safety?

Confidence. Self-confidence.

A colleague, Dr. Jocelyn Hollander at the University of Oregon, has just written an article (soon to be published) on the connection between taking an empowerment self-defense class and interactional expectations. Interactional expectations meaning expectations we have of what other people should be like, how they should feel, and how they should behave. What are our expectations going into any interaction with another person. And she found that learning self-defense not only changed students’ expectations of what they were capable of doing, it also changed their expectations of behavior from others and their ability to hold people accountable for actions and words. In other words, it shifts students’ thinking from a more passive, consumer focus to an active participation in making choices in their own lives. Taking that self-defense class taught them skills that spilled over into improving their quality of life, and the confidence to use them.

What does this have to do with beauty products and marketing images? When we buy products, we’re not just buying material stuff. We’re also buying the branding, the mystique, allure, the promises and hopes that using this product will improve our quality of life. When our media environment is flooded with imagery of women who look more like fantasy role-playing than reality, well, studies noted by CVS show the effect increases feelings of discouragement. CVS also noted that most women who spend at least an hour a day seeing their own image (i.e., on a Zoom call) report feeling more inspired when the see UNALTERED images of models online. Beauty practices is one way of practicing self-care, which should be empowering. Encouraging women to know they can reach out for their expectations and dreams.

My favorite self-defense book of all time is Self-Defense:  The Womanly Art of Self-Care, Intuition, and Choice by Debbie Leung. And one of the reasons it’s my favorite is the photos, which are of real women (rather than the tall and limber 20-something women wearing workout leggings that seem to be in most photos). This says to me, hey YOU can do this! This is for YOU!

Stay safe, and live YOUR life.

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.

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.

Your voice is your most important safety tool.  But sometimes your voice, a solo voice, alone, is not enough.

Several years ago I read about this strategy used by women staffers at the White House.  Although then-President Obama did have numerous women on staff, they often felt unheard in a still mostly male environment.  They chose to “amplify” each other.  When one make a point, others would repeat it and give credit to the originator.  It was simple, and effective.

A friend of mine was dealing with a verbally abusive supervisor.  He wasn’t abusive just to her, but to anyone in his environment.  Over the years individuals in the department would approach HR and senior management.  But nothing happened, and eventually staff stopped going to HR.  One day this supervisor had a particularly abrasive day, which impacted multiple staff as well as customers.  A majority of staff from that department converged on HR and management.  This time the supervisor was let go.  Because a group acting together can accomplish what individuals cannot.

But sometimes even that isn’t enough. Sometimes it takes a lot of people.  Thousands.  Tens of thousands,  Hundreds of thousands.  Thousands of thousands.  You can’t fit into HR’s office.  You’re in the streets.

In our self-defense classes we talk strategically about using our voices.  When to set boundaries in a conversational tone, or when to get LOUD.  You want to get LOUD when you need to attract attention.

Now is a good time to be LOUD.Black Lives Matter

You probably want to balance your own safety with your need to speak up.  Take a look at this Protest Safety Guide from Black Lives Matter Seattle – King County.  To paraphrase Audre Lorde, caring for yourself does not have to mean indulgence — it is self-preservation, an act of political warfare against those who’d rather you just went away, shut up, or die.  Preserving yourself in a world hostile to your community is truly self-care.  So that you’re ready to again face the outside world.

Our January post began what I expected to be a two or three part look at self-care, and how that fits into your personal safety plan.  


Then COVID-19 happened.


Self-care in the wake of the rapid spread of COVID-19 has slammed us into uncomfortable positions. We have to pay more attention to both physical and social boundaries. Boundaries with strangers, acquaintances, and loved ones. Boundaries in public and in private. And sometimes, unfortunately, boundaries that hurt.


In January, I listed 5 categories of activities that fall under the umbrella of self-care. I looked more closely at two: those that can make you feel better in the short term but may or may not help your quality of life (self-soothing), and those that do positively impact your long-term quality of life (self-care). A few weeks ago I asked Facebook followers if their view of personal safety has changed with the onset of COVID-19, and a couple noted it was now easier to set boundaries. Mostly with people they knew. Here’s a good article about setting boundaries in these borderline chaotic times — what makes this particularly useful are the concrete examples given on setting different boundaries in ways that are more likely to build relationships.


If you find yourself yearning for some self-care structure, there’s help. The Center for Anti-Violence Education in Brooklyn, NY, has free webinars. One is called From Social Distancing to Social Care (the beginning of this workshop has a lot of self-care info), and the other is Decreasing Tension in Our Homes During COVID-19 (de-escalation skills). A great concept for self-care is mutual care, and a tool in that direction is pod mapping. Because sometimes the best way to care for yourself is to have a hand in caring for others, and allowing yourself to ask for care. It involves just a bit of planning, of thinking with whom you have a close relationship and could be supportive, and who you could also support. Thinking of others you also know and with whom you could build a better relationship (hint: this involves prioritizing friendships). And thinking of what organizations (NPOs, government, media, community) are impactful.  
One more self-care option: online reading group. Saturday afternoon I heard about Tolstoy Together, which has several thousand participant on six continents. They are reading War and Peace. It’s been decades since I’ve read anything by Tolstoy, and this blog is SO tempting . . .


As a self-defense teacher, I’ve noticed that most people put off important “stuff.” I am not the first to notice (I think it’s often pointed out by life coaches and self-help authors that “important but not urgent” often gets pushed aside by “urgent but not important”). Alas, that includes deep connections with others. Going through a pod mapping for some may be a good check on how solid your social network really is. To get through this stretch of time where we are asked to be physically distant, we will need to honestly assess and strengthen the quality of our social contacts.

Today I’m thinking about self-care.

If you’ve taken one of our classes, you know that self-care is one of four essential skill sets for personal safety.

Self-care is a crucial part of just plain living, as well as effective personal safety.  Yet the phrase covers a nebulous and ever-expanding array of activities.  Not all these activities are helpful, and in fact some may be harmful.  Sometimes there’s confusion about different types of self-care.  Let’s divide the range of activities into these five levels:

  • Self-soothing behaviors can make you feel better in the short term,
  • Self-care activities make your quality of life better in the long term,
  • Professional care is for what’s beyond your scope of effecting,
  • Social care is that network of family and friends, who will help you through challenging times by relieving some of your obligations to others, and
  • Institutional care is relief provided by employers and government, regardless of your personal financial assets.  This includes justice.

Most of the time when we consider self-care, it’s the first two items.  And yes they are pretty important.  In reality, there’s not a hard and fast line between those two, and some activities will cover both.

Self-soothing behaviors are ways you can calm yourself in the moment.  It includes a large range of behaviors, spanning TV binge-watching to singing in the shower to exercise to retail therapy to a nice glass of wine.  While any of these may calm you in the moment, not all will help you move forward in healing; in fact, of the five I listed, only two (can you guess which) are likely to help with longer-term growth.  And some (indulging in alcohol/drugs or spending money) have the potential to drive other concerns to the front.


Self-care activities, on the other hand, have more potential to help you develop resilience and better deal with adversity.  Those can include getting enough sleep, eating well for your body, setting boundaries, meditation, medical attention, and exercise.  Unlike self-soothing behaviors, these involve a vision of how you want to live in the future. 

Another key is the ability to recognize when to move from self-care to professional care. What got me onto this issue, in fact, was reading this article on how “self-care” has become a new industry, with services and products purporting to help us help ourselves.  Which can be great, since self-care is an essential element of self-efficacy.  When, however, “self-care” is held out as a surrogate for professional care, we get shorted.  Specialized, mental health, and psychiatric medical attention has become exceedingly expensive for those without access to high-quality (and often high-cost) insurance; at the same time, many mental health care providers no longer accept insurance.  The article cited above notes that a high percentage people with mental illness, particularly the young, go undiagnosed and untreated.


You may think that self-care is obvious, a no-brainer.  It should be.  However, you’d be incorrect.  Other considerations can get in the way.  You may not want to admit you need time and resources for yourself because of fear.  You may fear being labeled weak, defective, stupid, incompetent, needy, or lazy (not only by others, but even by yourself).  You may be concerned that tere will be negative social consequences.  Maybe friends and family will begin pulling back, even as they say nice supportive things to your face.  Or maybe you could experience negative job consequences, such as not being considered for advancements, promotions, raises (or even getting fired).  Will others look at you with pity, or contempt, or even as a target for exploitation?

Your personal safety is linked to your ability to care for yourself (and care about others in your life).  What can you do to improve your self-care ecosystem?