I’ve been teaching safety and self-defense for over 25 years, and if I had a dime for every student who in some way labeled themselves “paranoid,” even in a semi-joking sort of way, I’d now be retired. In luxury.

What is being paranoid? I’m not a psychologist, and I’m not going to give a technical definition. In colloquial terms, when people say they’re “just being paranoid,” generally they mean they feel something is amiss but can’t think of a good rational reason why. So they must be paranoid, right?

It’s always been intriguing to me that when people think about taking precautions when interacting with others they don’t know all that well, it feels off. Odd. Uncomfortable. Un-natural. Unreasonable. Even pathological. Like we SHOULD just trust other people, and there’s something wrong with us if we don’t.

In fact, most of the time we do just that, we trust others. We pass people on the street all the time, and rarely does anything odd, let along bad, happen. We go into stores, cafes, and offices, and the vast majority of the time it’s just another routine day. Maybe we say hi to the cashier at the grocery store, or we chat with our neighbors when we get home. Another familiar typical day.

Familiarity does lead us to a sort of complacency, a set of expectations that it’s the same as it ever was.

Think back to a time when you sensed something amiss, and did nothing. What happened? Were you OK with the outcome?

Think back to a time when you sensed something amiss, and did something to change that interaction’s trajectory. What happened? Were you OK with the outcome?

Gavin De Becker’s whole premise in his book The Gift of Fear, is that we should listen to these feelings! They are telling us something important. De Becker lists several “feelings” that he calls messengers of intuition:  nagging feelings, persistent thoughts, humor, wonder, anxiety, curiosity, hunches, gut feelings, doubt, hesitation, suspicion, apprehension, and fear (p. 74 of the NY:  Dell Publishing, 1997 edition).

Interpreting those messages can be a challenge: are we facing someone who is looking to exploit us, are we misunderstanding someone else’s sense of appropriate, are we caving in to stereotypes and prejudice?  De Becker also lists seven “survival signals,” specific behaviors that should cause concern:  1) forced teaming, 2) charm and niceness, 3) too many details, 4) typecasting, 5) emotional loansharking, 6) unsolicited promises, and 7) ignoring your NO.  This is Chapter 4.

Several of my students talked about their processes in tackling that challenge.

One was just finishing college and about to travel.  Over the summers she’d return home to Seattle, and to earn money she worked at Pike Place Market selling cherries.  Most people wandering through the market that time of year were tourists, who may not have NEEDED cherries but could be persuaded.  She found herself on the front side of the counter, and quickly learned by peoples’ body language and tone of voice which might be interested in cherries and which might be more interested in just chatting, or getting free cherries, or hooking up.

Another’s job was literally online, she created the backend of user interfaces. She could work from anywhere in the world, as long as there was a high speed internet connection. So she lived in various European countries for months at a time, in Bali, in eastern Africa, India, Malaysia, all over. First, though, she laid groundwork. She spent a lot of time on mass transit, cafes, and in public venues. She eavesdropped and people-watched. She looked for body language in interactions, tones of voice, distances between bodies in different situations, and the trajectory of the interactions. As the great American sage Yogi Berra is said to have saidDispel those nagging fears of being "paranoid" by making your commute into a practicum for reading body language!, you can observe a lot just by watching. And she got good at identifying “red flags” and feeling confident in choosing appropriate actions.

These two did not feel in the least paranoid. Because they prepared for being more active participants in living on their own terms.

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

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.

We’ve all seen them.  Decals, generally on minivans, showing stick figures representing family members.  Or sometimes representing parodies of family members.  Or a T Rex snacking on family members . . .

Some people like them, some are annoyed, most probably don’t care one way or the other.

But do pedophiles care?  Will the decal draw the criminal element to your family?  Some people believe so.

Even a few police departments are warning about having these decals on your vehicle.

However, there is one little issue.  There are no cases cited where a perpetrator gleaned personal information from stick figures and used it to commit a crime.

As a self-defense instructor, I have a short list of “rules” I check before giving safety recommendations to students.  Rule #1 is that any piece of safety advice has to be based on evidence.  There has to be some proof that this reduces violence in the real world, not just as a hypothetical in the world between someone’s ears.  No matter how logical or reasonable it may seem, if it does not exist in reality it does not get forwarded.

This suggestion that stick figure family decals can attract bad guys fails to meet that standard.

This piece of advice also ignores the substantiated fact that most predators who go after children are people already known to the family and do not need any decals to inform them.  You’re better off learning how to assess the real people in your children’s lives.