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About six weeks ago I wrote about this confusion around fixing boundary violations, that somehow many people have this nagging doubt, this feeling that it’s rude or impolite, even though they want to and know they’d be happier and in a better state of mind if they did. And I’m going to talk about it again, because there was this “ripped from the headlines” moment earlier this month, that seems to have dropped off the front page, but don’t worry, it’ll be back.

You may have heard that Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz is said to have shown colleagues photos on his phone of nude women and bragged about his sexual exploits. But we’re not going to focus on Representative Gaetz at this moment, because this is a personal safety channel about our lives. What if, instead of this being someone far away in a different circle, this was in your workplace? Perhaps a co-worker, a colleague, an intern, or a supervisor thought nothing of showing off nude photos of their sex partners? Would you be elbowing others aside to get a better look? Would you be wanting to throw a party just to invite that person, so others would think that you too were one of the cool kids?  If you’ve read this far, I’m guessing not. Would you be uncomfortable? Would you be more uncomfortable speaking up, or staying silent? A trade-off of discomfort in the moment of speaking up, versus the long-term discomfort of feeling that you missed that an important moment.

See, this generally doesn’t come out of the blue. Other boundaries would have been crossed before, but didn’t seem important enough to risk embarrassing someone. Maybe now you’d be regretting those, too.

Most people think of bystander intervention as breaking up a fight, getting between people who are about to grab and hit and kick each other, or at least one is looking to physically obliterate the other. So they miss other, smaller opportunities. Other littler boundary pokes, where the poker is testing what they can get away with. And if they can get away with the littler stuff, well, as the great American philosopher Bruce Springsteen sang, “from small things mama, big things one day come.”

[“Bystander intervention” and “setting boundaries” have a lot of overlap.  Setting boundaries usually refers to action you take for yourself, while bystander intervention is more likely to refer to helping someone else maintain their boundaries.]

So let’s get back to your workplace. What to do? What to say? I dunno. Fixing boundary violations depends on the relationship you have with that offender, other colleagues, etc. I do suggest you lay out a plan. Get some paper and a pen, and start writing possible responses. What do you want to express? Disgust? Disappointment? Dismay? Do you want to throw in some humor? Think of several responses, work them a bit, grade them on level of aggression, run them by some trusted friends. Consider possible outcomes — what result do you want to see? Here’s a couple:

  • Uh, TMI!!!
  • Why are you showing that to me?
  • Are you OK? Showing this is repugnant, and I’ve always expected better from you.
  • Wow, are you sure you want to be broadcasting how shallow a person you really are?
  • I always thought you were a jerk, I hadn’t realized you’re also a pervert.
  • Put that away, and do not ever show me your pornography again.
  • Your sharing these images makes me sad, because I expect my (friends / colleagues / elected officials) to have more regard and respect for other people and not objectify them as personal toys. Please put that away, and don’t show them to me, or anyone, ever.

One approach is pure shaming. Another is a classic confrontation strategy: tell the person what behavior is wrong, maybe include how you feel about it, and what they should do to fix it. And a third leans more towards Marshall Rosenberg’s “Non-Violent (or Compassionate) Communication,” where you state observations, how you feel, what you need, and make a request to remedy it.

Now it’s your turn. Write stuff, and read it back out loud.  [Hint:  the reading it back out loud part is CRITICAL.]  Fixing boundary violations takes a little effort, and it can pay off big time in your peace of mind.

Stay safe, and live life.

PS – while Springsteen wrote the song, I prefer Dave Edmunds’ version.

“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 volunteered as a domestic violence advocate for several years. Over that time I staffed the crisis line, conducted orientation sessions for new clients, gave a couple of bystander intervention workshops, and assisted with support groups. Support groups were a core service of the agency, and incredibly valuable in helping DV survivors getting to and staying on their feet. It is super-important to know you’re not alone, there are resources, and you need not be isolated.

This particular group was facilitated by a staffer, we’ll call her Amy. She came across as kind and compassionate, someone you suspected you could really trust. She exuded that impression in several ways. This is one.

Those of you who have taken any of my classes know we spend time on body language. Specifically, on what’s called “open and expansive” body language. Also called the “power pose.” Feet shoulder width apart, eyes forward, arms and hands also out and not crossed or in your pockets. Basically, a posture that takes up more of your own space bubble. Body language that’s generally (at least in mainstream North American culture) interpreted as assertive and confident.

However, when in support group or otherwise speaking with clients, Amy’s body language was a bit different. She did Body language for submissive, inviting, aggressivetend to cross her feet, and folded her arms, not exactly across her body but in front. Those aspects of her body language were what we self-defense teachers may have called “submissive,” if we restrict ourselves to that narrow continuum of submissive to assertive to aggressive. Which points more to shortcomings in our attraction to oppositions, contrast, and dichotomies. Amy came across as both attentive and relaxed, not aggressive, not assertive, not trying to define and stick her boundaries, and her body language — rather than submissive — was an invitation to connect.

Consider Amy’s clients. They were people who experienced a controlling partner, and that control took the form of emotional abuse and often physical violence. The abuser’s body language would often have been domineering, at times aggressive but also the right assertive posture, combined with tension, could serve as a warning you better toe that line. Many DV survivors have become very attuned to other’s body language. And Amy’s was meant to address that.

I never did get around to asking her if her body language was deliberate, or if she had good instincts. Regardless, this is something anyone can practice. Like we do in our classes.

Speaking of which . . .

Check out our class schedule, and more to come.

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?

It happens to everyone.  You say or do something that offends or upsets another.  You care about that other person, and you recognize why your actions or words caused them grief.  You acknowledge it to them, and say you are sorry.

While knowing how to apologize is an important safety (and social) skill, it is not today’s topic.

Today I want to emphasize that your setting a boundary is not cause for an apology.

You should not have say sorry for treating your needs and peace of mind as priorities.  You should not have to say sorry for taking your own safety and comfort into account.  You should not have to say sorry for self-care.

You should not have to say sorry for taking up your personal space.  You should not have to say sorry for having your own opinions, and voicing them.  You should not have to say sorry for taking time for yourself.

But still, you may find yourself apologizing just to get by, just to get through the day.  Because it seems you’re judged more harshly when you dare to assert yourself.  And you still need to get along with others at work, or in some social settings.  If that is the case, if you decide to make that tactical decision to use the “s” word, do it with no guilt.  Because it’s your choice.  Sometimes, in considering personal safety, you have a choice between being safe and being right.  That is your determination.  You may not want to fight every battle, so choose which are most important for you.  Do remember, however, that this is the result of a specific power dynamic, a tug-of-war over who gets to define what is “acceptable” or “appropriate” or “normal.”

And remember that a truly crucial element of your personal safety is the choice you make to keep yourself safer.

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.