Posts

“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.

A few years ago I taught two very short classes at a local high school. This school had set aside some time to bring in community experts for extra-curricular programming, and students were able to select which classes they would attend. My two classes were identical, or should have been. Both were for older high school students, both mixed gender though mostly girls, both had between 20 and 25 participants, both had the same class outline, same activities, same discussion topics. Both were even in the same room. One of the school’s teachers sat in on the classes, sort of as a proctor.  And I came away with a clear illustration of group dynamics and learning about safety.

As I mentioned, both classes were mostly girls with a few boys. But in the first class, the girls were more giggly, reluctant to show competence, especially in physical skills such as striking a mitt, and kept looking around as if to see who was watching. A couple of the boys were more vocal, in a participatory way, then average. It’s not like there was “mansplaining” going on, or those boys interrupting girls, or making disparaging comments. The girls were acting in a very self-conscious manner.

The second class was different. Similar size (a couple fewer kids), similar gender distribution. But different dynamics. In this class there was a lot less giggling. Everyone seemed to participate in class activities, including the basic striking skills, and striving for improvement. No single person, or group, stood out as sharing more than their due.Learning self-defense physical moves

After the two classes I chatted a bit with the room’s teacher. I brought up my observations of the different group dynamics. She thought the difference was in the specific participants — the first class included some of the “popular” boys. Boys who were admired, who she thought of as “good” kids but their opinions were given greater weight by other students. The boys in the second class were also well-liked, but they were not in the “popular” group.

Aren’t group dynamics interesting!  Now combine group dynamics and safety.  How does the interaction of group members affect learning skills to stay safer?

I’ve always had “socialization” as a class topic, and since then I’ve expanded the conversation. (Especially now that classes are online.)  Socialization is what behavior is rewarded, in a social way, or punished. Peer pressure. So you’re in school and say something, and a few others make faces that indicate your comment did not at all resonate with them, and they ignore you and don’t sit with you at lunch . . . peer pressure and socialization.  Can this happen at work also?  Oh yes.

For girls (well, not just girls), I ask them to think about when they wanted to say no, or set a boundary but did not. What were the barriers? How much of that is social pressure? We are social creatures, we look to others for acceptable behavior, for standards, for boundaries.

Never under-estimate the need to fit in. While this is most often connected with teens, it does impact all age groups in varying degrees. Sometimes social pressure and your needs are at odds. And part of your safety planning is in recognizing those situations, navigating those situations, and making honest and accountable (to yourself) choices.

Stay safe, live life.

In self-defense we talk a LOT about saying NO and STOP and BACK OFF!!!  But more often in our routine lives saying YES could be the more satisfying option.  What if the request is coming from a stranger?  Here I’m going to describe one instance of my process.

This happened to me only a couple of years ago. I live in a little house in the part of Seattle called Beacon Hill, which is south of downtown and even south of the baseball and football stadiums. A quiet residential area, except for the nearby highway and airports, which can be a bit noisy in a droning sort of way. Not exactly a cul-de-sac, but limited cross-streets and little traffic. That nearby highway is Interstate 5, and I could just cross the street, walk a few feet to the fence, go through the gate, and I’m a hop, skip, and jump from the road.

It was middle of the afternoon, middle of the week, in the summer.  I had arrived home after teaching a morning class, pulled up in front of my little house. Got out of my car, locked the door, and turned to go up my walkway. From the corner of my eye I saw a person. Now my neighborhood sees few pedestrians, especially in the middle of the day, so a pedestrian is noteworthy. Especially one carrying what looked like several gallon plastic jugs.

He called out to me, “Miss, hey Miss!”  I turned. He was on the sidewalk in front of my little house, and I was half-way down my walkway (so there was quite a bit of distance between us). He said his car’s radiator sprung a leak, and he asked if he could get some water.

I could have run into the house and locked the door, but like most humans I prefer to be helpful.  Saying YES would fulfill that, and how could I make sure I stayed safe at the same time?  I noted he did seem to be stressed. Could have been from his car’s breakdown, or considering that if I said no he may have to knock on doors which would be more stressful. Perhaps he didn’t have access to AAA or other roadside assistance. But the most important clue was that he stayed on the sidewalk. He did not try to get closer by coming onto my walkway, and seemed mindful of boundaries. So I said YES.  I would bring out the garden hose and he could fill his jugs. He asked if it were OK to come back a second time, and I said sure, just let me know when he was done. And I got the hose, brought it close to where he was and still kept over 10 feet of distance. I left him to his refilling. Of course I watched periodically as he filled jugs, left, returned, filled them again. When I figured he was done I went to my doorway, we made brief eye contact and he thanked me and left.  He even smiled! He looked less stressed. After he crossed the street and disappeared onto I-5, I retrieved the hose.

If you’ve taken any of my self-defense classes, you may remember that all attackers need both a target and an opportunity. If you short-circuit either, you’ll be safer. Signs of opportunities, also called red flags, I could have been looking for would be distracting chatter, self defense using your voice saying yesquestions of a personal nature, or questions about my neighbors that feel intrusive.  And simultaneously trying to stealthily move closer. Because any attack depends on proximity. That was my key indicator then, and it in this instance it worked out well.

Keep in mind this was MY response at that time. It does NOT make it the best response or the correct response.  I believe the thought process is far more informative than the specific decision.  And while I made a decision, I did keep the young man on my radar and was ready to re-assess that decision should the situation change.  Saying YES is an important choice, one which we should be able to consider.

And that’s all for today. Stay safe, live life.

using your voiceYour voice is your most effective safety tool.  Yet it’s the tool most folk, especially women and girls, are reluctant to use.  “Do I have to say anything?” is a too-common question in class.  The answer is no, you don’t HAVE to do or say anything you don’t want to, and there are some cases where saying nothing may be your best choice.  That being said, there are reasons why using your voice is an essential tool.

  1. BREATHING.  Show of hands, who thinks breathing isn’t that important?  Yeah, that’s what I figured.  If you are using your voice you are breathing.  Breathing is critical to life, and critical to managing your reactions in challenging situations.  Which brings me to the next reason . . .
  2. FREEZING.  Inability to respond.  Using your voice can break that freeze.  The assailant is, in fact, often hoping you will freeze.  Which brings us to . . .
  3. STARTLING the assailant.  Assailants, like any predator, are looking for easier prey.  Targets who will be afraid, unsure, easily intimidated.  Using your voice, especially LOUDLY, by itself has a good chance of chasing off the assailant as that’s not what they expected.  Which can . . .
  4. ATTRACT ATTENTION.  Maybe any people around will look.  Perhaps some will whip out their phones to capture video.  If you’re super lucky, someone might try to intervene.  Most assailants don’t want to risk attention.  But maybe nobody is around . . . you may want to . . .
  5. INCREASE YOUR ADRENALINE.  Adrenaline, at the right level, can increase your physical effectiveness should you need to actually fight your assailant.  It can increase your speed and strength.  It can make time feel like its going slooooowwww.   (Note:  too much adrenaline, on the other hand, can begin shutting down your responses and effectiveness.)  And, finally, using your voice can . . .
  6. ENGAGE YOUR CORE.  Which brings in more muscle groups, connects parts of your body to work together like a power drive train, and increases your physical effectiveness.

There is a world of difference between an intellectual knowledge of your voice’s importance, and actually using it.  As in your ability to not only recognize but to state your needs, your preferences, and your boundaries. That’s why we practice using our voices in our self-defense classes.

Do you sometimes find yourself in situations (social, work, family) where you kinda go along because it’s just not a big deal?  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that — a crucial life skill is navigating and prioritizing choices.  But also recognize that we are often socialized to feel uncomfortable standing up for ourselves.  If you default that that, do you find yourself constantly left unsatisfied?  Do you feel more like a spectator rather than player in your own life?

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.