Tina, a well- and highly-trained karate student, was out on a date with her boyfriend. You know, dinner, drinks and dancing. They were out having a good time when, at the end of a nice night, they found themselves in her boyfriend's car - alone. After some light conversation, Tina's boyfriend starts to make a move and get a little "handsy." Tina becomes uncomfortable, but not seeing her boyfriend as a threat, and not knowing what to do to stop him, freezes.
She thinks to herself, "I like him, but what he's doing is making me uncomfortable. I want him to stop, but I don't want to hurt his feelings. I don't want to make a big deal out of it. Maybe it would just be easier to go along with it and get it over with. It will be over soon anyway."
Let's face it. Statistically, you are much more likely to have to defend yourself from someone you have a relationship with than from a stranger. The scenario of the "scumbag jumping out from behind the bushes" is admittedly a scary situation, and one we should try and be prepared for in the off chance it happens. But the reality is that 3 out of 4 attacks against women are perpetrated by someone they know.
That tends to change things.
It's easy to separate feelings from action when there is no relationship. Protecting ourselves by doing damage to someone else is much easier if you don't have any feelings for that someone. Using our voice, being assertive and "standing up for ourselves" can be much simpler when you don't care what this other person thinks or how they feel about you.
The situation above with Tina is so very common these days. Many of us struggle with boundaries and how far we let people go - not just physically, but emotionally and psychologically as well. These decisions are ours to make and handing control to another person by shutting down will never make it better.
We also don't want to make things worse by being aggressive. Often we see idolized depictions of women "standing up for themselves" by being belligerent (or snarky, rude or sarcastic), posturing or trying to "show up" the other person, or even using foul or abusive language to demean or put down the other person. This often happens because either our buttons get pushed and we "see red" and lose control or we are really afraid but don't want to show it so we overcompensate. (The latter is often what happens with men.)
So what's the answer? How can we maintain control of the situation but still assert appropriate boundaries?
Self-defense always begins with the thoughts, beliefs and perceptions in our own head.
If you don't first have a solid belief that you are worth defending, then you won't do it, even when pushed. If you don't understand, appreciate and enforce your value as a human being, it doesn't make sense that you would expect others to see and treat you as valuable. Are you aware of the internal voices that tell you you're not worth it? Do you recognize them as lies? Do you truly believe that you are worth protecting? I sure hope so. I believe you are. For more information on identifying and challenging your core beliefs, click here.
After that, it's a matter of clearly defining what your personal boundaries are going to be. What kinds of people and behavior do you want to have in your life? What are you unwilling to put up with in your life? How is it that you want to be treated? Those answers are yours to find on your journey through this life.
You will also need to spend some time learning what your triggers are. This can be a long process of finding out what the buttons are that get pushed that we've developed through our accumulated life's experiences. There are societal buttons too (words, gestures, protective instincts, etc.), but knowing your personal hot buttons can help you be aware of how others can try to manipulate us. There are plenty of resources online that can help you identify your triggers and hot buttons if you need help. Here is a great article on just that.
Once you have a core belief in your value and have decided on what kinds of ways will be acceptable that you allow others treat you, then the last part is then just enforcing those boundaries. I say "just" because this is often much easier said than done. Changing past behavior patterns is difficult. If you've been a passive person with poor boundaries and then you begin to change, you will experience push back from those around you who are used to the "old you." Those who aren't used to you standing up for yourself suddenly find themselves with less power over you than they had before.
There are both verbal and physical boundaries that we can set and finding the middle ground between passive, handing over control and aggressive, getting in people's faces is the key. We call this being assertive.
Assertiveness has a posture and a body language. It's a steady confidence that emanates from you that tends to repulse predators, bullies and manipulators, whether they are strangers or people we know. Studies have shown that predators look for certain cues in their potential victims and that those who display confidence and assertiveness are most often passed over for "easier" prey.
The hard part is changing past behaviors and patterns, isn't it? So part of your life-long learning of self-defense should also include learning how to defend yourself from yourself (your old self) - your old thoughts, your old behaviors, your old actions or inactions. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy.
If you are interested in learning how to be more assertive and set and enforce reasonable boundaries, come check out our classes. They are fun and we have had quite a number of students learn how to write new endings to their stories. You can sign up by clicking here.