by Mac McGregor -
Special to the SGN
Editor's note: This is the first in a series on personal safety and self-defense.
With the recent rise in crime in Capitol Hill and downtown Seattle, it is more important than ever to learn skills to protect ourselves and those we love. The first step to safety and self-defense in my opinion is to develop healthy boundary-setting skills. We all have to understand that we are worth that as individuals and that anyone who truly cares about us wants us to be healthy and happy. No one deserves to be taken advantage of, hurt, or be treated like a doormat. This should be a skill we learn in school, but few schools teach anything about it. Most families, churches, and communities don't teach it either, and therefore most don't learn it even though it will improve every part of our lives. Having healthy boundaries improves all of our relationships and careers, and makes us safer on a daily basis.
Here are some basic steps toward setting healthy boundaries:
1. Determine what your limits are.
In order to do this you must take some time to think about what actions and behaviors are unacceptable to you. What things make you feel uncomfortable and disrespected? Taking time to think through what those limits are helps us know ourselves better. Then we have to learn to clearly communicate our boundaries to those in our lives. People cannot read our minds. Some of your boundaries may seem like common sense to you but they are not to others. Some of these limits will vary from person to person, but there are some basics, like NO ONE has the right to touch you without your permission! It is important to take responsibility for it when we are not clear with others what our boundaries are, or when we don't let someone know they've crossed them. Unfortunately many people have learned to be good at being victims. Don't beat yourself up about it. If that is you, know that it takes time to retrain yourself to live in a more healthy and productive way. Just recognize it and make a decision to move forward.
2. Be aware.
When I say this most people only think about being aware of their surroundings, which is important, but with boundary setting I am talking about being tuned into and aware of your inner voice, your feelings, your sixth sense, intuition. This is one's most valuable self-protection tool! It is when you get that inner gut feeling or a red flag. A person or place makes you feel uncomfortable, makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, and so on. This can happen with a person you know - it is not limited to strangers. It can even happen with family members and it can be situational. The point is to respect it! LISTEN TO IT! Don't question it! This is our subconscious mind picking up clues to help keep us safe - it has NO ulterior motive other than our safety and well-being. Human beings are the only creatures in nature that consciously choose to ignore survival signals. The signal or feeling you get may mean today is not a good day to be around this person or place, or if it is someone you know and this feeling keeps coming up then it can mean to stay away from them altogether. Author James Burke says, 'It is the brain which sees, not the eye.'
Here are some of the ways this sixth sense or intuition can show up:
o A nagging feeling
o A persistent thought
o Nervous humor
o Extreme curiosity
o Gut feelings
3. Take care of yourself.
You are valuable! Other people's feelings are NOT more important than your own. Taking care of yourself includes having healthy boundaries and being able to tell those in your life when they cross your boundaries and when they are not being respectful. This will make all of your relationships better and help you be centered and more aware of and in tune with your intuition. Self-care, including healthy boundary setting, is essential to one's mental and emotional health. Trust and believe in yourself!
4. It is OK to say NO.
Give yourself permission to say NO. Many people worry about offending someone, not being liked, being rude, being called a bitch, being considered selfish, and many other things that our societies, families, churches, etc., have put on us for saying NO and having healthy boundaries. This is BS. BE DIRECT! If something sets off a red flag for you, say it, and say it in a firm voice. Good people will respect you for this later. It is also important that when you do use the word NO you only use it when you are serious about it. When you are, stand your ground with it. Some people play with this word and use it when they don't really mean it. A common example of this is parents. When their child is doing something the parent does not like and the parent is telling then 'No, Johnny, stop it, don't do that,' they do it in a tone that the kid knows does not mean anything. The kid ignores it and keeps doing whatever. Meaning business when we use that word 'NO' is not just important in parenting, but in taking care of ourselves in all of life.
5. Seek support.
In this process of learning to set healthy boundaries it is important to have allies. Having a support system is a learning process and a skill most people have not been taught. It is similar to having a workout buddy. Find a couple of supportive people you can share your experience with, with whom you can work on making some healthy changes in your life. Share that you are determining what your limits are and learning to set healthy boundaries and to clearly communicate them and that you need some support in this area, because it is new or you want to learn to be better at this skill. This will also stimulate interesting discussion with those close to you. If you have youth or young adults in your life I urge you to share this process with them, which can save them a great deal of heartache and pain in life.
Even though I have been a martial artist for 43 years and a world champion fighter, learning to set healthy boundaries has been something I struggled to learn. I grew up with a mentally ill and emotionally abusive mother and was taught to be an enabler. From as young as I can remember, my feelings were rarely considered, and my very existence on a day-to-day basis was to do all that I could to avoid more conflict. Therefore I have had to work really hard to first of all understand I had the right to set boundaries and then to communicate boundaries in daily life. I understand this is not easy work and requires a great deal of self-examination, honesty, and being willing to walk through some dark places. But I truly believe it is only through the willingness to walk through those dark places that we come out on the other side into the light. It is a process I continue to walk through all the time. A constant learning. Be gentle with yourself and, as I said, seek support.
You may well ask how this all relates to self-defense, as it seems more about relationship skills. Here's how: More than 80 percent of assaults, rapes, murders, and every kind of violent act occur from people we KNOW. Some of them we know casually and some are family or intimate partners. If a person does not have the skill and ability to set healthy boundaries with those they know, they most likely will not even recognize when a stranger is trying to take advantage of them and it will be much harder to be assertive enough to set a boundary with a stranger. FBI research shows that violent criminals have specific things they look for in choosing victims. Most of the signs they look for revolve around body language. Basically the more confident, assertive, centered, and aware a person looks, the less likely they are to be chosen as a victim.
I challenge you to be brave in walking through this process of learning and discovery of boundary setting. This is the first in a series on safety and self-defense that I am writing to help our community walk and live in a more safe and healthy way. We all have to take some responsibility in our own safety and knowledge is a powerful tool in making that happen. Look for next week's installment of this series, which is about common tools of manipulation.
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