I’ve been on an unexpected journey for nearly a year now. A path that I never dreamed of walking down. Yet here I am, becoming an advocate for self-protection training and empowerment. Not only for girls and women, but anyone and everyone. We’re all at risk, in some form or another, from assault; whether it’s emotional, psychological or physical. Setting boundaries and being equipped to enforce them was not a skill I learned growing up. I was taught to be polite, to work extra hard to please others, not to make a fuss, to be unselfish and to give above and beyond what was asked. Not necessarily a bad mindset, but imagine how these principles set me up to allow others to invade my space – on every level – and the conflicting feelings that resulted when I felt violated or taken advantage of. Add in that I grew up in a time where if you found yourself in a scary or compromising situation, the cultural mindset was that you must have “asked for it”.
I’ll never forget sitting in class one day, and the teacher stepped out for a few moments. The next thing I knew, I was pulled over backwards in my chair. Two boys climbed on top of me, holding my arms and legs, kissing my face and groping me. It took me a moment to process what was happening. The rest of the class looked on, did nothing. I yelled, screamed, struggled. The teacher in the neighboring classroom ran in, and the boys jumped up. I got to my feet, clothes in disarray, tears streaming down my face. I don’t recall what she said to us, but I do remember having to apologize to the class for the disturbance. I was in the first grade.
Another time, I was swinging on the monkey bars when I was suddenly hit from behind. My face was pressed into the dirt while a male classmate mimed humping me while pinning me down. The P.E. coach and a teacher came over and yanked us both up, scolding us for our behavior. I was in the third grade.
It was just a couple of years ago that I related these stories to my mother. She was shocked and appalled. “Why didn’t you tell me this at the time? I would have done something about it.” My reply was, “I thought it was my fault, and that you’d be angry with me for getting in trouble at school.”
There were other incidents over the years. Close calls, scary situations. And in every one of them, I found reasons to blame myself. Reasons why I was responsible. Frustrated, angry and ashamed that I hadn’t known better than to get myself in an uncomfortable spot or how to get out of it.
Setting personal boundaries is a relatively new concept for me. And I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve passed on some of these unhealthy mindsets to my own daughters, simply out of ignorance. Recently, I saw a post on Instagram that said, “Boundaries are the greatest form of self love.” That’s a term that gets thrown around a lot these days: “self love”. It’s something that I’ve battled with all my life: low self-esteem, feelings of unworthiness, helplessness.
Learning self-protection and all that it entails has been an incredibly uncomfortable journey for me. Not just developing the physical skills and tools; I enjoy the chance to exert myself. It’s the mental side that’s been tough: learning that self-protection and boundary setting start with recognizing my own value and worth. Drawing a line in the sand and being ready to hold fast against pressure from co-workers, acquaintances, strangers and even loved ones.
I started getting myself back into better physical health and condition five and a half years ago as a means of dealing with the stress and extra time I had on my hands while living overseas. Many people that see me on social media, in the office or at the gym where I coach CrossFit don’t know that I was in poor shape for more than 20 years. They’ve never seen me as anything other than I am now. When I bring up the topic of learning self-protection, their response is often, “Well, you’re really into fitness so it’s great for you. I’m so out of shape, I wouldn’t be able to do it.” I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to hear this. How I want to grab these people by the shoulders and make them understand that learning to protect yourself has nothing to do with your physical abilities – although being able to get off the couch helps.
Self-Protection training isn’t just for those badass women who like to hit heavy bags and take a grown man to the ground with a well-aimed kicked. The more I read, the more I talk to people, the more I watch my daughters, the more I realize IT’S ESSENTIAL FOR A HEALTHY LIFE. Right up there with better eating habits, exercise and carving out quality time for your family and friends.
I understand that you’re intimidated. I know you’re afraid. Guess what? Me too. Every.damn.day. Afraid that I’ve taken on a task that I may not be equal to. Scared of failing. Scared of disappointing myself and others. I don’t particularly enjoy squaring off with a man, even when he’s wearing mitts and isn’t intent on actually hurting me. Even when it’s my husband, whom I trust with my life. It’s uncomfortable, I feel stupid and inept.
But this matters. This MATTERS. This is worth sucking it up and putting aside my fears and my feelings of looking stupid. And I promise you’ll find that it’s worth it, too. It’s worth it because it could save your life or the life of your child. It could save you from crying on a bathroom floor and wondering if you can live with yourself because someone you thought you could trust violated you. It could save you from having to cradle your child while they sob out a story that breaks your heart over and over and over…
I won’t give up. You’ll keep seeing my posts, you’ll keep hearing me talk about it. I’ll keep cajoling you into signing up for a workshop, coming to a class. I’ll keep on because you matter, whether I’ve met you yet or not.