FearLess Fridays, Week Five: Claim Your Space

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One of the most important things we can do to improve our safety is to make a commitment to defending ourselves, and TAKING ACTION. That may mean taking a big step, or a very small one. This week we’re going to combine the skills we’ve been building in the past month–assertive stance, eye contact, and voice–into one simple but powerful technique that establishes a personal boundary. At my school Sun Dragon, we sometimes refer to this activity as the “Invisible Wall.”

It’s best to do this with a real live partner, though you can use an imaginary partner in a pinch.

  1. Stand across the room from your partner, and have him or her walk towards you. Maintain eye contact.
  2. When your partner reaches the edge of your comfort zone (the distance you identified as your personal space in Week One), raise your hands at chest level, fingers up, palms out.
  3. At the same time, move one foot back slightly, so you have a more solid stance.
  4. Say, firmly, “Stop.”

Then switch roles. Be sure to stop when your partner tells you to! Ask yourself:

  • How does it feel to approach someone and have them put up their Invisible Wall? What is your instinctive response?
  • How does it feel to use the Invisible Wall to set your own boundary?

For the rest of the week, look for opportunities to deploy your Invisible Wall, adapting as necessary. If someone wants to hug you, for example, and you don’t feel like hugging, for example, try this technique (You might change “Stop” to “No hug for me, thanks”). You may also find it’s an effective way to end a conversation that gets too flirty for your tastes. Or you can use it to set boundaries with a panhandler who tries to crowd you, saying, “That’s too close” or “Step back.”

When you use this technique, don’t just focus on its effect upon others. Pay attention to the way it makes you feel. When we take action to set and defend our boundaries, we feel stronger and more capable. We also remind ourselves and others that we are valuable, and deserve respect.

By Friday, I hope you’ll have a sense of how effective this one-step drill can be in communicating your boundaries to other people. We have many opportunities in our daily lives to set boundaries and insist that others respect them. Once you’ve tried this simple way of doing so, you may find it becomes easier to identify situations in which boundary setting can benefit you and the people around you.

Let’s use the next five days to make ourselves safer and more powerful! Check in below in the comments to share how things are going—or Tweet your responses to @SusanSchorn, hashtag #FearLessFridays. You can find all the FearLess Fridays activities on the main page.

FearLess Fridays, Week Four: Say No

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Saying “No” is one of the most basic acts of self defense. It establishes a clear boundary, showing others what you expect of them. It can keep small-scale annoyances from turning in to a full-fledged safety problems. It’s also an important way of affirming your own right to self-determination. Most of us don’t enjoy saying “No,” so we avoid it as much as possible. That makes it all the more important to practice this simple skill.

In Smile at Strangers, I recount how the following activity completely changed the way I think about self defense. You’ll need a partner, and a clock or timer, to try it yourself.

  1. One person asks questions: “Can you give me a ride to Alice’s party? Why not? Aren’t we friends?” or “Can you take my Friday night shift for me? How come you won’t help me out? Don’t I always help you when you ask?” Or questioners can ask for bus fare, a spare cigarette, the use of a phone, etc. Don’t threaten or yell; just be persistent.
  2. The other person answers “No” to all the questions. Don’t smile or laugh, but do maintain eye contact with your questioner.
  3. Keep this up for sixty seconds (it will feel much longer), and then switch roles.

KJ and Doris Ann show you just how hard this is, in a mere 26-second video! When you’ve tried both roles, ask yourself,

  • Which was harder, asking questions, or saying “No”? What was hard about it?
  • Did it get harder or easier as more time elapsed?
  • What were you thinking as you played each role? How did you feel afterward?

For the rest of the week, look for opportunities to say “No.” Don’t say it if you don’t mean it! But we want to take a good hard look at all the situations where we’d like to say “No,” but don’t: Going along with someone else’s plans when you’d really rather not. Giving a salesperson “Just a minute” of your time. Saying “No” in those situations may feel uncomfortable, because we’re conditioned to be helpful and cooperative. Try it anyway! Get past to the discomfort, and focus instead on how it feels to define a personal boundary.

By Friday, I hope you’ll be more comfortable saying “No,” and more aware of how often we’re not expected to do so (especially women!).

Let’s use the next five days to make ourselves safer and more powerful! Check in below in the comments to share how things are going—or Tweet your responses to @SusanSchorn, hashtag #FearLessFridays. You can find all the FearLess Fridays activities on the main page.

FearLess Fridays, Week Three: Practice Assertive Body Language

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The way we establish our physical presence has a huge impact on our safety. Standing in a way that looks strong and feels stable makes us feel more powerful, and also telegraphs to others how alert and confident we feel. Last week we practiced feeling confident, and projecting that feeling, by making eye contact. This week we’re going to build on that base with some stance work that will help you feel prepared for any emergency.

A full-length mirror will help for the first part of this activity—or try it in front of a picture window that gives a decent reflection.

  1. Take a comfortable, but unbalanced stance—that is, stand with more of your weight on one leg than the other. Pushing one hip out, crossing your legs, or leaning on the wall are all indicators of an unbalanced stance.
  2. Observe yourself in the mirror.
  3. Now take a balanced stance: Place your feet shoulder-width apart, with your weight evenly distributed on both (you can put one foot slightly ahead of the other if you like). Straighten your spine and make sure your head is centered over your hips.
  4. Take another look in the mirror.

Try shifting back and forth between stances a few times (KJ, Doris Ann, and Laura show you how it looks in this video snippet). Ask yourself:

  • What do you notice about your physical appearance that is different when you shift from an unbalanced to a balanced stance?
  • Do you feel any different in the two different stances? If so, how?
  • Imagine someone else observing you. Which stance is more likely to make an observer think: “This is an alert person,” “This is a distracted person,” “This person would be hard to knock down”?

For the rest of the week, try to notice when you are in an unbalanced stance. When you find yourself leaning or slouching, move into a balanced stance, and pay attention to the way the change makes you feel.

We tend to adopt unbalanced stances when we’re bored or tired, or when we’re conflicted about where we should be (think about the way a teenager stands in front of the principals’ desk). An unbalanced stance looks passive and potentially vulnerable. A balanced stance, in contrast, tends to look strong and assertive. Practicing a balanced stance is a simple way to make assertive body posture a habit.

By Friday, you should be more aware of your stance, and able to move quickly and comfortably into an assertive, balanced posture that makes you look strong and feel better prepared for unexpected developments.

Let’s use the next five days to make ourselves safer and more powerful! Check in on the comments thread below to share how things are going—or Tweet your responses to @SusanSchorn, hashtag #FearLessFridays. You can find all the FearLess Fridays activities on the main page.

FearLess Fridays, Week Two: Make Eye Contact

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What does a victim look like? An assailant seeking a target for violence, bullying, or abuse will often look for very small behaviors that telegraph insecurity. This week we’re going to practice a basic skill for building, and projecting, confidence: Eye contact.

It helps to have a partner or partners for the first part of this activity—a group of three or four people works best. After that, you’ll be practicing on your own.

  1. Have your helpers stand in a line a few feet apart.
  2. Walk slowly along the line, making eye contact with each person. After you look at each person, look down at the floor. Then look at the next person, look down, and so on, to the end of the line.
  3. Give each of your partners a chance to do this too.
  4. Now, walk along the line again. This time, after you make eye contact, look away from the person, but don’t drop your eyes. Keep your gaze at the same level, and look off to the side, or on to the next person in line.
  5. Give your partners a chance to try this.

My helpful friends Laura, KJ, and Doris Ann show you how simple this is. As you did after the activity last week, ask yourself,

  • How did it feel to look down? What was different about keeping your gaze level?
  • What was your impression of your partners when they looked down? When they kept their gaze level?

For the rest of the week, practice making brief, polite eye contact and not looking down afterward. You can probably practice this while walking on a busy sidewalk (use your own judgment; you know your neighborhood better than I do), or walking down the hallway at work.

“Appropriate” eye contact depends in part on cultural expectations. We don’t want to violate people’s sense of decorum by staring, but we are testing the cultural expectation that some people (women, people of a certain ethnicity, the differently abled) should demonstrate submissive gaze patterns.

By Friday, I hope you’ll have a better sense of the way assertive eye contact can build your confidence, and project that attitude to others.

Let’s use the next five days to make ourselves safer and more powerful! Check in on the comments thread below to share how things are going—or Tweet your responses to @SusanSchorn, hashtag #FearLessFridays. You can find all the FearLess Fridays activities on the main page.