What is the appropriate response to a threat situation?

(Lisa Feeney, Stir the Embers co-founder and facilitator)

One thing we talk about quite a bit during our workshops is the “appropriate” response to a threat situation. It is a subject that comes up repeatedly during classes and discussion on self-defense. How much force is too much? What type of situations warrant a physical response? What if I over-react? Is it ever okay to “go nuclear” on the first strike? The short answer is that there is no one appropriate response to every situation. Unfortunately, every encounter is different depending on the people and other variables involved. And to complicate matters, just because you CAN physically engage an adversary doesn’t necessarily mean you SHOULD.  So, when confronted with a threat, what is the appropriate response?

When this questions comes up in our Introductory workshop, I like to pose this hypothetical situation to the class to illustrate the point.  Dan attends a party and strikes up a conversation with Sue, an attractive young woman. Feeling bold by the beer he’s already consumed and Sue’s apparent receptiveness to his attempts at conversation, Dan suggests that they move to a quieter back room to talk in private. Sue reacts by drawing attention to Dan in a loud, verbally confrontational manner. In response, Dan escalates the verbal confrontation dramatically and storms out of the party.

After sharing this scenario, the question we pose to our workshop participants is, “Did Sue respond appropriately to this situation?” We typically get a wide range of answers and conjecture, but in the end, our answer is that yes, she did. Neither Dan nor Sue are mind-readers and neither know what the other is thinking or what their intentions are. Was Dan really intending to take Sue in the back room and rape her or was he just a socially inept guy bungling an attempt to get a phone number and a date? Although Sue’s response may seem like an over-reaction to some , it was the appropriate response for her given her background, her psyche, and her perception of the situation.

Having said that, I can also tell you that I would probably have chosen a different response to that situation. Indeed, if you ask ten different women how they might respond, you will most likely get ten different answers. And, interestingly, they will probably all be “right.” Why? Because every situation and every person is different. There is never a “one-size-fits-all” response to every threat situation and I am always leery of self-defense instructors who teach otherwise. Where I may be completely comfortable standing my ground and telling someone to back off because they’re infringing on my personal space, another woman may be more comfortable removing herself from the situation. Both responses are appropriate because they alleviate the threat situation and allow both of us to create distance and remain safe.

In our Introductory workshop, our goal is to teach participants how to stop a threat situation from escalating. A physical response may be necessary, but we feel that participants must always insure that their response de-escalates a situation rather than provokes an escalated response. In our workshops, a  physical escalation is always coupled with movement so that you can create distance from your attacker. Otherwise, it turns into mutual combat which, to us, is not an appropriate response to a threat situation.

What is the appropriate response to a threat situation?  The response that allows you to create distance from your attacker and to remain safe.

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