What if …

What if you’re wrong about that creepy-looking guy in the parking lot and he turns out to be harmless? What if you’re wrong about that noise you heard outside? What if you’re over-reacting? What if that way-too-friendly guy at the bar gets mad at you and yells at you? What if you hurt someone’s feelings or hurt their body? What if your mother never speaks to you again?

What if you’re right and you don’t act? What would you do if your daughter, your sister, your best friend or your mother was in this situation? How do you decide how much is too much? What if you try something and it doesn’t work? What if you make the situation worse? What if you do everything you learned in your self-defense class and you still get hurt?

Rather than pretending that bad things don’t happen, or hesitating to act because you’re afraid of being wrong, or worrying about what others might think, we want you to have choices and to be true to yourself. You have the right and the power to be safe and to defend yourself if need be. You don’t have to get into the elevator with the scary person just so they won’t feel bad. You don’t have to be nice to the drunk at the party to avoid making a scene. It is okay if they think you’re crazy if you end up alive and intact on the other side of an encounter. Dead right is still dead and no one ever died of embarrassment.

We want you to listen to that still, small voice inside that tells you when something is not quite right about a situation. We want you to acknowledge that tingling “spidey-sense,” that prickle on the back of your neck, that uneasiness, or that sneaking suspicion and we want you to act on it instead of dismissing it as being paranoid, over-reacting, or being silly/foolish.

How do you react to a feeling when all you have is a feeling? It was that question that led to the formation of our introductory self-defense course. When we looked at other self-defense training programs, we found that the techniques they taught were designed for an all-out attack. Yet, if you used these techniques because of a “feeling” it was very possible that you would be seen as the attacker and the person who made you feel threatened would be seen as the victim. Instead, too many people would hesitate to use what they had been taught until a physical assault was in progress.

We came up with the idea of the innocuous assault. We define this as a perceived threat that begins as an “innocent” mistake, or an excuse to violate your personal space. Whether the perpetrator is someone known to you (perhaps a relative or an acquaintance) or a friendly stranger, we decided that our participants needed to have tools that they could use to prevent the innocuous assault and respond to it as necessary.

So, how do you prevent the innocuous assault? You start by listening to that voice and acting on it. Is the guy in the elevator feeling creepy to you? Wait for the next one. Does something about the guy at the bar not feel right, especially since he insists on chatting you up even after you told him politely you are not interested? Stop being polite, or pretend to answer your phone and have an important conversation with your mom, the highway patrol officer. Are you walking out to your car and getting a “feeling” because when you parked it, it was light and there were plenty of people around, but now it is deserted and dark? Set your key fob alarm off and find something to do for a couple of minutes. Alarms are loud and annoying. People don’t pay attention to them other than to be annoyed by them, so they rarely stay around them for more than a couple of minutes.

But what about the assault that no one notices? How about the male relative that always insists on long, tight hugs that make you uncomfortable? Or the guy who, when you shake his hand, doesn’t let go? An elbow that always seems to “accidentally” be in the way is one method to make him stop wanting that hug, as is the habit of including someone else in a “group hug.” Pointing your finger will help you resist the grip of the person shaking your hand and “coughing” allows you to get your hand back, or make him want to back up to avoid getting coughed on.

We want you to always have a response, and we want that response to be one that you will use. As the old saying goes, “When your only tool is a hammer, soon every problem looks like a nail.” We will help you respond to situations that require something other than a hammer, and if the situation does call for one, we’ll help you choose between the claw hammer and the 5lb. sledge.

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  • Stir The Embers  On May 12, 2011 at 11:09 AM

    This article was written by Bill Hatfield and Lisa Feeney.

  • Cathy  On May 13, 2011 at 9:12 AM

    Fantastically well written. Thanks so much for posting this.

  • Dorothy  On June 22, 2011 at 12:02 AM

    Well written and a lesson that everyone needs to learn – especially that inner voice. I meant to comment several weeks ago. I went to Kohls in T.O. at nighttime to take advantage of a sale and my extra coupon. It was after 9 and dark, and a warmer night for spring. I noticed 2 people bicycling around – a well dressed young man and woman (in their 20s) – they seemed to be aimlessly riding around the parking lot for fun. I could be totally wrong, but something felt “off” to me, and I hurried to get inside the store quickly. The young man circled closer to me and tried to talk to me, making a comment, “Is the store still open?” or “The store’s still open?!” I said, “Yes,” hurriedly opened the door and rushed in.

    I don’t know if it was my overactive imagination going into overdrive or not. Of course they could be a young couple who simply went for a casual bike ride on a warm spring evening. But they didn’t have helmets on, they were dressed in “nicer” clothes,and it didn’t sit right with me. My imagination/gut told me that if they weren’t as they seemed, in the worst case scenario, they could have easily carjacked me and taken me to who knows where, and no one would be the wiser – not the store people, not my family – no one! And my husband didn’t know where I was, plus I’m always running late so he wouldn’t start worrying until much too late.

    I asked the store employees to watch me walk to my car when I was done (the bicyclers were gone by then), which they had no problem with. And I took this as another important lesson to pay attention to my surroundings, listen to my gut, try to minimize solo nighttime shopping excursions, and try to be more on time and more in touch with my husband about my whereabouts.

    I always remember Lisa’s story about the man who followed her to her car in the grocery store parking lot. What I think would also be good from STE is a short tutorial on how to introduce young children (kindergarten and up) to this concept of listening to your gut/not putting up with weirdos (strangers or relatives). Not in a scary way, but in an empowering way. I’m trying to work with my kids with listening to their gut feeling or inner compass or whatever they want to name their inner voice that speaks the truth.

    Thanks for this post, and thanks for letting me leave a long-winded comment! 🙂

    Take care!

    • Bill  On June 24, 2011 at 9:23 AM

      Well done Dorothy. This is an important lesson for everyone. It doesn’t matter what the person looks like, listen to that inside warning. A friend of mine was carjacked not so long ago by a nice looking” couple. The kicker here was that it was the woman who held him at gun point while the man forced him out of his truck. That shouldn’t shock any of us, but social conditioning forces the assumption that the role would be reversed. Don’t make assumptions and always err on the side of safety.

      And thank you for sharing. People learn from our experiences and sharing them is a responsibility we should all take seriously.

  • Stir The Embers  On June 23, 2011 at 12:26 PM

    Dorothy, thanks for sharing your story. That is a perfect example of listening to that still, small voice inside that tells you when something isn’t right. I think you did exactly the right thing by being aware of your feelings of unease, removing yourself from the situation (going straight into the store and not stopping to engage them in conversation), and taking steps to be safe on the way back to your car (asking store personnel to make sure you got through the parking lot safely).

  • Heather  On June 23, 2011 at 1:52 PM

    Smart move Dorothy!!! I had some guy approach me recently outside of Nordstrom Rack. He started up with, “hey, I’m part of a game. I have to approach a certain number of sane, nice looking people.” Turned out he was doing a sales scam. I knew I should have walked into the store the second he asked the first question. Luckily it wasn’t malicious, just irritating and I got out quickly.
    Wouldn’t have thought about asking the store employees to watch if I was uncomfortable after dark. Great one!!!

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