At its core, self defense is really about establishing and enforcing boundaries on your life. It’s deciding what someone can and can’t do with your body, mind, and heart, and then enforcing those limits against those who would intrude.
It’s often easy to decide some of the big boundaries: Nobody gets to kill me. Nobody gets to rape me. Nobody gets to make me go somewhere I don’t want to go.
It’s sometimes more difficult to figure out what some of the intermediate boundaries leading to those are – what the outer circles look like before you’re defending the lines that are most important to you. Things like, nobody gets to lay hands on me in anger or with obvious intent to injure me. Nobody gets to kiss me unless we are already in an intimate relationship. Nobody gets to drive me anywhere; I always arrange for my own transportation. Whatever they are, they’re yours. Yours might be different from mine. That doesn’t make yours wrong or mine; that simply makes them the specific things we care about.
It’s harder still to decide on some of the smaller boundaries, especially when you are okay with them being variable depending on the setting and the people involved. Things like: Nobody calls me b!tch, except my inner circle of friends when we’re joking around. Nobody gets my home address for social reasons, except I want to throw a big backyard barbecue for Labor Day weekend. Nobody hugs me, except people I’ve spent enough time with to be comfortable having them touch me. How do you decide when and how certain things are okay? Sometimes, you have to back and think about what actually happened and consider whether or not it was really acceptable to you. That way, next time, you’ll have a better idea of exactly where those lines are.
The next piece is figuring out how to communicate your boundaries. You can’t expect people to “just know” where nuanced, individualized boundaries lie. That’s why it’s on you to tell them. Some of it is in the Managing Unknown Contacts (MUC) paradigm I talk about frequently. Some of it is learning how to have open and honest conversations with the people around you. It’s learning how to say things like, “I appreciate the offer of a ride, but I’m going to drive myself.” Whether an explanation comes with it, and whether you allow it to become a two-way conversation is going to be situationally-dependent. Similarly, whether you decide you can negotiate those boundaries and broaden or narrow them because of relationships or other factors, is up to you at that time, in that place, with that person. The important part is to remember that you don’t owe justification of your boundaries to anyone, and that you and only you have the right to make those decisions. Any changes must be because you want them, not because you’re talked into them.
Then, finally, is figuring out how to enforce those boundaries because a boundary is a meaningless line if there are no consequences for someone crossing it. One of the most common examples is a restraining order, also known as “just a piece of paper.” They’re important pieces of paper, though, because they reflect the creation of a specific boundary and express it to others. You are, however, responsible for the last piece, which is creating effective repercussions for violation of that boundary. Some of them will be legal and can take time to be felt by the intruder. Others, the ones you have the most control over, can be more physical and immediate, like shooting the stalker who forces his way into your home to harm you. And in other circumstances, there is an entire spectrum of enforcement possibilities for your boundaries. Maybe you will no longer hang out with a certain friend solo and only in groups. Maybe you change someone’s ringtone to “silent.” Maybe you simply correct someone every time they continue to call you a nickname you hate.
But the way you figure all that out? Think back, put in the boundaries you wish you had, and think through how to communicate and enforce them. And then implement them next time so you aren’t stuck in a cycle of regret.