World Mental Health Day was Saturday and this year’s theme was investment in your mental health. We talked just last week about therapy, which is one of the most obvious investments. We’ve also talked here about self-care in a more personal sense, especially when it means taking the time to do the things that relax and refresh you. We think a lot about mental health being about dealing with mental disorders, but I think it also includes what you do with your attention, your attitude, and your mindset. So today, I want to talk about some investments you should make in those areas of mental health that are specific to self defense and personal safety.
First, I’d ask you to commit to spending time studying what bad guys and bad situations look like. It doesn’t have to be obsessive amounts of your time or a big part of your daily life, just skim the headlines regularly and maybe pay attention to some true crime media here and there (admit it, those shows and podcasts fascinate you anyway). Don’t focus only on the dramatic scenarios or the ones that look the scariest up front. Also read about the small assaults and minor incidents, even the ones that don’t seem violent. People who might hurt you don’t always look like they will, but one of the ways you can learn to identify them is to study the tells that are recognized after another harmless-looking person does bad things and to learn why they do the things they do, even if they don’t make sense to you. Their logic might only make sense in their minds, and that’s all that matters when facing them. You don’t need to keep a notebook and try to deduct and memorize common factors, just look at these news stories so that your pattern-matching skills are primed with examples of what it looks like before and when things go wrong. Understanding what squicky, creepy, or dangerous can look like and how it thinks can help you see it when it’s in front of you. I’m not asking you to do this so that you become afraid of the world. In fact, you might balance this reading and watching with some hunts for good news about good people and good outcomes, because there’s an awful lot of that and it deserves attention too. But you need to read about the bad stuff so that they’re recognizable when you run across them in your own life.
Secondly, decide today on one of your uncrossable boundaries, and what you will do if someone tries to bend or break it. Boundaries are the lines that define what you won’t allow certain people to do to or with you, and they set out what separates you from others so that you have your very own sense of self. You might have different ones for different people and under different circumstances, but I’d suggest that some boundaries are less flexible because they are so important to preserving you and your safety. For example, assault, rape, and murder usually result when a person is forced from one location to another, from what is called a primary crime scene to a secondary one. Knowing that, one of my core boundaries is that nobody is permitted to make me go somewhere I don’t want to go, whether by physical force or otherwise. If somebody tries, then I will use all necessary force in response to not allow them to do that. Another of my boundaries is even more simple: nobody gets to kill me. It may seem perfectly obvious but stating it gave me greater determination not only to enforce it, but to learn the skills that would allow me to enforce it. You might decide on one that is less extreme – say, nobody hits you without your consent. Not once, and certainly not twice, even if it’s someone you live with, a romantic partner or a family member. And if they do, make a promise to yourself. What will you do? Will you offer a single chance more? Will you be out the door immediately? Write it down. Then give yourself permission and do what you need to ensure you can follow through on that commitment to you.
Finally, remind yourself that your life is valuable and worth defending. Yes, you. Your life. Even if you don’t have a partner. Even if you don’t have children. Even if you don’t have any blood family at all. Even if you don’t think you have friends (though I bet you do). Even if you don’t have a job. Even if you don’t do any volunteer work to save the world or some small portion of it. Even if. The very fact that you are you, and that you are here, makes you valuable. That smile you brought to someone’s face yesterday? The way you made someone else think today? The moment you hold the door for yet another person tomorrow? No matter how small, those tiny interactions are part of how you are an important part of the world. And who you haven’t been and what you haven’t done yet? That’s worth defending. Nobody has the right to take that potential away from you. Keep telling yourself until you believe it with every fiber of your being. Then tell yourself again and again until you can no longer imagine a world in which it’s not true. And tell everyone around you who you care about, that their lives too are valuable and worth defending, that they too deserve to live fully and completely. Tell your friends that you love them, that you’d miss them if they were gone, all of the things that would convince you to defend yourself against all comers. Don’t forget to look in the mirror and do the same too. I know you’ve done it before and you know it now, but don’t let yourself forget. Nothing is more important to your survival than believing this: your life is valuable and worth defending.
It’s hard work, all of it, and can be very time-consuming. It’s worth the effort, though, as much as or more than any time you can spend learning and practicing how to fight or use weapons. You can have all the skills and tools in the world, but they won’t mean anything if you don’t know when you need them and if you aren’t convinced you should use them. And even if you don’t know much and don’t have much to defend yourself with, they’ll be multiplied for knowing when to use them and having the heart to use them as viciously as you need to. But if you have both? Then you’ve stacked all the odds in your favor.