Many of us have some idea in our minds about how we would respond if we were verbally or physically attacked by another person. Often, especially if we are already a few steps into our self-defense journey, we imagine that we will have pithy words for the attacker, and that we will easily and successfully fight them off with style and aggression, perhaps using a favored weapon. It’s a good exercise, to visualize ourselves winning confrontations. Being able to think about what kinds of situations we might find ourselves in and the steps we would take to defend ourselves make it more likely that we will be able to perform when they happen for real. However – and there’s always a however – we need to be careful not to allow our visualizations to become flights of fantasy. If we don’t ground our imaginations in reality, we risk a violent wake-up call when we face an actual bad guy and the confrontation does not go as we expect. Here are a few things to keep in mind, to make sure you don’t get caught in that trap:
We often imagine ourselves using some kind of tool to help us win a fight: a gun, a knife, something else. It may seem obvious, but unless you actually have that weapon with you when you need it, it’s not going to teleport to you when an attack happens. Whether you decide not to bring it with you because of legal or policy restrictions, or because it’s just inconvenient or you forget sometimes, thinking that you will defend yourself with it requires you to have it with you in all of the situations you imagine you will use it. More than that, you need to be able to get that tool out of from you have it stashed on your body or in a bag. If your training and visualization do not include solving the problem of getting weapon in hand and ready to go, you’ve skipped an important step in ensuring your success and perhaps even your survival.
Whether we intend to rely on a tool or not, we also often imagine ourselves as talented expert fighters. Few people have the discipline to visualize what they would do if a shot misses, a folding knife doesn’t open, or a strike doesn’t immediately disable or discourage. We believe in our skills and that faith is important, but can be misplaced if we have not evaluated and tested them appropriately. It’s a particular problem with folks who think they will rise to what the occasion demands even though they lack or have only minimal training and experience. Mindset alone will not make us effective against violence, even if we’re really really certain we will fight like an animal when it counts. A weekend seminar or watching some videos does not translate to being able to employ a tool or our bodies effectively against a resisting opponent who wants to win against us, as an attacker is. If we have the opportunity to work our skills in competitive environments, we will be more realistic when we think about how the back and forth will go and can incorporate that into our vision of how we will ultimately prevail.
And thinking merely about the physical aspects of responding to an attack fails to take into account the mental preparation that we may need because we skipped straight to triumphing over the bad guy. Before we can get to employing the tools and the skills, we have to be certain that we will, in fact, be able to commit to defending ourselves. It’s harder when it seems, when our attackers don’t look quite as we expect and that makes us hesitate to act early enough and decisively enough to protect against them. Visualizing stopping someone who looks like a movie villain is one thing, but putting the face of a loved one on the person trying to hurt you can be another thing entirely. Similarly, many people fail to consider that the person doing violence may be a woman, or young, or small, or otherwise innocent-seeming. We might also not take into account our true temperaments and past experiences, and what our natural or conditioned responses to certain types of situations may be. If we have not been honest with ourselves about our tendency to freeze in the face of aggression against us, for instance, we may struggle to act at all when an attack comes.
We may also slide over thinking about the nitty-gritty of a violent interaction, and that can have a negative effect on our ability to carry through with doing what we need to do, and living with it afterwards. Blood may be drawn and other bodily fluids may appear, and some of it yours. Disturbing noises can be made by injured and pained bodies. You may hurt, even kill, someone. Even though you may emerge the survivor and winner, you may pay a psychological and spiritual cost that you were not ready for. It’s easy to dismiss the idea because you believe you are tough, that of course you would only feel appropriately somber joy or relief when you prevail over someone who means you harm. Mountains of anecdotal and scientific evidence indicate that the opposite occurs with some regularity, and that it would be wise to prepare for the possibility. And it’s wise to make peace with the possibility of losing, because even if you fight the best fight of your life, it still may not be enough to “win” though it may be enough to satisfy your goals in other ways.
I’m not saying that you should spend a lot of your time imagining how wrong an attack could go for you. However, your visualization should be realistic and imagine how you will overcome challenges instead of assuming that your strategy will be immediately and unequivocally successful. If you do, you’re more likely to win for real, when it counts, instead of being caught without the tools, skills, and mindset you need.