I gave a self-defense workshop in conjunction with PADA of Jefferson County last week. In talking with these wonderful women, I found that most of their questions were “what do I do if…” There were different circumstances being discussed. One woman recently had an experience tending bar at a festival that made her uncomfortable. Another had a question about her daughter’s ex-boyfriend. Other questions came up about intimate partners and family members. In working through these questions with them, they discovered that the actual physical parts of self-defense can come quite naturally if you let it; if you can get past the conditioning of “don’t” as in don’t hit, don’t bite, don’t poke eyes, etc. What it really came down to was how to set boundaries. How to state your boundaries without yelling or being threatening; even just figuring out what your boundaries are. What in your life, your surroundings, your job and your relationships will you allow or not allow? Where is that line and where do you find the emotional and mental strength to state it effectively and stick to it?
Boundaries can be about space, behavior or time. For example, what time do you have carved out for yourself and your family. If your boss asks you to fill in for others often and it is bringing you down and effecting your personal life, you may need to set a boundary for your time. If someone is gossiping about you, talks down to you or is otherwise abusive, a behavior boundary may be in order. When someone is standing too close to you for your comfort or is touching you and you don’t want to be touched, then you need to determine what your personal space boundary is. How do you know you need to set boundaries? Any time you feel uncomfortable, someone is probably crossing one of your boundaries, even if you don’t consciously realize it.
People may know what their boundaries are, but may have concerns about enforcing them. You have the right to be treated with respect, but people aren’t mind readers. You need to state your boundaries at some point. Let’s take the example of the bartender that was uncomfortable. A man was coming across the bar and in her face wanting more alcohol. He was loud and too close for her comfort. She didn’t know what to do at the time. As someone who has done her fair share of slinging drinks, I was happy to give her a few ways to set some boundaries without coming across as angry or aggressive. I suggested that if she is ever in this situation again, to take a step back and put her hands up and calmly tell the man he is making her uncomfortable, there is no need to yell at her and to please back up if he would like another drink. (I also suggested he may not need another drink!) If the man doesn’t respect the request after 1 time, walk away without getting him the drink. If that doesn’t work, have the bouncer request he leave. You see, in this case, the man may not actually know he is making her uncomfortable and just needs information. If he continues to act inappropriately, she should disengage and let an owner or bouncer handle it. If need be, the local law enforcement will be happy to explain it to him – all it takes is a phone call and no one gets hurt.
In the case of an abusive relationship, the boundaries may be different, but they still need to be put in place. Some people never think to discuss with someone they are dating that they will not tolerate being hit. You would think it would be a given, but depending on the other person’s background and personal history, it may not be so clear. Talk to the person you are dating, marrying, married to.
You can’t make people honor your boundaries. You are the person that maintains your boundaries. You have to honor yourself and follow through on holding to them. A simple example of this is that if you are out somewhere and someone is being disrespectful to you, you can’t make them stop being disrespectful. You can maintain your boundary by leaving and going somewhere else. If your significant other is disrespectful of your need to have time with family and friends and you express to him that this is something you need and it’s a hard boundary for you and he chooses to ignore your request, then you can honor your boundary by breaking up with him.
Boundaries aren’t always easy to maintain, especially in abusive situations, but you can hold true to yourself by reaching out to organizations like PADA for help. You can demand respect without being demanding by having calm conversations with people. If they don’t honor your boundary you can and should choose to walk away instead of engaging in behavior below your expectations of yourself. Don’t let someone else talk you into moving or removing your boundaries just to make them feel more comfortable. Maintain your integrity.