Mindset, Awareness & Tactics
When describing personal safety, I prefer to use the term “self-protection” as opposed to “self-defense.” Self-protection is proactive and in control. Self-defense is reactionary and applies to someone already in a position of vulnerability. Self-protection is made up of mindset (observing red flags), situational awareness (being aware of your surroundings), and tactics (drawing the line). I want to empower you by introducing tools that will help make you a hard target.
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We all know how to act at work, at church, in a movie, etc. We don’t typically know how to act in a rape, kidnapping, or assault. Our brains have no pathways to lead us to an appropriate response. During my kidnapping, my mind could not find anything to pull from or a path to follow to tell me how to act, what to say, or what to do. Therefore, my mind was left scrambling, searching for something that wasn’t there – a plan for self-protection.
Significant research shows that when we are in a new situation or meet someone for the first time, we make snap judgments based on the smallest bits of experience we may have to draw from and these judgments are unconscious. People do this because they have to and have come to rely on that skill. When we don’t have any similar experiences to fall back on, we search through all the closets and corners of our minds to find something to cling on to so we can make sense of what is going on around us. We have to in order to know how to respond. Most of us do not have previous experience with violence, nor do we have plans or preparation for how to respond to a threat. Conditioning our minds, preparing for the unexpected, and being open to the fact that someone may inflict violence on us allows us to perceive the threat and react in a faster manner. This will result in a quicker Perception Reaction Time.
In the first few seconds of the interaction with my attacker, my intuition picked up on multiple signals that were in direct conflict with my logical mind. My brain desperately tried to make sense of what I was experiencing and to assign some logical explanation to it, but no explanation was consistent with the world I lived in. An internal dialogue between my intuition and logical mind raged like civil war. I chose to ignore my gut and follow the logic almost to my violent murder. That is the mistake that is why we freeze, that is what creates a longer perception reaction time – and we fail to take action quickly. We don’t take action until we understand the why? instead of simply accepting that something tells us we are in danger.
Even when we don’t know why, we can protect ourselves by using tools to stay safe or escape.
Consider this example: You are snuggled with your dog on the couch watching TV, and he suddenly – without any warning – jumps off the couch, runs to stare out the window, and starts growling. Would you keep watching TV and ignore your dog, would you tell him to be quiet and call him back to watch TV, or would you become alert and try to determine what has caused your dog to react? As soon as your dog senses a threat, he responds. He is obeying his instincts. If only we trusted our intuition to the same degree.
Humans, especially in a polite, politically correct, do-unto-others society, tend to negotiate with or suppress our intuition – so much so that many of us expose ourselves to great danger before taking action. Every victim I have spoken with recalls a specific moment when they knew something was wrong. This includes victims who have been ambushed and never saw their attacker. There was a discomfort from an unidentifiable source that was ignored because they did not identify it as a warning signal trying to protect them prior to the attack. In the example above, I doubt most of us would continue to sit on the couch and doze while our dog growled out the window. We would do something. Me? I would grab my cell phone and a weapon – and not necessarily in that order. It seems silly to honor the instincts of our dogs yet negotiate with our own intuition. But that is what we often do.
A failure to keep the behavior of the predator in context may prevent us from responding quickly enough. If we look at and acknowledge that the behavior of the predator is inappropriate, we are free to respond accordingly in rude or aggressive ways that we would never otherwise use. Keeping context in mind as we look at the warning signs is crucial. For example, if your car is stopped at an intersection and a man runs to it, jerks open your door, drags you out from behind the wheel, and starts putting his hands all over you – you could be the victim of a car-jacking and sexual assault, or you could have just been rescued by a fireman who is pulling you out of a wreck and attempting to administer CPR. The first scenario would be your worst fear. The second would be an answer to prayer. Context is everything.
What will you do once your brain registers the threat? You may run, freeze, or faint in those moments that follow; your brain will swirl looking for direction and cling on to anything it can find, including bizarre and possibly dangerous ideas. You need a plan to go to, reflexively, to protect yourself.