Category Archives: Communication

Tolerance

I recently read a brilliant essay on tolerance that clarified for me why I haven’t always experienced successful outcomes while practicing it! Here’s a quote to think about from that article:

“[Tolerance] is an agreement to live in peace, not an agreement to be peaceful no matter the conduct of others. A peace treaty is not a suicide pact.” –Yonatan Zunger, ‘Tolerance is not a Moral Precept’

Photo by 小胖 车 on Unsplash

I’ve found that one of the many unpleasant effects of pleasing people, trying hard, being compliant and demonstrating unfailing compassion and kindness is that it’s stunted my emotional growth. It’s made me weak, naïve and dependent. It’s taught me to be powerless.

At this point in my life I’m making different choices, and as I do that I’m losing my fuzzy-headed, goody-two-shoes, sweet maiden aspect and becoming much clearer about who I am and what I believe in.

I’m not the only one, either. My second-hand exposure to social media through my partner, as well as my own reading of blogs, articles and essays, demonstrates loud and clear that many of us are in the process of refocusing our beliefs and values. Just yesterday I read an article about the devastating impact of the presidential election on close relationships and social media communities, as well as the way it’s opened up new connections.

As I listen, watch, read, write and think about it all, I return, again and again, to the conclusion  that we’re all dealing with the same underlying ideas and issues. I know there’s a lot of heated and poisonous ideology out there about race and ethnicity, sexuality and gender politics, religion, and even what we eat, but underneath all that distracting noise are the same issues of tolerance and intolerance, power and identity, and fear.

I’ve written previously about reciprocity. When I read Zunger’s blog, I immediately understood why my practice of tolerance has had, in some cases, quite devastating results. Once again, I was extending something I wasn’t receiving in return. Having been well trained (and slightly dim) it didn’t occur to me before that it’s not my responsibility to meet intolerance and disregard for my own boundaries with continuing tolerance. I’ve clung to the dangerous belief that if I just model and demonstrate well, the other party or parties will get it, and want to live in a more peaceful and effective way (my way, of course!)

After all, I don’t want to stoop to their level!

Ick.

Photo by John Salvino on Unsplash

This is a pretty effective set of shackles. Like many women, I’ve accepted them meekly for most of my life.

I’m bored with that now. It’s never worked well. It’s always left me terribly and painfully vulnerable. Turn the other cheek sounds like a lovely ideal, but in practice it sucks. In my study of combatives, I’ve found another option: Go in peace, but if a predator attacks you, be so explosively aggressive that you become the predator and they become the prey. Take them out of commission as fast and effectively as possible and get away from them. Permanently.

I know, I know. Unattractive. Not nice. Being part of the problem rather than the solution. Violence solves nothing.

Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

That’s all fine, if it works for you.

It hasn’t worked for me. I’m not sure why it’s unattractive and wrong to defend myself (or others), except, of course, from the predator’s point of view.

I don’t care what the predator thinks. Predators have to take their lumps, just like the rest of us.

It seems these days going in peace means having no opinions, asking no questions, voicing no disagreement, stating no beliefs and citing no personal experience. There’s sure to be someone who will step in and try to shut us down with violence, abuse and threats if we speak up.

I love the idea of tolerance as a peace treaty. It gives me everything I need. It accommodates my intention to seek and support connection. It allows me to continue to be completely disinterested in someone’s religion, sexual preference, gender experience, physical anatomy, race, ethnicity, diet or reproductive choices as a criterion for judgement. Tolerance as a peace treaty leaves ample room for the things I do care about—authenticity, compassion, power with rather than power over, the desire to connect. It’s a peace treaty I can honor whole-heartedly.

Right up until someone tells me to shut up and sit down, make myself small, stop asking questions. Right up until someone tells me what to believe, what spiritual framework to use, what to think, what agenda to accept, what to do with my body and what my boundaries should be. Right up until I feel uncomfortable, in fact. Then the peace treaty is broken, and I give myself permission to exit, quietly if allowed and like a fighting tigress if hindered.

Tolerance is not an expression of weakness. It’s not permission to use and abuse. It’s not an agreement to abdicate self-defense. It’s not a suicide pact.

Nobody is entitled to tolerance.

Tolerance is a gift that must be both given and received. Let’s be worthy of it.

Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Self-Defense

I went to a self-defense class last weekend, and it changed everything.

I’ve been thinking about self-defense a lot lately.  In the past month or two I came across a book by Kelly McCann titled Combatives For Street Survival, illustrated throughout with photographs. That book opened up a whole new world to me. Not only is McCann direct and clear, he has a no-bullshit approach to the techniques and skills of self-defense. He knows what he’s talking about, as he’s an ex-Marine and has a wide variety of experience all over the world. He’s not interested in ideology. The only thing he’s interested in is what works to discourage or disable (note I did NOT say kill) an attacker, and he makes the point, over and over again, that if you’re forced into a fight in spite of good situational awareness and avoidance tactics (preferably running like a rabbit), you’re more likely to live if you learn a small set of flexible techniques and practice them.

What struck me most forcibly about McCann’s book was that it represents permission to defend oneself. No one ever gave me that before. On the contrary, it seems to me all I’ve ever learned is that self-defense is not allowed. Self-defense is disloyal, a betrayal, dramatic, hysterical, disobedient, shameful, embarrassing, disruptive and makes others uncomfortable. For God’s sake, don’t make a scene!

I wrote about boundaries a few weeks ago (Boundaries 1: Strawberry Jam was the first of a series), and I think a lot about them. Self-defense is maintenance of boundaries. So, according to what I’ve learned in the world, maintaining boundaries is inappropriate. In fact, self-defense is violence, an act of aggression.

This is complete nonsense. Self-defense is not offense. Self-defense doesn’t come first. Self-defense is a response to threat or violence. Self-defense is not entering a building with guns blazing. It’s not swaggering down the street picking fights. It’s not bullying, machismo, unprovoked hostility or aggression. Self-defense is not a power grab.

Self-defense is a willingness to protect a boundary. It’s the right to say yes or no. The point of it is not whether others respond or respect our boundaries (although that would be nice). The point is not whether others come to our assistance when we’re under attack. The point is we have a right to protect ourselves.

Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

So, with all these thoughts jostling around in my head, I went to a free self-defense class at the local community center.

The class consisted of about fifteen women, age range high school to 50s. The instructor was a local martial arts teacher and he had female and male students with him to assist. It was a three-hour class.

Two things happened there that I’ll never forget.

The first was learning how to punch. This is not a thing I’ve ever wanted to learn. I don’t have much upper body strength, I know it’s easy to break your hand punching people or things, and I’ve no desire to punch anyone, ever. However, it was part of the class, so I learned. Then the instructor and male assistants filtered through the class, coming to each of us and asking us to punch them in the abdomen.

A large young man, over six feet tall, solid, strong, with hair dyed strawberry red, came and stood toe to toe with me, grinned, and said, “Hit me.”

I looked up into his face. “I don’t want to do this.” (Variations of this statement could be heard all over the room.)

“Go ahead. You won’t hurt me.”

This, I reflected, was probably true. Even if I’d known how to punch, I doubt I could have really hurt him. That wasn’t the thing holding me back.

I was being asked to deliberately, in cold blood, hit a nice young man who might have been my sons’ age or even younger, a stranger, in the stomach with my fist.

In that moment, I began to see the enormity of the disempowerment of women around self-defense and boundaries.

Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

I said to him, “I’ve been hit before, but I’ve never hit anyone else.”

His face darkened. “Then here’s your chance.”

“But it wasn’t you!” I said, on the edge of tears.

He stood there, waiting. I doubled up my fist and hit him.

“Again,” he said.

I did it again.

“Harder! Put your shoulder into it!”

I did it harder. Not as hard as I could, but harder.

“Good.” He stepped in front of the woman next to me.

This was happening all over the room. I saw women in tears. I saw women “hitting” with force that wouldn’t have knocked over a kitten and then apologizing abjectly. Eventually, with a lot of coaxing, most of us tried with at least moderate strength at least once. This single exercise took a large chunk of the total class time and was the hardest part of the whole class for me.

We knew, at the end of the class, there would be an opportunity to role play with one of the assistants or the instructor and demonstrate some of the techniques we’d learned. The instructor spent a lot of time talking to us about situational awareness, body language and the psychology of violent attack, and emphasized making noise in order to create an audience and discourage an attacker. He gave us language to use (WHAT DO YOU WANT?), and demonstrated. It was very clear, and the easiest part of the training—no new moves needed.

When it came time to role play, the instructor asked for volunteers. The nervousness in the room was palpable. Nobody wanted to do it, though there was an agreed upon safe word that would immediately end the role play and the situation was completely contained and controlled.

This is not the sort of thing that intimidates me, so I volunteered first and chose as my attacker the strawberry-haired gentlemen who so kindly encouraged me to hit him! Everyone laughed at this, because he was the biggest assailant I could have chosen. He was very pleased. He’d thought no one would pick him for this part of the class.

I strolled along in the middle of the classroom and he came up behind me and grabbed my shoulder. I turned around and asked him, loudly and aggressively, “WHAT DO YOU WANT?”

He grinned and transferred his grip to my upper arm.

I faced him, got my hands up and yelled into his face, “BACK OFF!”

It wasn’t him I was yelling at, though. It was a whole crowd of other faces, both male and female, people who have hurt me with fists and words, people who have shut me down, shut me up and taught me to be small and silent. I felt like a snarling wolf, a cornered tiger. With those two words, I reclaimed my willingness to self-protect and the power to do so.

I surprised him. He flinched back a little and his grip loosened. The instructor wanted the role play to continue until he felt that each woman had done something that gave her a chance to run. In less than a minute I was back against the wall with the rest of the audience.

One by one, with a lot of encouragement, every woman got up and tried the role play.

Not a single woman was able to use more than a moderately loud voice or any kind of an aggressive tone. They sounded terrified. They sounded weak. Their tone of voice was begging and pleading.  The ones who did manage a puny blow or an evasive maneuver apologized to their pseudo attacker even as the attack continued. The instructor prompted, over and over again, “Louder! Shout out! Let us hear you!”

They couldn’t do it. Some even said, “I can’t!”

This assortment of ordinary women with a wide span of ages couldn’t be verbally aggressive with an attacker, even though they had full permission, were encouraged, supported, totally safe, and had my example paving the way.

Are you understanding this? These women couldn’t defend themselves, even verbally. All the guns and knives and skills in the world wouldn’t have helped them.

It boggled my mind.

Ever since that day I’ve been thinking about the power I felt when I yelled, “Back off!”

Ever since that day I’ve been thinking about a culture that silences, shames and disempowers women to the point that so many are unable to protect themselves.

Self-defense. Another daily crime. Count on it.

Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

The Glamour of Gaslighting

Glamour: Enchantment, magic (archaic)

Gaslighting is the manipulation or twisting of information. To be a victim of gaslighting is to be an audience at a magic show where the magician carefully and skillfully distracts and controls our attention and perception. Gaslighting seduces us into believing in a particular reality.

Photo by Jonathan Crews on Unsplash

It’s all fun and games until the glamour doesn’t match our experience and we try to hold two realities. Trying to hold two realities is like being torn in half. In a very short time we feel forced to choose. If we’re in a primary relationship with a gaslighter, we might choose their reality over ours, because we love them. We trust them. We have a history with them, a commitment. We’re loyal to them.  We need them. They have power in our lives.

Gaslighting is abuse.

Let that sink in for a minute. To be with a gaslighter is to be with an abuser.

Gaslighting can and does kill people.

Some of us are sitting ducks for gaslighters, because we’ve already been trained to doubt our feelings, thoughts, perceptions and memories. We’ve already been shamed for expressing our experience. We’ve already been silenced. We know that we’re damaged, broken, ugly and wrong.

It’s a match made in heaven for a gaslighter.

I use the word glamour because being in the power of a gaslighter is like a magic spell. It’s like a mind-numbing drug. It’s an emotional cancer that gradually saps your strength, your ability to think, your joy and your power. The more you struggle, the more exhausted you become. The harder you try to understand what’s happening, the more confused you are. You fall into a dark pit of madness.

Photo by Travis Bozeman on Unsplash

Think I’m exaggerating? Think I’m dramatic?

Well, lucky you. You’ve never been with a gaslighter, then.

Fortunately, there is a cure. There’s a way to take back our power and our lives from a gaslighter.

We have to turn on the lights. We have to twitch aside the curtains, look behind the props, get close enough to see the greasepaint, the wires, the hidden tools and tricks. We have to go through denial, humiliation, pain and loss. We have to consent to see what’s been happening, and then, just like that, it all dissolves and we realize…

It was all just an illusion, a glamour.

We’re not crazy, after all.

It wasn’t love we were getting (no wonder it didn’t feel like love!). It was gaslighting.

Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

Here’s my favorite example of gaslighting:

Two single people, Mary and Bob, age somewhere around 45, embark on a committed, monogamous relationship that will endure for eight (long) years.

Both parties have jobs, families and friends, histories and their own homes and activities. Both are financially independent.

Mary’s all about relationship. She thinks of Bob as her primary priority in terms of time and energy and looks forward to spending time with him. She assumes, without really thinking about it, that he feels the same way. In order to achieve maximum time together, she tweaks her schedule so she has as much time off as possible when Bob does and refrains from making plans during any time they might have together.

Time goes by and Mary and Bob see movies together, go out for modest meals, take walks and drives, go to art shows and concerts and generally enjoy one another’s company, including the occasional overnight.

Bob works long hours at a stressful job, so Mary is understanding of his needs for time alone on the weekends, and she gladly takes responsibility for planning some dates and time together, including sharing costs.

Very gradually, without really noticing, Mary finds she’s the one doing all the work of planning time together, and she notices what feels like resistance. Bob is late. He’s tired. He has to work on days off. He brings work home. He can’t spend a night together because he’ll be late at work.  Or he’ll be going in early for work.  Sometimes he doesn’t want to go through with weekend plans at all.

This is hurtful and frightening. Mary is deeply invested in the relationship. She doesn’t want to feel the hurt and disappointment that occurs when Bob breaks a date that she’s looked forward to all week. She becomes less interested in making dates, but, ever hopeful, keeps all her free time open in case Bob should suddenly decide he wants to get together.

One day Bob expresses hurt and disappointment about not getting enough attention from Mary.

Mary is devastated. She loves him, but realizes she hasn’t conveyed it properly. She’s mortified and apologetic, and tells Bob (truthfully) that he’s her priority and she’d love to spend more time together. She realizes he’s very sensitive and does everything she can to express love and appreciation for him. She resolves to do better.

Strangely, in spite of what Bob says, he seems less and less available. Mary, knowing how he feels now, tries harder and harder to get it right.

A movie comes out that Mary wants to see. She knows it’s shameful and disloyal, but the idea of taking herself to a movie, sitting where she wants, being in time for the previews and just relaxing is attractive. She doesn’t think Bob would be much interested in the movie anyway, and he hasn’t said a thing about weekend plans. In fact, he hasn’t called her or been in touch all week.

Mary takes herself to the movies and has a great time.

Later, Bob says, “I didn’t say I wasn’t planning on seeing you! Why are you putting words in my mouth?” He’s deeply injured.

Mary’s ashamed. No, he hadn’t said that. She just assumed, since he hadn’t been in touch… Now she can see how hurtful and unfair it was to have assumed. Now she’s wasted an evening she could have spent with Bob. She doesn’t deserve such a good man.

Bob’s heard about that movie and he does want to see it.  He insists Mary go with him, and she does, conciliatory.

It’s the least she can do.

Mary, determined to do no more assuming, now begins to ask from time to time, “Are you planning on seeing me this weekend?”  She’s already learned that trying to make a date doesn’t work, and she knows if she says she wants to see him he’ll feel pressured.

For some reason, this question, like so many others, causes problems. Mary assures Bob she understands if he wants a weekend to himself, that she’s not trying to pressure him, put him on the spot, or make him responsible for the relationship. She just wants to know so she can make plans if he’ll be doing other things.

Grudgingly, Bob answers, “I’m not planning on not seeing you!”

Mary has a panicked moment of feeling crazy the first time she hears this, and every time thereafter. What does Bob mean? She can’t get it to make sense.

So it goes. Fast forward to the inevitable last day Mary sees Bob.

Mary, with the feeling of stepping off a cliff, looks Bob in the eye and says, “Will I see you sometime?”

He shrugs, grimacing.

Mary gets ready to turn on the lights.

“You’re not planning on seeing me again, and you’re not planning on not seeing me again.” She’s word perfect.

Shrug.  Grimace.

“Well,” she says quietly, “I’ll make some good plans for myself, then.”

The lights go up. The curtain comes down. The dazed audience gropes for coats, purses and other belongings. The eight-year-long show is over.

Photo by Peter Lewicki on Unsplash

Mary walks out, feeling permanently maimed but free at last, and spends the next three and a half years putting herself back together. It’s the most painful breakup she’s ever had, far worse than her experience of divorce.

The glamour is broken.

For more information on gaslighting:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaslighting

Gaslighting Is a Common Victim-Blaming Abuse Tactic – Here Are 4 Ways to Recognize It in Your Life

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted