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Mentally struggling with physically defending yourself?

Updated: Sep 26, 2022

I wanted to write an article on a topic that I believe is very common in the world today: you don't think you need to or don't want to physically defend yourself.

I struggled with wrapping my head around physically defending myself for years. I started training in Krav Maga self-defense in 2016 because I was a single young woman and I knew the world was not so kind. I wanted to learn how to defend myself in case I ended up in a situation where my life was threatened. Yet at the same time, as I trained, I struggled with the idea. It took me a lot of time to understand what this mentality was that was holding me back and be able to put it into words. There are several beliefs that I had to uncover and reprogram, which I go over below, that perhaps you can related to.

1. There's a pervading belief in society today that violence shouldn't ever be used, ever. Even to defend yourself. We are a civilized society so we should never need to use violence. I have now come to understand, mainly through the experience of our head instructor who has worked in corrections as a peace officer and other related roles, is that this thinking is idealistic, incorrect, and could get you seriously hurt or killed if you believe it. As Tim Larkin eloquently states, “Ninety-nine times out of one hundred, the answer will not be violence. It will be avoidance or de-escalation... But when it is, it is the only answer, and we all need to be prepared for it.”

Some people in the world just cannot be reasoned with. They can't be talked out of it. It's literally impossible for them. Unfortunately in these situations, the only thing they understand is physical force. Perhaps they have a mental disability, where they simply cannot think rationally, or perhaps they have developed a pattern of physical force and that is just the way they operate. These types of people will always turn to violence, even if we don't want to. And when we encounter them and they strike at us, we have a choice to make: to be a victim or to fight back. There is no option to talk your way out of it, or choose not to be in the situation. We must choose to be victorious, or we become a victim. This starts with a will to win and survive mentality.

I had to re-wire this belief for myself to accept this fact, and be willing to "speak their language" by using physical force when necessary to defend myself. Jeff Cooper explains this well, “Any man (woman) who is a man (woman) may not, in honor, submit to threats or violence. But many men (women) who are not cowards are simply unprepared for the fact of human savagery. They have not thought about it (incredible as this may appear to anyone who reads the paper or listens to the news) and they just don’t know what to do. When they look right into the face of depravity or violence, they are astonished and confounded. This can be corrected.”

2. The other belief I had was: who am I to potentially inflict damage on another human being for my own sake? If I am going to defend myself, there's a good chance that someone else may get hurt, and I would feel very guilty about that. Am I really more important than that other person? It's a question of morality. But there's a difference between hurting someone for the sake of hurting them, and hurting them because they are trying to hurt me. I have a right to safety, as a human being, and a citizen of Canada. If someone tries to take this from me, I am legally allowed to defend myself. Of course, we must use reasonable means, but I am permitted to do what I need to do to protect myself. If someone else suffers irreparable damage, or even dies, from me protecting myself, this is not necessarily something I can control nor even give space in my mind to think about. If I need to defend myself, the only thought in my head to survive must be that: doing what it takes to survive. If I allow any hesitation or doubt to form in my mind, my defense will not be as effective. I may end up causing harm to another person in this situation, but for no reason if it does not fulfill its purpose which is (1) my survival, and (2) stopping the attack. This is what we call the victor mindset: choosing to win, to not be a victim. If we have any ounce of victim mindset, we will lose.

The other aspect of this is that self-defence doesn't always mean hurting the other person. It just means doing what it takes to stop the attack. This could be everything from escaping, to pinning their striking arm, to striking back because they're so high on whatever that they don't feel anything.

3. My third belief that I had to overcome was: I am not worthy enough to be protected. This is an interesting one, as I know many women (and men) are or have been victims of domestic violence and this is often a pervading value that keeps them pegged in the devastating cycle of abuse. I personally am grateful to never have been in this situation, yet as a young person, I still struggled with self-worth. I had to realize that I am truly loved, valued and irreplaceable. I had to come to understand that I have immeasurable value to offer the world, and that if someone stops this by either taking my life, or my will to fully carry out my purpose, this loss will have a ripple effect across the planet that we will never fully understand. I have a responsibility to protect the one precious life I've been given, and to fully live this out for the benefit of others. If this is true for me, it is true for you. You are also loved, valued and irreplaceable with immeasurable value to offer the world. Don't ever let anyone take that from you with any type of mental, emotional or physical abuse.

Gandhi, a man of deep civil rights beliefs and great peace, said “I do believe that where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence…I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should in a cowardly manner become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour.” The same applies to us (as it does to India in this quote).

4. The last belief I had to correct was: I live in a safe community so I will never encounter violence. The world is getting more dangerous all the time and crime rates are escalating. Believing you will never be attacked simply because you believe it is absurd. It doesn't matter what you believe, recent statistics say that risk to personal safety is increasing. I don't even need to cite a specific statistic, just Google it. Since COVID especially, many people have lost their ability to cope with struggle and have thrown societal norms to the wind. I see more and more signs in stores that say something along the lines of: aggression will not be tolerated. Many people have lost their jobs, their income, their purpose, and are desperate for a win - whether that's verbal abuse, theft, violence or worse. Even if you live in a bubble, domestic violence is also a real thing that may likely affect your immediate or extended family.

So, to summarize, I have come to understand that it is a responsibility for me to steward my life and my safety well, for the good not only of myself, but of others. It's not something that I should do, but I must do. I must choose to win in my mind, and I must also learn the skills to win. Learning how to defend myself has brought peace, confidence, increased self-esteem. It has also enabled me to empower others by teaching them these same skills, for a safer world. Learn Krav Maga self-defence, so that hopefully you never have to use it in real life, but if you do, you will know what to do to keep yourself and those you love safe.

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