An alternative to Forgiveness – 3

In the last couple of blogs, I’ve outlined the way in which I see forgiveness between people often sold: as a kind of trial process. I’ve also outlined the way in which I look at the fallout following someone’s misdeed.

I’m happy with the way I handle that kind of situation inasmuch as it tends to help me save my bacon. However, it doesn’t help me go through the process of “Forgiveness” I’ve described. In fact, the clash between that process and my process has a tendency to keep me stuck going around in endless circles. I can’t “forgive” people on those terms. Then I can’t “forgive” myself for not “forgiving” them. Particularly in stressful situations, the whole thing adds an additional load I could really do without. In the long term, it tends to make things drag on when I’d rather leave them behind.

I thought the problem was with me; a manifestation of a personal shortcoming. That’s definitely a part of it, I’m sure, but it’s not the problem. If you can’t find an answer, if you can’t come to a decent resolution, it could be that you’re asking the wrong questions and trying to push yourself through the wrong process. I think that’s what I was doing here.

The real issue is that no part of the Trial of Forgiveness is essential to moving on from an event. None of it. That’s a myth I’d bought into without evaluating it. There are other ways out, other processes that can be followed.

First and foremost, a judgement is not necessary. It is possible to assess an event and draw the necessary conclusions without passing judgement.

As a culture, we seem to be getting increasing bad at risk assessments, and increasingly good at assigning blame. Our first question in a lot of situations seems to be “whose fault is it?” The answers we come up with aim at providing an answer in term of moral responsibility, rather than just cause-and-effect. We’ve gotten culturally so wrapped up in doing that, in fact, that we forget that it’s not necessary; that we can actually work out causes and effects and do damage limitation without passing any moral judgement at all.

Think about a risk assessment of the type one would conduct in a work setting. In a risk assessment, we look at:

  • the likelihood of a negative event taking place,
  • the seriousness of the results of that event taking place,
  • and what steps we need to take in order to avoid this.

For instance, I have a new crossbow, and three old dogs. If I allow the two to combine, two things could happen:

  1. skewered dogs;
  2. a chewed-up crossbow.

The likelihood of no. 1 taking place is high: I’m a crap shot, and dogs move. The possible consequences are severe. Therefore, I’m going to take steps to reduce the chances of that happening; I will only load and shoot the crossbow in the garage, sans pooches. The likelihood of no. 2 taking place is low, because the dogs are trained and the crossbow is not made of sausages. The possible consequences range from relatively insignificant (a nibbled crossbow) to severe (a dog with perforated or blocked-up intestines).  As it takes no effort at all to remove the possibility of that happening, leaving the crossbow in the garage where I fire it not being really a chore, I’m going to do that, too.

A moral judgement is not a required part of this exercise. I can evaluate those risks and hazards and create a plan to lower risks and mitigate the fallout without having to pass moral judgements upon the crossbow, the dogs, or me for having either or both. In fact, if I climbed upon a soapbox and started yelling at the crossbow for its iniquities, most people would think I’m being a bit odd.

Guess what: when our risks and hazards are centered around people rather than beasts or inanimate objects, same rules apply. A moral judgement is not essential. It may happen inevitably, because we’re likely to have different feelings towards a tornado and a person, but passing judgement doesn’t have to be a part of the process. In fact, making it a part of the process can seriously gum up the works.

 

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An alternative to Forgiveness – 2

As I said in the last blog, way I see it, forgiveness between people is usually sold as a kind of trial process. I can see a number of problems with that; in fact, I can see nothing but problems, which makes me terribly biased and a poor resource to follow; be warned.

I have no intention whatsoever to give someone who’s hurt me once the opportunity to hurt me again until they’ve actually demonstrated that they won’t – actions, not words. In some situations, I may have no intention to allow them to continue being in my life, because I do not deem them to be safe to be around. I don’t take a great deal of enjoyment in having to watch my back from friends. In fact, for me a friend has to be someone from whom I don’t have to watch my back; that’s an entirely idiosyncratic requirement, but it works for me.

I’m aware that people can learn from their mistakes, but:

  1. The best indicator of future behaviour is past behaviour, at least in the short run. It can take some time and a lot of work for people to change their lives and themselves enough not to repeat a mistake. In the meanwhile, I may be disinclined to suffer through the consequences of their actions.
  2. People learn most often not so much from their mistakes, but from the consequences of their mistakes. They learn less from having done wrong, than from the fallout of their acts. By removing the consequences, you can remove the learning.
  3. The harder it is not to make a mistake again, the more entrenched a behaviour is in our lives or identity, the harder it is to change and grow enough to be able to avoid it again. Change and growth can hurt, and are hard work, but they’re an inevitable part of the process. Removing people from the consequences of their actions, helping them carry on as they are, is not helping them grow and change. If you really want to help someone, you can do so by being one of their consequences. That doesn’t mean being vindictive or malicious or even aggressive. You don’t have to go after them. As Dan Savage said, “The ultimate leverage as an adult is the ability to withhold your participation in someone’s life.” You’re not telling them how to live, either; you’re telling them what you are not willing to live with. And that doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing deal. You can set boundaries on how close you’re allowing people to get to you until they have successfully proven themselves to be trustworthy.
  4. I don’t see how becoming an accomplice in allowing someone to hurt me could give me any kind of moral high ground. I wouldn’t consider myself a hero for letting someone go around hurting people. I wouldn’t give myself a gold star for convincing those people to continue getting hurt, either. And, guess what? I am “people” too. I am at least as responsible for looking after myself as I am for looking after anyone else.

So what of Goethe’s “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being”?  Well, that’s precisely what I’m doing. I’m treating people as if they were capable of behaving in ways that don’t harm me or others; as if they could take responsibilities for the consequences of their actions; as if they were honest and upright enough to expect and embrace those consequences, too. I’m treating them as adults, with all the benefits and responsibilities that come with that role. And if they’re not quite there, if they can’t quite fill those shoes, I will help them do so by being one of the consequences they have to encounter. Even when that’s hard.

 

An alternative to Forgiveness – 1

I’m going to spend a few blogs writing way above my paygrade, again. I suck at forgiveness. I’m trying to work it out for myself, not because it’s The Right Thing to do but because it’s an essential part of recovery but not in the way commonly advertised; I don’t think so, anyway.

If anyone wants info on the confluence of the traditional Judeo-Christian approach to forgiveness and self-defence/violence, the person I’d personally speak to is Clint Overland. He’s good at that. I’m not. So what you’re getting here is “Forgiveness for those who can’t”. Let this be your disclaimer.

There are two aspects of forgiveness that come into recovering from violence: forgiving the person who brought on the violence, and forgiving yourself. If you don’t think the latter is a factor for you, congratulations; I hope you’re right. I don’t personally know anyone who’s not affected by that, but that doesn’t make it an impossibility. If you think that the whole self-forgiveness thing will be no use to you, bear in mind that it may be useful to at least some of the people around you.

Way I see it, forgiveness between people is usually sold as a kind of trial process. Someone’s Done Wrong, so you put them in the Defendant’s seat. Whoever got hurt gets to be the Plaintiff, though they may also be the Judge and Jury. The event is inspected and dissected and reflected upon, evidence brought forth, both sides examined with greater or lesser care, and after due deliberation a verdict is reached:

  • The Defendant may be found guilty, and some kind of retribution may be set in order for everyone to move on from the event. The Plaintiff may or may not have a say in what the retribution is; sometimes that’s set by the community or its leaders, taking on the role of Judge. Sometimes the Defendant gets to set their own retribution, and everyone just has to accept that.
  • The Defendant may be found innocent for various reasons (“they can’t help it” being a classic), with no retribution set and the entire system rebooting from start as if nothing had happened. That can often mean that any attempts at setting up future damage limitation measures are seen as iniquitous, because they hark back to an event that’s supposed to have unhappened. In fact, such attempts may be treated as demonstrating a “lack of trust” that can legitimately bring on future misdeeds; because not trusting someone who’s already fucked you over means that you are giving them the right to fuck you over again, obvs. (No, seriously, some people believe that.)
  • Or, in the case that annoys me the most, the Defendant may be found guilty, and still no retributions or future damage limitations set. And that process of accepting that someone has done you wrong and will quite possibly do you wrong again, and forcing yourself to live with that, is what is labelled as “Forgiveness” and classed as a virtue. And if the Defendant can’t get with that process, then it’s them who’s at fault now, and they get put to trial for that.

I can see a number of problems with this; in fact, I can see nothing but problems, which makes me terribly biased and a poor resource to follow; be warned. I’m going to hack at what those problems are in the next blog. Stay glued to your screens, and all that jazz.

 

Brain bugs

A wee while ago, I wrote a blog about triggering the poop outta myself – literally. I got a lot of nice feedback about it from kind people who wanted to help me stop doing that kind of thing. It was nicely meant, but it rather missed the point: I like triggering myself. I don’t enjoy the experience. It doesn’t feel good. I bloody hate it when it happens at inconvenient times or in inconvenient places. I find the fact that it happens cosmically irritating. I get very, very angry at anyone who triggers me on purpose without my consent, and possibly even angrier at people who, having triggered me, don’t back the hell up when I tell them to (seriously, don’t do that. It’s not big and it’s not clever and it’s not useful and it’s unsafe for everyone involved, and as far as I’m concerned there’s no rebuilding trust after that, ’cause a breach of consent is a breach of consent).

Still, I like triggering myself, for a very specific value of “like”. Although everything about it sucks, I find it useful.

Note: I am very aware of the fact that I’m coming at this from an incredibly privileged position, and that my statements are likely to vex a lot of PTSD sufferers and the people around them. I don’t have PTSD. The extent to which I get triggered is limited; I know where and when I am, and unless I’m really, really pushed I am able to modulate my actions accordingly, even though my emotional responses are disproportionate. If you have PTSD and what I’m saying sounds like a kick in the teeth, I’m sorry: I’m talking about the joys of having the sniffles to someone with pneumonia. Alas, the word “triggered” cover what you’ve got and what I’ve got and a lot of other stuff, too. That’s a problem, and I’m not helping with it. Sorry.

Note 2: There is nothing inherently therapeutic about getting triggered per se. A number of other factors have to be in place. I am not advocating self-triggering as a therapeutic tool for anyone else; I’m just saying how it works for me. And for the love of all that is holy, don’t go triggering other people “for their own good” unless they’ve consented and you really, really know your stuff. And even then, think twice about it. And then think again. And then ask an actual expert about it. And then think very hard about what they said.

Having said all that, I “like” triggering myself, for a number of reasons:

  • I like knowing where my shatterpoints are; if I’m aware of them, I’m less likely to have them catch me by surprise. Knowledge is power, forewarned is forearmed, etc.
  • I like to be reminded of how it feels when I start to fall down that emotional slide; the more I practice catching myself early on, before I’ve reached the point of no return, the better able I am to avoid coming untogether in inappropriate settings.
  • I like to have a chance to manage the process. As often as not that just means being able to control where something happens, rather than what happens. For instance, every time I get badly adrenalised I get the weepies. I can’t stop getting them, but I can have them in a bathroom, or in my car, rather than in a roomful of people. That’s important to me (yeah, I’m weak like that), so being able to have some control over that makes me happier, if not happy.
  • I like that I’m able to debrief the experience with friends. I’m extremely lucky in having the kind of friends I can talk to about this kind of stuff, even when it’s unpleasant or supremely weird (anyone else got triggered at Batman v Superman? No? Just me? Hmkay). Actually going through a debrief re-confirms that those resources are in place.
  • More than anything else, I like to be reminded that, however awful the ride may be, I’m going to come through it. Particularly when it really sucks, I like the reminder that sooner or later I’m going to be on the other side of it; perhaps somewhat bruised and certainly royally pissed off, perhaps changed in some way, but I’m going to be there. That’s the important bit for me.

Getting triggered shows me how my brain functions (or malfunctions) under a certain type of pressure. And then it shows me that that’s ok, that I can bounce back from that, that I can deal. Actually going through the process is the only way I know I can prove that to myself, and I’m not willing to rely on anything other than solid proof in this kind of situations. I don’t need to feel good about my ability to deal; I need to know how much I can deal with, and what not being able to deal means. And I can’t find that out without going through the process, so I embrace it, even though I rail at it. It’s a love-hate relationship; we make it work.

It may be nice to have a brain without any bugs in it; I’m sure there’s happiness in that. But that’s not the brain I’ve got, and my brain is part of what makes me me. I’m not about to avoid parts of it just because they hurt. So this a game I play with myself, I guess, and when I ‘win’ it makes me happy, even though the winning could be constructed as nothing more than coming back from failure. If it was good enough for Rocky, it’s good enough for me.

 

 

 

 

Carrots.

For last few weeks, carrots have been my snack of choice. Whenever I feel peckish, I munch on carrots until the feeling goes away. It’s not the result of a new year’s resolution, or of some late-onset healthy living urge. It’s because in “Caine’s Law” Caine, the main protagonist and my favourite anti-hero, eats half a carrot.

I read the book before Christmas and realised I’d not had carrots in about a million years. My Minion just happened to be going to the supermarket and asked me if I wanted anything. I asked for carrots. Once she’d satisfied herself that I wasn’t joking, she got me said carrots. I ate them. I liked them. When they ran out, I got some more. Turns out they make for good grazing. Now I’m not happy unless I’ve got some carrots in the fridge.

I realise that it all sounds a bit silly. I don’t really understand the connection between the story and my current carrot habit. I don’t think eating carrots is going to turn me into Caine. In all honesty, though, I don’t care: I’m eating vegetables of my own free will and actually enjoying them, and that’s all that matters to me. Yes, I ought to have been eating them anyway because they’re good for me. But I’ve known that all my life, and it’s never made me put carrots on the menu. It’s definitely not helped me enjoy them. Now I do. Huzzah for Caine, succeeding where my mother failed.

So what? I hear you wonder. Well, I’ve recently seen a rehash of one of the routine arguments in the self-defence world. Some people get into self-defence for the wrong reasons. I don’t mean those people who want to train so they can be bigger assholes, or commit crimes. There are people out there who want to learn about legitimate self-defence, but their motivations are all wrong. They should be willing to defend themselves because their lives matter. They should be willing to train because they are worth defending. They should know this, and should act upon it! But they don’t.

Those people find it easier to motivate themselves and to give themselves permission by dedicating their self-defence efforts to other people or causes; for instance, by thinking of their family. I will defend myself, because nobody is turning my children into orphans. I will train, because I may need to protect my loved ones. I will carry out sensible security assessments and act upon my findings, because I have a responsibility towards my family. I will walk away from fights, even if it means ignoring insults, because I’ve got people waiting for me at home.

Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s great when people do the right things for the right reasons (“right” meaning, obviously, whatever I believe is right). I think improving one’s mental processes and outlooks is fantastic, particularly if they’re limiting or damaging. Bring on the paradigm shifts! Sometimes, though, the priority is getting something done. And when that’s the case, castigating people for thoughtcrimes even though they are finally doing the right thing, the very thing we’ve been at them to do all along, doesn’t seem terribly helpful.

I’m heinously pragmatic, I guess, but if someone decides to learn first-aid, check their brakes, get a fire extinguisher, carry a tourniquet, or take any other reasonable precaution that increases their ability to deal with emergencies, I could not care less whether they do it for themselves or because they’ve got a brand new baby. I’m just glad that they’re doing it. If in time they realise that actually it’s a good idea to have the skills and tools to deal with these kinds of situation even when other people are not in the picture, that’s even better. But first and foremost I’m glad that they’re taking practical steps in the right direction.

 

 

 

ComCon/Complex PTSD

Braindump.

I’ve been pondering for a while the crossovers between Rory Miller’s Conflict Communication and Peter Walker’s Complex PTSD. Both are books I heartily recommend to anyone who is a human planning to interact with other humans in pretty much any setting. I can’t begin to hope to summarise two books in one  blog, but ConCom looks at how a lot of social interactions rely on scripts – “predictable patters of interaction”. Complex PTSD looks at the long-term effects of childhood trauma, including non-physical abuse. Both aim at helping people screw up less often. I found them both immensely beneficial, though hard work.

The two issues intersect in interesting ways. Part of the fallout of growing up in an abusive or simply uncaring environment is that we can fail to learn to navigate common scripts, or to use scripts in general. In order to integrate ConCom into their lives, people with Complex PTSD may need to work out their personal disconnects.

This is a list of the intersections between cPTSD and ConCom I’ve spotted up to now. There are almost certainly more. The initial quotes are from ConCom lectures as well as the book. I’m not sure how much sense this will make to anyone else, particularly if you’ve not read either of the books.

  • “Scripts are reliable and fast and low-input. People use them as time- and friction-savers.” People with cPTSD may be uncomfortable with scripts. They may not have been taught normal scripts. They may have been taught toxic/dangerous versions of normal scripts. They may have been taught that scripts are not reliable, because abusers did whatever they wanted anyway.
  • “Scripts are for the good of the group.” People who grew in abusive or disfunctional environments know that the good of the group may not be good for them. They may not necessarily embrace it as a primary goal, and may object to it instinctively even when the good of the group and of its members are aligned.
  • Normal people do not willingly engage in recurring arguments. When a recurring argument takes place, that shows that the scripts are driving the people, and getting off the script gets you off the argument. In abusive households, arguments are not only normalised, but actually sought after. Emotional disregulation of those around them can be both a tool to achieve a goal, or the actual goal. In order to achieve that emotional disregulation, abusers deliberately drive certain scripts, and their overall goal isn’t peaceful or mutually beneficial. If you give them the opportunity to not have one argument, they’ll go looking for another one.
  • “In order to work out if a tactic is working, you need to check for effect. If the effect isn’t the desired one, you can change tactic.” This assumes a degree of fairness or at least consistency on the part of all involved. It also assumes that the other party are not gunning for a particular result regardless, and able and willing to push their way there. It also assumes that the first party can tell what a good effect looks like. This becomes a serious problem because the familiar can be comfortable, even when it’s deeply dysfunctional.
  • “Wins can increase status.” In abusive households, the abusers control your status. Abusers don’t want their targets to grow and develop. A technical “win” could result in punishment. A crab mentality may  also be displayed by other family members: if  anyone does better, that threatens the dynamic of the whole family.
  • “A human alpha is someone who shows up with more resources to help others solve problems.” People with cPTSD may be deeply uncomfortable engaging in both sides of that dynamic. Demonstrating alpha leanings in an abusive or disfunctional environment may result in punishment, or in an additional, unrealistic demands (e.g. children required to support their parents). Accepting help from others may be risky if they are loan sharking.
  • Inconsistent reward feedback. In abusive environments, performance and responses can be completely disconnected. Everything happens at the whim at the abuser. You could do everything right and still suffer. Alternatively, performance and responses may be tightly connected, but the standards set for performance may be completely unrealistic (can’t do right), or just sheer unreasonable (can do right, but at a terrible personal cost).
  • “If you lie to yourself, everything you do successfully you are doing by accident.” If the entire family dynamic is based on a combo of lies and denial (“I am hurting you because I love you”, “you’re making me do this”, “you’re seeing things”, etc.), it can make “reality” very unpredictable.
  • For “normal” people, survival fear puts the lizard brain in charge and social issues put the monkey brain in charge. This may not work for people growing up with asocial-masked-as-social, or where social problems turned into survival situations. And the lizard brain isn’t terribly good at dealing with social issues.
  • The monkey brain fears change. People with cPTSD may fear it hugely up to a point, but when pushed beyond a certain point may embrace it with suicidal abandon. If it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t, you may at least go big.
  • “Emotions are contagious.” People with cPTSD may react to them in abnormal fashions, e.g. assume responsibility for other people’s emotional state, over-react, awfulise, engage in knee-jerk problem-solving, retreat into lizard brain.
  • “Not being othered is a skill.” Abusive or disfunctional parents may not teach that skill because it’s completely unfamiliar to them, or by choice.
  • “Expectations: roles are explicit (father/mother), duties are implicit (e.g. going out to work and earning vs. staying at home with kids).” People who grew up in abusive environments may have serious mismatches at the duty level for most familial roles. (True story: when I first heard of “Grandmother Zen” I assumed it was a particularly vicious form of Zen combining maximum discomfort with no chance of success, because that’s what “grandmother” means to me.) Combine duty mismatches and poor knowledge of scripts, and social mishaps don’t seem out of the question.
  • Teenage separation is based on the kids finding differences between themselves and the parents. If unmanaged (as it normally is) it can consist of the kids finding ways in which the parents suck and they are so much better, and feeling good about them. People with cPTSD  are often brought up as different from their parents (though not necessarily separate) but convinced that any difference is a sign of inferiority. This could have far-reaching implications in people accepting themselves.
  • There’s no such thing as small talk. All forms of communication are stressful because of the potential fallout. Small talk becomes an exercise in finding the right answer without valid markers or a route there, rather than a good-faith attempt at connection or just something to do to pass the time. And finding the right answer is crucial. And what the right answer is may change without notice.

I have no idea if this makes any sense to anyone else. If something is completely unclear but sounds interesting to you, please holler and I’ll try and expand on it.

Identity

First and foremost, I can’t even think the word ‘identity’ without hearing this song. Check it out. Just spreading the love.

Identity stuff  is weird. At least, I find it so.

  • Your identity can limit your options by creating horrible glitches.  “Nice girls don’t do that, and I’m a nice girl, so I can’t do that.”
  • It can spur you into action.  “Doing X is heroic, so I must do X whether it’s the right decision or not.”
  • It can provide justifications for your actions. “I did X and I am ok, hence X is an ok thing to do.”
  • It can force you to weave a web of rationalisations for your actions. “I wouldn’t do X thing, so what I did cannot be X even though it looks precisely like it.”
  • It can force you to ignore reality.  “If X had happened I’d be doing Y, and I’m not doing Y, so X cannot have happened.”

There’s probably a lot more, but this is what I see a lot of.

This isn’t just theoretical, internal stuff. I’ve seen people ignore extreme, horrible events that were affecting their close family members because not to do so would have destroyed their identities. Their identities demanded that they behave in a certain way under certain circumstances. They’d said as much: they stated loudly and proudly that if anyone dared to do this and that to their loved ones, then they’d react a certain way. When those events really happened, in real life, to real people, the cost of their advertised reaction turned up to be too high. The need to preserve those identities trumped everything else. The situation was buried. Innocents were hurt. It was unwholesome.

Even in less extreme settings, identity issues can mess you right up. Needing to believe that you have an attribute is all well and good, until you are faced with a situation requiring said attribute. If you plough on banking on that attribute being there for you, you better hope that your assessment was accurate. Jumping into something under-resourced and over-optimistic is a recipe for a bad time.

I tend to come at most situations from a risk assessment point of view, so I really don’t understand people’s need to think well of themselves. I mean, I don’t think people should be overly negative either, because that doesn’t tend to be fun or helpful. There is such a thing as accuracy, though, and it seems to me like the best option. Aside from allowing us to make informed risk assessments and life choices, it also allows us to consciously direct our changes, if we’re that way inclined. How can you get ‘better’ if you don’t know what you’re like? Who’s going to work at developing an attribute they’re convinced they already have?

I don’t get whatever it is people get out of lying to themselves about themselves. I understand even less people’s need to have other people think overly highly of them. I don’t want the people I like to think that I’m better than I really am. Firstly, I don’t want people to rely on me to deliver what I can’t. That’s messing around with someone else’s risk assessments, and that seems deeply uncool. My main motive is a lot more selfish, though. If I like someone, I want them to know precisely what I’m like so they can decide whether they like me too. The last thing I want is to con someone I like into liking me by pretending to be better than I am, only to disappoint them later on and potentially get discarded. That doesn’t seem like a recipe for a good time either, unless I’m only in it for the short term.

I wonder if the issue is that people tend to conflate assessment and judgement. I can say that I’m lazy, because I know I am lazy, because I have amply demonstrated a tendency towards laziness. I know full well that if you gave me a comfy chair with an endless supply of hot pizza on one side and McDonald’s caramel frappe on the other,  loaded my Kindle with sci-fi, and gave me a potty, I’d probably never move again. That doesn’t mean that I judge myself for it – I don’t think having a tendency towards laziness makes me a bad person, or an inferior person, or a sinner, or worse than anyone else, or anything like that. My laziness is a problem inasmuch as letting it control my life has never brought me anything good. It’s no different from having a bad knee; it’s something in myself that I have to watch out for, because if I don’t it could cause me further problems.

My laziness is also not me; it’s a current aspect of the person I am, something that may or may not stay with me. It would be more accurate to say that ‘I have laziness’, but that’s rather wordy and I’m not that strict about language use, provided I know what I mean. I’m not the same person I was when I was three. Chances are I’ll change again. I have no idea what shape these changes may take, but if I decided that being less lazy was something I’d like, I could try and direct them in that direction. (Or not. Sounds like hard work.)

A lot of identity issues, to me, seem to spawn from some kind of bizarre value added narrative people have to attach to events. For instance, once upon a time, one of my dogs was attached by a pitbull. I waded right in there, dislodged said pitbull, and held it face down into the ground until the owner turned up to retrieve it. That doesn’t make me Anna The Puppy Hero, or Anna The Pitbull Defeater. If anything, it makes me Anna Who Forgot All Her Training When Her Puppy Was Getting Hurt But Somehow Got Away With It. My pitbull-removal is an event that tells me something about how I react in that kind of situation – or rather, how I reacted; that was a while ago. Everything else is spin, and I don’t need it. I also don’t have a need to weave it into some kind of epic I can use to advertise myself – why would I do that? and for whom?

Tug of war

The problem with parking a manuscript for 6 months and then going back to it is that you realise how much of a twerp you were 6 months ago.

The good thing about parking a manuscript for 6 months and then going back to it is that you realise that you’re nowhere near as big a twerp as you were 6 months ago.

I’m trying to resurrect the “Creepology” manuscript that has lain dormant for the last 6 months. The reason for said dormancy is that I wasn’t making progress, I wasn’t having fun, and I wasn’t in the mood for self-imposed suffering. Having checked it out, it turns out that the problem and the solution are both simple: it sucks. It doesn’t need a resurrection, but a stake-through-the-heart followed by a bonfire, and intense dancing over warm ashes. Oh hum.

Here’s some stuff that won’t make it into the new book. There’s a reason why I’m making you suffer through it, I promise:

The word “creep” is not specific enough anymore. However, it still serves a very useful purpose.

In taxonomic terms, it helps to think of “creep” as the name of a genus – “Creepus”. Most of us can readily identify members of this genus because of some obvious characteristics, which in combination result in making us feel creeped out. However, the genus alone does not give us enough information to determine our level of danger, and definitely not enough to inform our behavior.

Identifying a creep is not unlike identifying a snake. Most of us are confident that we know what a snake looks like. However, that doesn’t tell us much about the problem we’re facing. Is it a venomous species? Is it perfectly harmless? Is it harmless to large mammals but dangerous to smaller creatures? Is it a snake at all, or a legless lizard we’ve misidentified? Is it a species protected by legislation? Is it a discarded garden hose, and we’re so horrified by snakes that the sight of it is enough to cause us panic?

We could decide that we don’t care; that all snake-like creatures are equally horrifying and as such they deserve being bashed with a shovel if they don’t scarper away immediately. And this may work well enough for us… until we do so in front of somebody who objects to needless carnage. Or a state representative fines us for violating wildlife protection legislation. Repeated episodes of shovel-bashing garden hoses, or even just freezing in terror at their sight, may also convince our nearest and dearest that we’re somewhat obsessed. As a result, they may fail to take us seriously if ever we find ourselves dealing with a real, dangerous snake.

I’ve been thinking about the garden hose thing, and the social capital we can accumulate and lose, and the tug-of-war between obsessed and oblivious. This doesn’t happen just around creeps, but it does happen a lot in that setting.

I see things my male associates don’t see. Sometimes they don’t see those things because they don’t happen when they’re around. For instance, a lot of pervs will elect to leave me alone if I’m surrounded by self-defence instructors. Even those JustSociallyAwkward© people who just can’t stop themselves from doing or saying inappropriate things somehow develop functioning filters when their front teeth are on the line. It’s uncanny.

Sometimes, though, my male associates are there, looking at the same situation unfold, and I see something and they don’t, or I register something as significant while they think nothing of it. And then, often enough, the tug-of-war commences. They’re convinced that I’m seeing X everywhere because I’m obsessed. I think I see X because I’ve had to deal with it so many times before that I am better at spotting it even when it’s in the distance or at a very low level or just starting to develop. Conversely, I’m convinced that they never see X, even though it’s clearly in evidence, because they’ve never had to deal with it and they’re blissfully oblivious. They’re convinced that they don’t see X because there’s nothing to see.

To me, that kind of situation is almost the opposite of a conversation. There seems to be virtually no communication going on beyond “no you’re wrong”. The longer the discussion continue the less optimistic I feel about being able to connect to the people involved. That’s on me; that’s how I feel when I don’t feel heard. But knowing that doesn’t help any.

I feel even less optimistic about finding solutions to this impasse. Historically, I’ve not managed to do it without incurring damage. Allowing events to unfold is generally not helpful. Aside from the fact that maybe I don’t want to get groped just to prove a point, if the naysayers are invested enough in their convictions, even that won’t shake them. It’s nothing more than a coincidence, which doesn’t prove that I’m right the rest of the time. It only happened because I led the guy on. I deliberately made it happen to prove a point. I’m exaggerating. I’m straight-up lying.

The sad thing is that they are definitely partly right. I am oversensitive to certain stimuli, because past events have taught me that noticing those stimuli is crucial. That doesn’t mean that I’m accurate; I could be seeing garden hoses and taking unnecessary precautions. However, I’ve been bitten in the ass enough times to prioritise early detection. I don’t see a problem with that provided that I don’t conflate it with preemptive striking. Having concerns about a person doesn’t translate to me giving myself permission to bring forth some kind of retribution-before-the-fact.

Maybe this it the thing that sucks the most; that when I bring up this kind of concern, I’m not looking for someone to help me hide the body, or for someone to make a body for me. I’m looking for help in balancing my views, in case I really am seeing things. I’m looking for an unaffected brain to help me think through solutions, in case I’m too wound up to think clearly. And yes, I’m also looking to see who’s in my corner if shit does go down, but the bulk of the times it won’t ever come to that. Sorting out my perceptions and my options is generally enough to prevent that. Those are the resources I’m looking for first and foremost.

Turns out that more often than not those resources are just not there, which sucks. What sucks even more is that however many times I go through the same conversations to reach the same conclusions, it never seems to smart less.

Unicorn poop.

In the last blog, I mentioned Kasey Keckeisen of Keishoukan Dojo, creator of Budo Blog.

I’ve mentioned Kasey in past blogs. I shall probably mention him again, because he’s an impossibility. He defies the laws of sociology and marketing. He succeeds where other people fail, and he does so by doing everything wrong wrong wrong.

One of the most common gripes in self-defence is how hard it is to get women involved. I haven’t seen any statistics, but I get asked for help with this problem a lot, and women are a minority in the vast majority of schools I visit. Vast efforts have been expended in trying to work out how to attract and retain women students; even vaster efforts have been expended in moaning and groaning about the situation.

A lot of people have worked out lists of solution to this problem. These range from the fairly obvious (present a relevant curriculum) to the fairly obnoxious (pink everything up). When it comes to results, though, they all seem to be a bit hit-and-miss. An instructor could do everything on any given list and still fail to get a reasonable proportion of women students.

Then there’s Kasey. Kasey does everything wrong. It’s like he’s not even looked at all those lists. He doesn’t present a women-specific curriculum. He’s a force use professional (SWAT, for heaven’s sake), i.e. utterly unrelatable for most of us. His social media presence looks like a cross between the Ride of the Brohirrim and an explosion in a comic book shop. He swears a ton. He teaches seriously rough stuff, stuff that can kill people to death, and he doesn’t dress that up. I’ve not seen a bit of pink in any of his advertising. For changing rooms he offers a very small bathroom in a basement. There isn’t a single chocamochafrappuccino available on site. And he looks like this:

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Yet it’s not uncommon for over half of the participants to his classes to be women, and older women at that – and no, I’m not being ageist. Older women are an even tougher demographic to crack in this context.

According to popular wisdom, Kasey’s dojo should be a sausagefest, but it’s not. One would think that someone out there may bother to ask the dude how he actually does what he does to see whether it can be replicated, but that doesn’t seem to be happening.

I’ve been observing the guy from a distance for some time, chatted to some of his students, and trained with him a few times. I now have a working theory about Kasey’s magical powers.

The first thing Kasey ever said to me was “Hey, Anna, what’s this? It’s a fuckunicorn.” With hand gestures. I eyerolled so hard I nearly detached a retina. I wasn’t really offended; I just enjoy eyerolling. But I think we can all agree that that’s not the way an instructor is encouraged to greet brand new middle-aged women students, or in fact any students at all.

The second thing he said, though, was “I’ve never been a small woman, so you need to tell me if this doesn’t work for you and we’ll find something that does.” And all the way through the training he listened to me about my back problems and let me decide what to do and what to avoid. As if I was an actual grown-up person with a brain.

Turns out that having an instructor who’s willing to admit that his stuff may need tweaking in order to suit me is kind of a big deal for me. It shouldn’t be – it should be How Things Are Done – but it isn’t. It’s not quite as rare as fuckunicorn poop, but it’s rare enough. And it turns out that that’s what actually matters to me: finding an instructor who’s honest, helpful, treats me with respect and consideration, and prioritises my learning over his ego. I’ll put up with a whole herd of fuckunicorns for that. Kasey’s student demographics suggest that I’m not the only woman to feel like this.

What I hear from Kasey’s students confirms my theory. We don’t like training with him because he makes a conscious effort to be inclusive. We like training with him because he’s a genuine human being who treats everyone, regardless of their gender, like human beings, and pushes them to be more than they are. We like training with him because he provides useful material; material that lets smaller and weaker people win. We like training with him because he doesn’t treat being a woman as a learning disability or a condition requiring special treatment.

I’m sure I’ll get a lot of people trying to convince me that it’s just not as simple as that, and I’m sure that they believe it. Yes, there’s a lot of other stuff that goes into a successful school; but the way in which the students are treated, whatever their gender, does matter. If that’s out of kilter, doing everything else right will probably not bring much of a result.

Maybe finding a solution to this conundrum requires less thinking about “what women want”, and more introspection, more honesty about instructor-student interactions. But that would most likely result in finding out some unpleasant truths and coming up with solutions requiring real change. That kind of stuff is hard. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

It’s much easier to faff around with yet another rebranding and to search for some “diverse” stock photos to paste in our advertising. And when that doesn’t work, we can all just chalk it down to the perversity of women. Can’t help some people.

 

(Kasey is also the unsung hero of this book. Speaking to him way back when, it emerged that he had never accidentally triggered a student. So I asked him a bunch of questions about how he does what he does, reverse-engineered the principles, added some other stuff, and wrote it all out using fancy words.)

 

Oh yes I am.

Two things happened last week:

  1. Kasey Keckeisen of Keishoukan Dojo (say that in a hurry) wrote this blog;
  2. I was told I’m not writing about self-defence anymore.

Thinking back at how this blog has been going lately, I was half inclined to agree. I’ve been writing a lot about the self-defence subculture and problems/challenges therein, rather than about self-defence. A lot of the rest of my stuff is more about conflict management, or the management of problem people, or recovery, or whatever is bugging me, than about self-defence. I could excuse myself because I’ve been busy with my side project (shameless book plug, now also on paperback). Kasey’s blog, however, spurred me to try a different approach:

Oh yes I am.

Kasey’s blog is about self-defence. So are the bulk of mine. The problem isn’t with what we’re writing about; it’s with the fact that the term ‘self-defence’ is often taken to have such a narrow meaning as to be almost anti-useful.

Yes, that’s a bold statement; but please, hear me out.

 

Rory Miller wrote:

“It is better to avoid than to run, better to run than to de-escalate, better to de-escalate than to fight, better to fight than to die.”

I’ve yet to see anyone openly disagree with this statement (if anyone has, please tell me in the comments. I’d be genuinely fascinated to see what they came up with). Yet I’m constantly seeing people, particularly people who’re super-into-self-defence, take on attitudes and behaviours that go totally against it. The push is towards “real” self-defence to deal with “real” violence. I’m cool with that, in principle; I don’t much see the point in training to deal with unreal violence. Unless dragons are involved, because that would be cool. In practice, however, that tends to result in those people focusing only on the fightin’ and the dyin’. Lethal solutions to lethal situations. The rest of the options are either taken as given (mistake), or considered somehow less “real” than fightin’ and dyin’ (bigger mistake).

I appreciate that if you look like someone who’s really good at fightin’ and has no intention to do any dyin’, a lot of issues magically disappear from your life. However, that’s not an option all of us have. As Kasey said, we all have to play the hand we are dealt. That should affect how we train “real” self-defence, because otherwise we’re just wasting our bloody time while risking injuries, but it also affects how important the lower-risk options are for us.

My point of view on self-defence is very distorted. It’s not just because I’m oddly wired and weirdly socialised; it’s because I’m under 5′ tall. Things look different from down here. Most hoomans over the age of 12 are bigger than me. Add a few major injuries and the fact that I somehow failed to die young, and fighting is increasingly looking like an unhappy way to spend my time. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to learn counter ambush methods; if shit ever hits the fan, I won’t get the option to hand my attacker a medical note and demand that we can work out our issues with a chess game instead. It does mean, however, that I really, really want to pay a lot of attention to the lower-risk options. Not just pay lip service to them: actually spend time and effort in working towards developing the required attributes and skills.

Training in the effective use of force will help me if I ever have to physically defend myself. However, it doesn’t do a great deal to help me get good at avoidance, escaping, and de-escalation. The skills do not transfer down anymore than they transfer up. (A lot of the principles do, which is very, very cool. But a. that’s often not obvious and b. learning principles and not practising their applications may or may not be helpful, particularly in an emergency.)

If I want to learn about avoidance, I have to learn about avoidance. That includes learning to recognise and avoid toxic environments and people, including those involved in self-defence. If I want to learn to run away, I have to run, or at least do some kind of cardio. Oh, and remember to wear the right shoes. If I want to learn to de-escalate, I have to practice de-escalation. If I want to get better at all of the above, I need to do what Kasey said: improve the hand I’m dealt with. I have to try and make sure that I’m running at peak performance: enough sleep, the right food, emotional balance, etc. None of that is in itself self-defence (unless you take the super-broad approach of considering anything that’s likely to improve your life expectancy as SD, but I shan’t push for that). However, all of that improves my ability to self-defend, at all levels of the progression.

That’s my excuse, anyway, and I’m sticking with it.