– Episode Four –

Trusting Your Body – Your First Line of Defense

About The Empowerment Podcast

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In this podcast, created as a platform to teach you everything she knows about self-defense, join host Silvia Smart in this safe space. With over three decades on the frontlines, she’ll give you skills and knowledge for your self-defense toolkit so you can live your most fearless and empowered life. Research proves that empowerment self-defense programs work. Participants are less fearful, more aware of their boundaries, and are able to speak up sooner when faced with manipulative or threatening situations. Furthermore, for those who have experienced trauma in the past, evidence shows that empowerment self-defense training can interrupt the cycle of violence and decrease the likelihood of a future assault.

Audio Transcription

Introduction

This podcast is brought to you by the empowerment project.

Research proves that empowerment self-defense training makes you safer period. I want you to have a great self-defense toolkit so you can create strong boundaries, speak with confidence, and take up all the space that you deserve in the world.

We’ll hear stories from survivors and find out what worked for them and why. We’ll interview leaders in the field and talk about tips, concepts, and really easy things that you can do to make yourself safer and interrupt the cycle of violence.

I’ve taught self-defense classes for over 30 years and I promise to teach you everything I know!

Ultimately, I’m going to want you to get some in-person training, but a great empowerment self-defense class is more than just the physical skills. The list of things I want to teach you is endless, so let’s get to it.

My name is Silvia Smart, and welcome to the empowerment project.

Hi. Welcome back. Glad you are here.

Today we’re following up on our last episode, episode number three. I promised we’d talk about how you can tell when something’s not right. How you can tell when someone is testing you, or when you’re being manipulated. How you can tell when some situation or some person is off, or creepy, or just plain old, not feeling safe.

What we’re going to be talking about is body awareness, trusting yourself and your body and building that trust. What do I mean by that? Well, there is a common thread among self-defense stories. Many people I’ve spoken with over the years, many stories and studies I’ve heard and read also have this similar thread.

People who were assaulted had a funny feeling that something was wrong…and then they ignored it. That’s why you’re gonna hear lots of empowerment self-defense teachers tell you that your intuition, your gut, your internal sense of knowing is your first line of defense.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. I’m getting a creepy feeling. And boom, I recognize this as a warning signal coming to my awareness from my body. Now, if I know this, if I trust myself, if I’ve practiced making this connection, I can at this moment, make a choice and decide how to respond. But if I don’t recognize this as my body giving me a heads up if my trust in myself has been broken, I might default to old behaviors or beliefs, and I might leave myself at risk.

Let’s Pull this Apart

Some of us have a well-honed intuition and we know it, we’re aware of it and we’re in tune with it. Some of us might be numb, or maybe our intuition is less accessible to us, even non-existent. This can happen when our boundaries have been broken over and over again, often in traumatic ways.

Some of us have an overburdened or overreactive intuition, like a default to anxiety. And a lot of the time that fear and anxiety also have had to do with trauma in our history.

And then there are times that maybe we have trusted ourselves in the past. We have listened to our body, we have spoken up about a boundary that feels like it’s being broken or about feeling used or lied to or manipulated. And we’ve been told we’re wrong. We’re overreacting, we’re being dramatic. We’re being bitchy. In other words, we’ve been lied to. And we’ve been manipulated into a belief that we’re wrong, that we can’t trust ourselves or that the messages that we’re receiving from our body awareness are not trustworthy, that we can’t trust ourselves. So you can see how this trust in ourselves, in our body messages in the communication, our internal communication system, it can get wonky depending on our life’s experiences.

Trauma

So let’s talk about that. But first, a quick word about trauma. I’m not going to talk about this too much here. First of all, I’m not a therapist, and there are experts in this field, empowerment self-defense teachers who do amazing work around this issue. I promise that in a future episode, we’ll have some very cool interviews. And we’ll give this topic the attention and the care it deserves. But for now, let’s just give it a mention because it relates to our ability to acknowledge our body’s wisdom. 

Pretty much everyone has some level of trauma. In fact, you can think about this also, like a continuum. Some trauma, though, of course, is on the more severe end of the spectrum. How trauma affects us how we respond to it has to do with a lot of factors like our age, when the incident or incidents happened, the intensity of what happened to us, and you know, for what duration, things like that.

Also, how I respond is going to be impacted by things like my physical health, my mental health, my understanding of myself, having a safe person in my life to go to and my resilience. In a nutshell, trauma is an experience, something that has happened to us, something that made us feel unsafe. But also, something we didn’t have a lot of control over. Maybe because we were kids, maybe because we lived in a war zone or with domestic violence or systemic racism. Maybe we grew up in poverty, any number of things. Though we don’t always have control over what happened to us. healing from trauma is a choice we can always make. It’s never too late to rewire our brains. We’re going to talk about this later on. In this episode, we’re going to talk about lots of ways that lots of people heal from trauma.

Intuition

For now, back to this concept of intuition, our body’s messaging and trust. Like I said before, intuition is our first line of defense. It’s our body’s warning signal. Empowerment Self Defense is in many ways about strengthening and building this intuition. I like to think of it like a muscle. By practicing, by working with this muscle, we can actually get better and better at paying attention to our bodies and what our bodies are telling us. And then we can also get better at trusting ourselves, we can learn to trust ourselves – and no matter what anyone else says.

This process includes learning to understand, feel, and acknowledge how our body communicates with us. Body responses are different for every person. I like to think back on prehistoric times this intuition, this body awareness, it’s part of our lizard brain. It’s an innate and deeply rooted survival instinct.

Think about it. Zillions of years ago, our ancestors are out and about. They’re gathering berries and roots when suddenly, there’s a shift. There’s something in the air, a sound, a smell. It’s a saber tooth tiger! Then our instinct kicks in: fight, flight, or freeze.

Freeze

Let’s talk about the freeze response. Often, the freeze response is our first response. We gasp. We hold our breath. Self Defense training – as a little caveat – this is why I want you to get yourself to an empowerment self-defense class where you can practice this stuff. Self-defense training becomes experiencing that moment and responding. Doing something doing anything! Doing it anyway, in spite of the freeze. This is what I want in your self-defense toolkit. I want you to have this practice, the muscle memory, the skills, the knowledge, the practice, to respond in spite of the freeze.

No Victim Blaming

So take a deep breath here, just a second. Freezing is something we do instinctually. And for lots of folks, this has become a precursor to assault. I just want to remind you that if this is true for you, the assault was not your fault. The blame, as always lies with the assailant whether we froze or didn’t freeze. They are the ones in the wrong, not you.

In fact, regarding freezing, a good empowerment self-defense teacher is going to tell you that your freeze response may have actually been the best thing your body could have done in that moment to protect you. Our bodies have innate wisdom, this instinctual wisdom. They know, sometimes they know more than our brains. Let’s keep this boundary really clear, no victim-blaming, not here, not ever!

Trusting Ourselves/Trusting Our Bodies

Back to the issue of trusting ourselves, our bodies, our intuition. We know from the episode about the continuum of sexual assault and violence and from the last episode about testing, that behaviors are behaviors. It’s important to know what the behaviors are on the continuum, and what the testing behaviors look and sound like so we can recognize them, and then put that together with what we’re feeling in our body.

If someone is for example, telling me that they’d never hurt me. In fact, they’re telling me that they love me. But at the same time, they’re constantly putting me down or invading my space, or overriding the fact that I just asked them to leave me alone, or they’re threatening me, subtly, maybe overtly. This is an important moment. This is where I am receiving a ton of information.

If I can stay present, if I can stay in the moment, if I can pay attention to my body and trust myself, I’m going to start to make these connections and be able to respond appropriately. This is the work and this is what I’m talking about.

Keeping Out of Our Head

Sometimes, by the way, I need to keep out of my head. And this is important information. Because at the same time, my body is shouting at me to pay attention that something is wrong, my mind might be telling me any number of things like:

  • Oh, but he never hurt me, right?
  • Or, wait. He’s wearing a suit. He’s so clean cut. He’s a jock, or an upstanding community member, whatever the case may be
  • Or, oh, well, maybe he’s trying to help me like he says he is?
  • Or my coworker trusts him…
  • Or he’s my brother, my coach, my doctor, whatever that normally trusting relationship may be.

Your brain is telling you.

  • I must be wrong.
  • This can’t be happening.
  • Maybe he just likes to stand close to me because he loves me.
  • Or maybe he’s right. I am ugly. Fat, stupid, fill in the blank.
  • Or maybe he just didn’t hear me when I asked him to leave me alone, right?

So our minds kick in, and they start to justify and rationalize. And what happens is that our thoughts can actually interfere with an override our intuition and our body signals. And this is that moment. This is where we’ll look back later and say,

“I had a feeling that something was wrong. And I ignored it.”

I hope this is making sense to you.

Body Communication

Our bodies communicate with us in very specific ways. When behaviors don’t match what the person is saying and doing, I call this incongruency. We’re getting two very different messages and that incongruency is something we can actually feel in our bodies when we’re tuned into it. This takes awareness and it takes practice. It helps to slow down and actually take the time to feel and recognize how our body – our unique body – tells us when something is wrong.

Remember how I say self-defense is all about planning and preparation? Well, this is part of it. The preparation is you taking the time to learn how your body talks to you. The planning is thinking through situations you might be heading into, like your first party at a new job or a new school, and creating a couple of strategies you can pull out if you start to feel like something’s not right.

I like to illustrate this point with a story. This is a story I tell kids when I’m teaching Power Up! which is my self-defense class for children. I tell it because it’s true. It happened to me, because it’s relatable. And the kids, like, totally get it and totally connect with it. I’m going to tell it here. I know you’re not kids, you’re grown humans. But I tell it here to make the point that for many of us, this body awareness has been present for us for a really long time from the time that we were kids.

Strip Poker

Here’s the story. One summer a long, long time ago, I was like 7, 8 or 9 and I was hanging out with my cousins, and having a ton of fun. I have a bunch of cousins. I was the youngest. And mostly the older cousins. never wanted to play with me ‘cause I’m younger. But my boy cousins invited me to play with them and I was so excited. I was thrilled. And so they said, let’s play this game up in my cousin’s room. The group of us went upstairs and they closed the door. And as soon as the door closed, I started to feel funny. But I’m with my cousins, right? My boy cousins, they love me. They take care of me. 

Whatever, let’s play the game. And then they proceeded to tell me about the game. It was a game called strip poker, which I’d never heard of before. I was not very good at cards. I’d never played this game before. They proceeded to explain the rules to me and it sounded very confusing. We started to play. What they explained to me was that anytime you lose a round, you have to take off a piece of clothes. I looked at myself. I was wearing a T shirt, a pair of shorts, and two socks. So we play the first round. And of course, I lose. I start to feel weird. I start to notice that my palms are sweaty. When I remove one sock, and we play another round, and I lose, and I have to take off another sock, and I’m looking down at myself and I’m thinking, I’ve got a T shirt, and I’ve got a pair of shorts.

By now My heart is pounding. My face feels hot. I’m sure it’s bright red. And I feel so uncomfortable. Basically, at this point, in this moment, my body is shouting to me, “Silvia Pay attention! Something is happening here! Something doesn’t feel right! Something feels unsafe! Do something!

But my mind is thinking, but these are my cousins. They wouldn’t do anything wrong. They wouldn’t put me in harm’s way. They love me, right?

Why Don’t We Pay Attention to Our Body’s Signals?

Why do we ignore these messages, these signals from the body? I liken this to a smoke alarm. You’re laying in bed, you’re sound asleep and the smoke detector goes off. You know the noise that it makes? It’s so high shrilling you can’t sleep through that thing. What do you do? Do you roll over and go back to sleep? No, of course not. You grab your kids, you grab your spouse and you run! And then as soon as you’re safe you call the fire department. Right? So then why do we ignore these messages that are like this alarm coming from our bodies?

There are lots of reasons. Let’s go through them.

Socialization

The first one I want to talk about is socialization. Sometimes, as we talked about in the last episode, we’re so deeply entrenched in people-pleasing behaviors, that that overrides anything we’re feeling in our body. We’re going to talk about this more in later episodes. But it’s important to think through for each of us how we’ve been raised, how we’ve been socialized, what imprints we have, especially when these behaviors put us at risk. Right, these behaviors put us at risk. These are things that we need to think about.

Trauma

Another reason we ignore these messages from our bodies is trauma. And I mentioned that earlier, but sometimes we ignore our body’s messages because we’re numbed out or over reactive. Maybe our internal messaging system has been battered, used and abused by one shocking experience, or over time by a multitude of stressors and anguish, like living with the violence of domestic assault or systemic racism or living in a war-torn country or growing up in poverty with no safe place to sleep at night.

Training

Another reason that we ignore these messages from our bodies or don’t pay attention to them anymore is sometimes we’ve been trained over time to not believe in ourselves. Let’s take an example of a kid who grows up in an alcoholic home. It’s hard to keep trust with yourself when you’re told over and over and over again, that what you’re feeling what you instinctually know, is not true or it’s wrong. Over time, we actually start to believe what people say, over and above what we actually feel to be true, over what we are experiencing, and there’s a disconnect.

Here’s what I mean. And this is just one little mini example. There are lots of ways this disconnect can be learned. Say you come home from some sort of a performance like a music recital or dance show or you know, some sort of an athletic game and you did great. You come home, you’re feeling proud, you’re beaming your body is humming, you know that feeling! But your parent who has either had too much to drink, or too little to drink, and is maybe in that super irritated state, says, “You know, actually, you could have done better” or “you could have been better”, or “you could have tried harder” or “the other kids actually did better” or “you weren’t all that good”. And here’s this trusted adult telling you that what you experienced what you were feeling is wrong. And there goes a little bit of your belief in yourself a little bit of that trust that you have in how you feel, in what your body’s telling you, which was that you’re awesome. And that is true, you are awesome.

And like I said, this is just a mini example. Maybe take some time and really think through when something like this has happened to you or that the ways that you grew up, and how these sorts of mis informational messages might have happened for you.

Alcohol and Other Drugs

Other reasons that we don’t listen to or can’t hear our body’s wisdom has to do with alcohol and drug use because those get in the way of or dull, our ability to feel. It can get in the way of us listening to our body’s wisdom in a specific scenario, or when we’re talking about long term use or regular daily use, it can actually damage this process altogether.

By the way, you will never hear me judge any use or abuse of alcohol or other drugs. As a kid, and a young adult, I experienced what I’m talking about here firsthand. You heard my last story in the last episode right after the Grateful Dead concert. As a grown woman, an alcoholic in recovery for nearly 40 years. I’m a proponent of self-awareness and self-honesty. But you will not hear judgment from me, just encouragement to be aware of your choices and options. And let’s be honest, drug and alcohol use can dull your responses.

Here are some numbers. I’m going to take college as an example. We know that in particular Young women heading off to college or at risk, one in four will be assaulted. Most of these rapes and attempted rapes happen in the first year. And most of those happen in the first semester of the first year. You binge on five drinks and the likelihood of assault goes up 25%. Binge on 10, and it goes up to 50%. I’ll do a whole episode on college life because there’s a ton to talk about.

But for now, let’s pull back to intuition, body messages and the topic of this episode. Socialization, trauma, our own imprinting, drugs and alcohol, these are some of the ways that the clarity of our body’s signals and our trust and belief in ourselves to notice and respond to them can get muddled, messed up or even downright crushed out from under us.

What I’m trying to say here is that there are lots of reasons why we don’t listen to our body signals and they can all be overcome.

Healing

There are some great tools for healing. Things that can help us with past trauma and current anxiety. There are tools for looking at the way we were raised and the messages we were imprinted with. All of these tools can be used separately, or in tandem, and they can go a long way toward restoring our trust in ourselves, in fact, to rewiring the way our brains work. It’s very cool. And you’ve heard of all of these things! Things like

  • Meditation, and focus on breathing, which I consider life hacks. These are ways to rewire our nervous system and they really work!

Other healing tools are:

  • Grounding, learning how to anchor yourself in the moment, tethering yourself to something you see or hear or smell something real, maybe a safe person.
  • Exercise is a great tool, a good run, a yoga class, going to the gym.
  • Being outside, going camping, going for a walk. There’s this thing called nature bathing, I think it’s called – but just absorbing the air, the outside the trees, this can go a long way towards helping us get calm and being present.
  • Getting a good night’s sleep
  • Eating right,
  • Looking at your drug and alcohol use
  • Getting support like Community and Social Services.
  • 12 step programs are amazing.
  • Therapy! Therapy is awesome talk therapy, and there are so many different types of therapy,
  • Reaching out to friends,
  • Looking at things in your life that are stressful for you and figuring out ways to minimize those,

You know all these things! These are tools that we can take advantage of to help rewire our brains and to get a handle on the clarity of noticing what our body is telling us when we can be present in the moment. So again, while we may not have been able to control a lot of things in our lives, this healing is a choice that we have.

Building Back Trust with Our Bodies

Building back this trust in our own intuition is important. One easy thing we can all do is to practice. Practice noticing how our bodies communicate with us. Every one of us is different, every body is different.

What are the ways that your body communicates to you? Think about it, get curious about this, ask yourself this question. Over the years I’ve heard lots of examples and I want to share some of them with you because I think it’s important for you to hear them. Notice if some of these sound familiar to you.

  • The hair stands up on the back of my neck
  • The Hair stands up on the back of my arm.
  • I get tunnel vision, which is where the sides of your vision on either side of your head narrows. So, it’s like you’re looking through a tunnel.
  • My throat gets dry.
  • My legs wobble
  • I feel rubbery.
  • I feel like someone punched me.
  • I hold my breath,
  • My fists, my jaw or my butt clench.
  • I feel a tingling at the top of my head, or I feel that tingling in my hands.
  • My body starts shaking, or my voice is shaking.
  • My face gets hot or it turns red.
  • My heart starts pounding.
  • My palms get sweaty.
  • I feel sick to my stomach.
  • I feel like throwing up.

Ask yourself this question. How does my body communicate with me? Start to notice what you feel. Sometimes, just hearing this list people are like, oh yeah, my body does X or Y, or Z.

Here’s something, you can try to pay attention during a scary movie. You know, when the music gets really grim like, DUM DUH DUM DUM… Check in with your body to see and feel what it’s doing. Is your heart pounding, or your hands sweaty? Do notice that suddenly you’re curled up in a little ball? Talking with someone else can help too. As you remember and share stories, and as your friends remember and share back with you, it can pull your past experiences into this current moment and you can actually remember what you felt like. This leads you to getting clear about how your body speaks to you, what signals it sends to you, how it warns you when something is off.

The next piece of this process this practice is to pay attention. When we notice our body, communicating with us, building that trust back is going to take some time. Rewiring our brains, it takes time. But we can work to remind ourselves that we are trustworthy. And by that, I mean, we can notice that our body is communicating with us. And we can respond to what it’s saying, we can practice building that trust.

For example, coworker offers me a ride home and I get a funny feeling. I can build trust with myself by saying something like, “oh, thanks, but no thanks. I was looking forward to the walk” or whatever. And remember, lying is a self-defense tool. Lying is always okay in a self-defense situation. If it’s going to keep you safe, you can lie. I’m not an advocate for lying, but in a self-defense situation, lying is a tool that we can put in our toolkit.

I want you to believe in yourself and to trust yourself. Even if you think you might be wrong. This is part of the process. We can practice giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt, and then responding “as if” even if we’re not sure. That is a way of showing up for ourselves, showing ourselves that we matter.

We can practice saying no, we can practice saying that doesn’t feel right. Practice saying “I don’t want to play strip poker.” Practice standing up and walking out. This action in response to our body communicating? This is a great way to build this muscle of trust in our intuition. Remember, intuition is our first line of defense.

How The Story Ends

I want to tell you the end of that story. Remember, I was back in that room looking at two bare feet, one pair of shorts, one t-shirt, and wondering what the heck was going to happen next. I was scared. I felt icky. And then my Uncle Jack came in. Uncle Jack swooped in. He picked me up. He held me tight. He looked at the boys. He pointed to the door, and he said, “Out! Get out! I will deal with you in a minute. And the boys got up and left. And my uncle hugged me tightly. And he said, Oh, honey, are you okay? And I started crying and he said, you’re okay. You’re okay. I got you. He said next time, don’t play! Just say “No”. Come and get me.

So that was a really great ending to my story. And the kids are always like, YAY for Uncle Jack! But then I, I pause, and I ask, but what if Uncle Jack hadn’t come in? I don’t know. For sure I could have ended up in a situation that was even more embarrassing or more harmful than it already was.

If I had known how this works, if I had had any experience or had taken a class or if anyone had taught me, which of course we didn’t have this back in the day, then the second I had a weird feeling, I could have done and said any number of things. Like Uncle Jack said I could have said “No, I don’t want to play.” I could have stood up and walked out. I could have run downstairs.

But once that door closed and I sat down, things got a little trickier for me. Because all of a sudden, I started telling myself stories to try to make myself feel less uncomfortable. You can see that this is an opportunity where it’s easiest for us to get out of a situation. And the longer it goes on, the more intense the scenario becomes, the deeper I get into it, the harder it can be to extricate myself from it.

Does that make sense?

But this moment, this moment where our body is telling us something is wrong. This is where our empowerment self-defense toolkit starts. This is your tool, your body awareness, your intuition, your gut.

Anyway, I always tell the kids thank goodness for my hero, Uncle Jack because even though I didn’t say no didn’t walk out, I never had to find out what would come next. And I want you, I want me, I want us to be able to be our own heroes, to stand up for ourselves,

You are worth protecting.

I hope this was helpful and that you learned something new or thought about something in a new way or broaden your perspective. Thank you for listening. And thank you for hanging out with me!

Remember our Facebook group. It’s called The Empowerment Community. So next time you’re on Facebook, please ask to join. We’re not going to let anyone in who doesn’t answer the questions or agree to the ground rules because we want this to be a safe space. I’d love to have you join the group and tell us how your body communicates with you. Let us know and share success stories you have or ask questions. Remember that all the moderators are self-defense teachers and have a ton of information not to mention amazing stories that they can share.

So, thanks again. Thanks for being here.

And yes, you are worth protecting!

Wrap Up

It’s affirmation time. This is how I end every self-defense class. It’s kind of cheesy, but it’s very cool. And this is how it works. We’re going to do like a little call and response. If you can say this out loud. If you can repeat after me, do it because it’s important, I think, for you to hear your own voice. But if you can’t, like if you’re on a crowded subway or someplace where It’s embarrassing, don’t worry, you can also just say it inside your head. Okay, so I’m going to say something and you’re going to repeat it after me. I’m going to give you space to do that. And at the end, we’re going to say “YES”! Here we go.

Repeat after me.

I am worth protecting.

I love myself.

I belong.

I deserve to take up space on planet Earth.

I am a strong and powerful person.

Yes!

And hey, as a wrap up, will you do me a favor? Will you do all the things that you do when there’s a podcast like, will you tell your friends, will you subscribe? Will you come back each week? Communicate with me? Review this podcast? Will you please do all the things to help get more bandwidth, help more people find out about this podcast? That would be super awesome!

Take a deep breath. You are amazing. Thank you for being with me. See you next time.