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Emotional Self-Defense

By Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

bullying

As a thirteen year-old girl, I was threatened, mocked and bullied by an older girl (age fourteen) while her posse watched. As far as I knew I had done nothing to provoke this attack, yet on my walk to school or during play time with my neighborhood friends this tormentor would come from nowhere and start. Finally, one day I had had enough. I stood my ground and silently stood up to her. She brazenly walked up to me, slapped me across the face, and turned to walk away. I grabbed her hair in an attempt to bring her back. Much to my horror I pulled great clumps of her over-dyed and over-teased hair out of her head. Without skipping a beat, she walked to her friends and they all walked away. We never exchanged another glance, blow or word.

I wondered if I had triumphed? I was relieved that the teasing, intimidation and bullying stopped. At the same time I was not proud of having made an enemy and in such a violent manner.

During the years since my youth, I have had similar kinds of experiences. Luckily none have ended with a physical battle. I’m too often clueless about what I have done or do to provoke such anger and hatred. However I am old enough now to know that I am not just an innocent victim. What may be my well intended words could be perceived by the other as a threat or attack. With my added experiences and greater (?) wisdom, at least I know enough to offer an apology for what I may have done that has offended the other. Luckily, most times this helps to sooth hurt feelings and misunderstandings. Perhaps a friendship may not develop, but at least we end with better feelings toward one another.

Sometimes however,  there are a few who continue to attack, no matter what. The wonderful world of online encounters through Twitter, Facebook and other social media create many of these possible interactions.

Thanks to Dr. Peter Breggin I now know what to do. Did you hear him interviewed on our Mental Health & Happiness Summit? He offered a great deal of helpful advice and ideas to contribute to Mental Health & Happiness for us all. (Watch Dr. Peter Breggin’s inverview here:  http://www.mentalhealthandhappiness.com/2014/peter+breggin.html) And he also provided me with an incredibly helpful concept and skill.

We are each entitled to the right for unconditional emotional self defense. We can and should expect, demand and ask to be treated with respect and kindness.

The first time I interact and am attached by a person with whom I have had no prior history I will take a step back, literally if I can, or in my imagination if that is the only possibility. Closing my eyes I visualize surrounding myself with a clean and protective space. Some parents teach their children do this calling it the bubble of safety. Some people imagine stepping into a white light space of safety. It’s helpful to experiment and practice this skill before you get into a situation where you need to use your protective space.

Finally, I say, I have the unconditional right to emotional self-defense. I am entitled to be spoken to with respect. I offer you this same respect. 

For me the results have been amazing. Occasionally I am bullied on Facebook. This practice has helped me to stand up for myself without attempting to externally control the other person or bully back. On Facebook I make this statement slightly differently: If you can speak to me respectfully I welcome your thoughts and comments. Otherwise, please leave me alone. 

I’m actually looking forward to the next time I need to practice this skill face-to-face with a someone. Learning this strategy has greatly improve my Mental Health & Happiness.