You have the right and responsibility to defend your physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and sexual health.

October 10th was World Mental Health Day, and I’d like to chat about that a bit.

If you’ve read previous blog entries or my books then you probably know I train in a martial art. More specifically, I train in aikido and have done so for a few years. I won’t bore you with details on my art, but that is the starting point for this blog.


There are many dojos and even special self-defense classes available. Many target women and kids and I fully support those efforts. When you’re at a physical disadvantage, it helps to gain confidence and options for overcoming it. I don’t think many would doubt it’s a smart strategy to protect ourselves from physical assaults.

Have you seen any of this advice previously?

  1. Park under a street light.
  2. Watch your drink in a club/ bar.
  3. Limit sharing personal information on social media.
  4. Go to a security guard if you are uncertain walking to your car.
  5. Stick with friends instead of going out alone.

I heard all of this many times before I ever stepped on the mats in aikido. Again, I think it’s smart and want everyone to hear the advice of self-defense experts. If you don’t have training, please consider seeking out something in your city.

However, for as much as talk as there is about self-defense, it’s typically focused on physical safety.

We aren’t solely physical beings. We have thoughts, feelings, and needs outside of our bodies.

I remember learning that lesson in my dojo when talking to two black belt instructors on separate occasions. One reminded me that my safety on the mat extended to my emotional well-being. Another explained the parallels of ‘those closest to us can hurt us’ and how ‘losing my center’ wasn’t solely physical.

In aikido, we speak of ma’ai or proper fighting distance. If I maintain the proper distance, this means someone wanting to hurt me must step closer to kick/ punch/ grab me. They have to be close.

Often, those who hurt us emotionally also have to be close.

That doesn’t mean that a random internet troll can’t hurt you – they can. However, it’s the opinion of our family and friends that can truly devastate us. That explains the ‘those closest to us can hurt us’ part.

Let’s hop back onto the aikido mats for the second part. We also speak of ‘losing our center’ when training. For a physical demonstration, place a coffee cup/ book/ something on a table. Standing close to it, pick it up. Easy, right? You’re still standing tall and comfortable. No problem. Now set it down and take two steps back. Without stepping closer again, reach out to grab the object. Did you fall forward and have to take a step?

That’s an example of physically losing your center.

When our head, shoulders, hips, knees, and toes aren’t lined up straight, we’re unbalanced. Aikido plays with using an attacker’s momentum and angles to unbalance them. At that point, a ‘weaker’ person can take down a physically stronger person.

We can also ‘lose our center’ emotionally and mentally. The words and opinions of others knock us off balance. We may cry, lash out, drown our pain, or have any number of unhealthy coping mechanisms. We may also give up and stop trying.

We’ve become mentally or emotionally unbalanced just as we were physically unbalanced in the example above.

[Quick note: always seek professional help. I speak from my personal experience and hope to encourage others to think and share. This does NOT replace the advice of medical professionals.]

If it is okay and even encouraged to protect ourselves physically, it should also be okay and encouraged to protect ourselves mentally and emotionally. We should all have the right and responsibility to fully utilize our self-defense skills to encompass the entirety of our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls.

  1. It is okay to say no.
  2. Take time for yourself and step away if you need to do so.
  3. Seek professional help for physical, mental, emotional, and sexual concerns.
  4. Do not share anything about yourself that you don’t wish to share. [No one has the right to ‘out’ you in any way – set boundaries and keep your own secrets.]
  5. Place a priority on protecting all aspects of your health.

I’d like to share one of my favorite definitions of happiness. Happiness is when our thoughts, feelings, and actions align and move together. If you prefer, think about it as the union of heart, soul, mind, and body.

Again, we are more than just a body. Self-defense must be more than just a physical response to a physical threat. We need to safeguard our hearts and minds as much as our bodies.

No one would fault us for leaving a physically abusive relationship. That’s black and white for most people. However, leaving an emotionally and/ or mentally abusive relationship becomes a grey area. Does an insult carry the weight of a punch? Is a guilt trip comparable to a slap?

Our rights to self-defense must extend beyond the physical.

Training in physical self-defense does take time and effort. Simply deciding we have the right isn’t enough. It is a responsibility too. We must take action and put forth the effort to learn and re-train our responses.

On the mats, we get bumps and bruises while training. We also struggle, get frustrated, and face failures. It is something that requires time and energy. The same commitment is required to learn to protect our mental and emotional well-being.

I believe in both cases that is it worth the effort. Again, I would encourage all to seek training and information to gain more self-defense skills.

I would also encourage you to bring your friends and family along for the journey if possible. Others’ rights to self-defense must also extend beyond the physical and we must respect their rights.

When blogging, I always try to include a reminder that ‘what’s good for the goose is good for the gander’. To be honest, though I’ve heard and used the expression countless times, I had to look it up to share this – a gander is a male goose. That is technically beside the point though. To me, it always meant what’s good for one person is good for the other.

If you want the right to say no to friends’ and loved ones’ requests, you have to respect their right to say no to yours.

If you want to take time for yourself, you have to allow your partner the same time.

So, where do you start? If you have friends and family you can safely talk to then start there. If you don’t, I’ve listed a few resources below. Each person and each circumstance is different – we all have to decide for ourselves where we are and where we want to be. We must set our own personal boundaries for our safety.

Resources/ Links

Suicide Prevention Hotline           1-800-273-8255

SAMSA Hotline     1-800-662-HELP (4357)
[Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration]

Ok2Talk Teen Hotline                     1 (800) 273-TALK

Crisis Text Line                               Text SIGNS to 741741 for 24/7, anonymous, free crisis counseling

I hope everyone will take the time to think about this. I hope everyone will make the effort to learn the self-defense skills to protect themselves.

Until next time, my friends – take care of yourself.


6 thoughts on “Mental Self-defense

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