I had a most interesting thought today.
I have a right to defend myself.
Now, this might seem obvious to some people, that should they find themselves in a position of being attacked, whether physically or verbally, that they have a right to defend themselves. For me though, it’s kind of new information. I didn’t think I had the right.
I felt so deserving of any attack aimed at me, by friends, by family or by strangers, they all had the right to attack me. They all had the right to insult me, mock me, and abuse me. And I was basically just supposed to sit there and take it. Welcome it, in fact.
And today somehow it occurred to me that that isn’t right. That isn’t right at all. I have the right to defend myself. And no one has the right to attack me or assault me or mock me or abuse me. They just don’t. Sadly, this doesn’t mean that someone won’t. But do they have the right? Hell no.
Human rights can seem pretty vague and flexible at times, how you can treat and talk to people a certain way and get away with it. That you can call someone names, insult them, mock them, even belittle their existence. But as easy as it seems to be able to do that, in no way does it give them the right. Not by a long shot. And if someone does feel the need to come at them, or me, they have every right to defend themselves, and I have the right to defend myself.
One of the reasons I get anxiety on public transit is because I worry about what others may be thinking of me, and that they are judging me, and should they feel inclined to attack me they will. I feel this more on subways than trains because the subway is much more isolating than the buses are.
So for example, there could be a man that comes on the train and sits near to me and I see him look at me and he doesn’t look menacing exactly but maybe the way he’s dressed or the expression on his face might tell me that he could insult me or mock me or in some way humiliate me.
Now I know this is stereotyping, and I shouldn’t make assumptions based on how someone looks, but in my defense, my brain is taking my last experience with a person who looked or dressed like this, and I was humiliated, insulted and mocked, therefore me and my brain are expecting this next guy to do the same thing. And once my brain makes that assumption, it locks onto that past experience, and I will suddenly be totally on guard and terrified that the guy will say something to me.
I will be terrified that he will do something that will either directly or indirectly tell me I am nothing and am an offence to the senses. My heart will pound in my chest and I will hold my breath bracing for the inevitable impact. No matter how many stops it takes for one of us to get off the train, I will be on guard.
What is most stunning about this thought, is that at no time do I ever consider defending myself. At no time do I even consider any kind of comeback for whatever smart ass remark he might make. At no time have I considered that he’s a total jerk who isn’t even worth my time let alone my tears. At no time have I considered that I don’t have to put up with what insults or comments this man might make. At no time have I ever NOT expected to be on the receiving end of an assault. And willingly so.
I have always just “assumed the position” of being the victim. Ready to take what was coming to me, what was supposedly deserved, and then I can run and hide and cry and feel awful that I offended someone so greatly with my presence.
And lest you think that this is a specific response to men, please allow me to allay those concerns because women can easily equally evoke this response as well. Especially if there are a group of girls or women, you know the age where girls watch and judge and gossip to their friends. I have been the subject of that before too so again my response will be fear and I can only pray that they will exit the train soon and not have noticed me at all. I use the train as an example because this is one of the few places you are literally stuck with other people for an extended amount of time. Make no mistake though, this can happen anywhere— on the street, at a restaurant, at the mall, just anywhere there are other people. So it leaves few, if any, places where I feel totally safe. And this has left me with the constant state of “assuming the position”, and I’ve been doing it since I was young. That’s a long time to stay in one position. Especially one of defeat and fear.
It has honestly never occurred to me to ever defend myself. Not one time, in the thousands of these fear experiences, has it ever crossed my mind. Sure I’ve had many instances where I’ve walked away wishing I had said or done something and never did. Even those moments are not quite defending myself. They’re more about proving the other person wrong, that I am not a waste of space, or that I am not as offensive to the senses as they believe that I am, or making them feel as bad as I do.
It’s always about self-preservation. My next best tactic was to ignore the person. Pretend what they say doesn’t hurt me. Pretend that their opinion of me doesn’t make me cringe or want to hide. Make it look like I’m not at all about to cry and beg for mercy.
I hate to say that I’ve always imagined that if I were to be sexually assaulted that I would just find a way to take it and try to move on. I would just concede defeat and give the attacker what he wanted. I wouldn’t even think to fight back let alone try. I’d like to say that this is a defensive strategy to not get injured or killed but it’s not.
I just assume that I will be attacked and there is nothing I can do about it. Especially since I most likely deserve it.
Today is the first time in my life that I realized that all this time I have been mistaken.
All these years, as experiences have conditioned me that it was safer to just stay quiet and take the abuse, while they may have gotten me through the moment, they weren’t totally accurate in what they taught me. That I don’t have the right to defend myself, and that I deserve whatever mistreatment a person can throw at me.
There have been enough attacks over the years that I learned, over and over again, to take it. No matter what. It has pummelled me into a perpetual position of defeat. I know that not every instance will be a good opportunity to stand my ground and defend myself to the death. No doubt there will still be times where just taking it is the best, and safest thing to do.
But sometimes it won’t be. Sometimes it will actually better for me to not just take it. Sometimes I should very much defend myself, and at the very least, let myself know that I don’t deserve to be attacked, and that I have every right to defend myself.
This feels like I’ve discovered a BIG secret about life. I actually wonder if others know. Do others, who have suffered physical and verbal attacks, know that they don’t deserve the abuse? Do they know that they have rights? Do they know that they don’t have to take it? Do they know that, circumstances permitting, they can defend themselves? Have they ever considered it? Has it even crossed their minds?
I don’t know if I ever will defend myself, should the situation call for it. I don’t know if I will remember that I have rights. I may just once again assume the position, stay quiet, and hope for the best. I hope that now that I know I won’t but I can’t say for sure because I’ve had years of experience that taught me otherwise. And if it does turn around, it may take some time. I hope I don’t have to test this anytime soon, or ever again to be honest.
But if it does happen, should I one day find myself on the receiving end of an attack, I hope I find a new position.