Dec. 14, 2022

Emotional Self-Defense is Good

When you hear the term "self-defense," what comes to mind?

The first words that enter my mind include fist punches, pepper spray, and car keys pointing outward in a dark parking lot. All physical means, right?

These are all important tools to carry with us (literally and figuratively). But what about emotional self-defense?

This is a term that I just learned in my interview with David Milan, an Australian Army veteran-turned-private investigator-turned-social worker. Cool, right? That sentence alone would definitely make me tune in to his perspective on defending ourselves from emotional predators: narcissists, psychopaths, and sociopaths.

I asked David how we know when we've stumbled upon one. His answer, partially in jest: "well, normally you won't know until they get you." He then referenced the hit Netflix show, You, which I refuse to watch because it creeps me out too much (hit me with a real life true crime documentary though). 

We're all afraid of the Ted Bundys of the world: people who are charming on the outside but are incredibly dangerous people below the surface, most of whom don't turn out to be infamous serial killers. So, how do we protect ourselves against them?

Emotional self-defense means being non-reactive. When someone becomes verbally aggressive, they want us to match their stance - and normally, it's easy to become trapped in that. When someone yells at us, we naturally want to defend ourselves by also becoming louder, throwing stronger punches with the tongue. But when we stay rational, calm, and honestly, unbothered - they are forced to tone down and get on our level, or just give up. The reaction they are looking for never comes, and therefore the drama never starts - and in David's words, "without drama you can't blame shift". Gosh, what I would do to go back in time and respond to my ex's verbal attacks with a shrug and "okay." That sounds like a lot of fun compared to being gaslighted.

I think it's also important not to trust anyone too quickly. Some of you might remember Shannon Petrovich's advice to not engage sexually with anyone until you'd give them the keys to your car. In other words, maybe don't go on a private jet and sleep with someone in a foreign country after one coffee date - they might just swindle you out of all of your money and leave you in debt (if you know, you know). David gave some great advice on how to test whether or not your new fling has narcissistic tendencies. 

After four or five dates with someone, show up late to the next one - maybe about 30 minutes, without texting or calling to let them know. When you arrive, don't apologize. Just observe how they're behaving. Are they pacing, enraged, cold? Are they more concerned that they thought they were being ghosted than the fact that you could have been hurt? Or are they empathetic, relieved to just see that you're okay? Maybe they give you a hug as they let out a deep exhale. If you experience the first, I'd recommend just walking out - maybe with a trusted friend on speed dial. But if you are met with compassion, then you are likely with an emotionally safe individual. Congratulations. Sure, the experiment might feel a little mean - but is it worth learning early whether or not you're with someone who actually cares about you?

I'm married, so thankfully I can't try this - but all you single people out there, if you get a chance to test this out, let me know.

I hope the people you're dating are good, but I will most certainly be here if they're not.

- MJ