In light of my last article I wanted to expand a bit on some insights that I gained from going through the trials I shared with you. I’m roughly eighteen months since I resigned from my pastoral position.
Along the way I’ve come to recognize that the conflict in which I found myself brought with it certain negative ramifications in my life and I’m going to share these things by organizing them into three categories; the physical, the mental, and the emotional.
As I lay them out for you keep in the back of your mind that since I’m sharing the negative side of not protecting myself I’m also affirming the positive perspective on those things.
First, there were physical consequences to not protecting myself. These physical consequences aren’t the result of street combat. I once told an elder that I’d much rather get punched in the face than live under the constant onslaught because at least the physical pain of the punch would lessen over time.
Between the years 2012 and 2017 I managed to gain upwards of 70 pounds. Now, on the surface, it’d be easy to say, “Well, I worked a sedentary job; I didn’t have to move my body doing sermon preparation and teaching classes. It was bound to happen.” I could surely defend myself that way and not address the real issue.
Additionally, I found myself on blood pressure mediation. Further, the weight loss led to me needing a hernia repair and, merely three days after the surgery, I was standing in the pulpit on Sunday, preaching as usual. (OK, truth be told, I sat for most of the service and only stood to preach.)
But laziness is not the primary reason that I gained that weight and had those health issues. Many of you realize that irrespective of the source of it, stress brings with it physical consequences that cannot be ignored. You can do the research for yourself but I’d wager that many, if not most, of you know firsthand how stress affects you.
You’re exposed to the stress, it drains you of energy, and you are exhausted. You wind up eating at weird times and stuff that you might not normally eat just because it’s easy. Then you don’t exercise because you have no energy, which leads to poor sleep, which makes it hard to have energy for the next day. And on and on, ad infinitum.
The positive aspect of this particular realization is that once you’re aware of the physical affects of not protecting yourself you’ll become much more keenly aware of guarding your physical well-being in areas other than the obvious. You’ll need guidance to establish these boundaries and habits, mind you, and that’s where I come in. But that’s not the point right now. The point is that you need to see for yourself the physical impact of being vulnerable to attack.
Second, there is mental damage done to us when we’ve failed to establish a layer of self-protection, and we have to address that. Right now I want you to fixate on the mindset you have about yourself and your own self-worth.
Over the course of the four and a half years that my abuser had power over me (and that’s what it is), I questioned my worthiness as a pastor and leader. I constantly doubted my competency to pursue the calling for which I, and several dozen other men over the years, believed I’d been equipped.
You see, that’s what abusers do. They needle their victims, manipulating their thoughts because that’s how they impose their will on a person and a situation. After a given period of time, which varies from person to person, you begin thinking of yourself the way your abuser has portrayed you, and it takes a huge amount of work to recondition your mind to think different thoughts about yourself.
What makes this a trough situation is that there might actually be a kernel of truth to what your abuser says. For example, my abuser would say, “George, you just don’t get it, people don’t hold the same views as you. YOU need to either change or go somewhere else.”
But the problem with that is that no one is obligated to hold the exact same views as me, 100% of the time. It’s OK to respectfully disagree on certain things; in fact, it’s actually a good thing, since that allows us the ability to interact with one another and get to know each other better. It’s a dangerous thing to only have in your life those people who think exactly as you do.
I have to acknowledge that he’s right; not everyone held all of my views. But what this guy didn’t get, either by design or out of ignorance, was that I didn’t care about that. I was willing to disagree on some things, be in agreement on others, and trust that we would be on the same page for most things.
The thing about what he said wasn’t whether or not it was true but rather the motivation behind him saying it. If he was saying it simply to let me know that perhaps our congregation needed time to adjust to things then that’d have been one thing. But he made it clear that he was telling me that I was out of step, that I was the problem, and that I was unwelcome.
Well, the first two things weren’t true, but the last one was, in this case. My abuser wouldn’t allow for anyone else to have any sort of influence over “his little church.” (His words to describe the congregation.)
Third, and this one is the most subtle and, I believe, the most dangerous, the emotional toll that a lack of self-protection takes. If not protecting yourself only had physical, or even physical and mental complications, that’d almost be manageable. But when you factor in the emotional toll that trauma brings, and the post-traumatic stress issues, then being dangerously exposed is a horrible thing for anyone.
Most of us either have trauma in our pasts or know people who do. Maybe we have some and we know people who do. Either way, often being in a helpless position causes an emotional outburst that does more harm than good.
Further, since many of the emotional symptoms include depression, emotional numbness (or hyperawareness, on the other side of the spectrum), and various anxiety disorders or panic-based reactions, the emotional trauma of abuse or crisis is often only dealt with as a last resort.
The situation with me was not so much an emotional one, although there were emotional components. During the conflict I allowed this man to have more influence over how I felt about myself and the situation around me. I let his attacks build to the point where I was in emotional turmoil as a standard operating mode. I developed a hair trigger regarding conflict, often assuming motives where there weren’t any.
And that, in and of itself, is what makes it so important to have an expanded sense of self-protection. It’s only been in the subsequent eighteen months that I’ve managed to reestablish healthy, normal emotional responses to things.
At this point you might be wondering, “So what does this have to do with martial culture, self-defense, and physical protection?” Well, it has everything to do with it when you factor in the reality that for so many of us, we aren’t even truly aware that the conflicts in our lives can and should be dealt with by engaging in self-protection.
The importance of self-protection is most easily taught and grasped by developing the physical self-protection tools. The educational process that leads to physical competency begins with a firm grasp of the mental and emotional elements prior to picking up a stick, a training knife, or putting on a pair of gloves to work focus mitts.
I want you to understand that I am not merely a guy who knows how to teach people to defend themselves. I know, from recent, firsthand, visceral experience, that self-protection transcends a technique, a specific martial art, or even the concepts to use multiple arts and techniques. It is a mental conflict that we must face head on while simultaneously training our bodies to defend and protect.
My next article will introduce and explain my Self-Protection Study Group. You'll understand just what it is that I'm offering to you and what it will do for you when you join.