I experienced fear and a powerful bout of PTSD this past Saturday. It was my turn to grapple with my dear friend Joe. Stephanie invited him to our class so we could properly learn self-defense tactics with someone much bigger and stronger than we are. As he approached me, memories of abuse I’d suffered as a toddler and young child suddenly filled me. You see, my traumas are multiple. And they frequently incite fear when I try something very far out of my comfort zone. I began to panic so Stephanie (our teacher) asked him to sit near me, and little by little I gained the courage to try some techniques with him. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done
So what happens when we allow fear to rule our lives? We tend to overprotect ourselves. We say No to things that are good for us. We say No to the things that could help us work through the fear. In our self-defense training class, we’re asked to do things that are scary. Fear wells up and our brain says, NO!! THIS IS TOO SCARY!! I CAN’T DO IT. It’s an immediate response to being pushed out of our comfort zone. We object almost automatically. Why? I believe the answer is the fear of the unknown — we don’t trust the people around us to protect us from harm.
In the most basic sense, fear of the unknown is a normal response to what we don’t know a lot, if anything, about. But staying in that fear and letting it rule prevents growth. If we choose to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations — like learning a technique involving close contact with other people, (like grappling) — we can grow from the experience.
When your life is threatened and you’ve trained to defend yourself, suddenly that fear is replaced by the ability to escape because you know how. We let ourselves experience that discomfort, get used to it, so we can save our lives. With this way of thinking, we open ourselves up to overcoming our initial fears so when real danger is present you’re ready to protect both yourself and your loved ones. The confidence gained from this kind of training is invaluable. The confidence in knowing you can take care of yourself in a dangerous situation becomes quite possibly the difference between life and death.
I know from my own struggles that if you’ve experienced trauma, self- defense training can be especially difficult. You have already been harmed. Now you must face an added layer of fear. Overcoming the inevitable fear and panic from your past trauma on top of the ordinary fear is another obstacle. But the same principle applies. You can choose to be uncomfortable in a safe space to learn how to protect your life. When I chose to work with Joe, I found it easier than I thought it would be because I quickly established him and the space we worked in as safe.
Of course you can choose to live in fear of discomfort and possibly end up in a dangerous situation again, with no tools to fight back and win. But overcoming discomfort may actually produce healing of your trauma. Self- defense training empowers and yields confidence. Even if you never have to actually defend yourself, knowing you can is enough, pushing you through hard training despite your fear.
Going through training gives you choices you otherwise wouldn’t have. Plus, you’ll gain the strength to control your own fear.
We can always make the right choices. We are mostly in control of the consequences of our decisions. If we choose fear we can’t grow or heal. But if we make the brave choice to be uncomfortable, we have the chance to make a positive difference in ours — and other people’s — lives.
It’s worth it when you realize your hard work has paid off — and you’re not a slave to fear anymore.