What Do You Fear?

I was talking with a friend of mine the other day. She shares my desire to be able to be responsible for her own safety and the safety of her family, so the conversation turned eventually to topics of self-defense. In the course of our conversation, she mentioned that a question she often got asked when she was training in martial arts on a regular basis was “what are you so afraid of, that you’re learning combat?”

Her question got me thinking, partly because I’ve been asked it too (usually combined with insinuation that I’m paranoid and unstable), and partly because a piece of this personal safety and self-defense pie is, for me, making my fears and doubts conscious so that I can protect myself and my loved ones despite them. So, what am I afraid of?

This is not an exhaustive list, of course, but here are a few things that came up when I was meditating about this today:

  • I am not afraid of dying. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in a hurry to die, by any means. I rather enjoy life and would prefer to continue enjoying it for as long as I can do so with a reasonable quality of life. So I don’t mean what I said as fatalistic. Rather, I recognize that, in the end, death is the destination we all have in common. I have a rabbi friend who likes to say that “the only sane response to the inevitable is relaxation” and that’s sort of how I feel. Recognizing that death awaits all of us serves, though, to place a premium on enjoying life while we can, and my interest in self-defense is targeted to that end.
  • I don’t fear being injured (mostly). Cuts heal. Bruises fade. Scars fade, in time, too. With the exception of things which are permanently disfiguring or incapacitating, I don’t fear injury, in the sense that – although avoiding injury is always better – injury is usually survivable. So, although I’m not eager to be injured, the fear of injury isn’t one of those “stops you in your tracks” things that interferes with either my ability to enjoy life or my ability to defend it if need be.
  • I do fear being helpless. When I’ve spoken to others about the things I’ve survived in my life, they always ask about the details of what was done to me. But you know the funny thing? in my mind, the things those people did to my body weren’t the worst parts of what happened to me. The worst things that happened were the moments when I was laying there with the conscious thought “this is what is going to happen to you, and there is nothing more you can do to stop it” flitting through my head. That excruciating powerlessness and helplessness was way more traumatic than any of what followed it.
  • I do fear cruelty. Not pain, per se. My pain tolerance isn’t as high as some, and is higher than others, but it’s not pain that I fear in and of itself. Rather, what I fear is the kind of deliberate, sadistic pain that predators inflict out of nothing more than sheer cruelty. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I do fear being tortured. Maybe I’ve grown up on too steady a diet of mystery and thriller novels, but there it is.
  • I do fear being raped again. I’ve heard people say that rape is the worst thing one can do to a person, even worse than murder, because they have to live with the emotional fallout forever. I think that might be a touch hyperbolic, if only because I’ve survived it once and am pretty confident I could survive it again, but it’s certainly in the category of things sufficiently awful that I have no desire to ever experience it a second time.
  • I do fear watching a loved one harmed while I am helpless to do anything to stop it. See above.

The reason I’m thinking about these things is because they influence my personal rules of engagement. There are places where I’m willing to fight back even if the tactical situation is poor and there is a real risk of being hurt or killed. For example, one of my personal “bright line” tactical rules is that I will fight back if someone tries to restrain me, even if there’s a risk I (or a loved one) may die in the process. Once a predator is restraining his victim, her odds drop dramatically, and I’d rather die fighting back than die kneeling on the ground with my hands tied behind my back begging for mercy. Harsh, but true.

Obviously, avoiding trouble in the first place is always the best option, but I think it’s foolish not to think about what would happen if that effort fails. I’m sure I’ll have more to say as I contemplate these issues further. I won’t ask you, dear readers, to share your fears or your “bright line” fight-no-matter-what rules, because I know how deeply personal they can be. However, if you have anything you’d like to add to the discussion, please join me in the comments.

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