fig.191 - Understanding body language and a sense of humor can help you getting out of a
threatening situation. If you can't beat them, humor them.
There are fundamentally two types of aggressive behaviour, one so-called "instrumental", meaning any behaviour motivated by obtaining a result, for example defending yourself.
The other type, called "hostile", when the only purpose is to cause damage to a person physically or verbally.
We can also distinguish between an active aggressiveness, where the damage comes from an action like a kick or swearwords and the passive type where the damage is caused for lack of action, for example not helping someone.
Several schools of thought, from Sigmund Freud to Konrad Lorenz, have several times described man as a naturally aggressive creature because often obeying to strong genetic impulses either sexual or dictated by hunger or predatory instincts.
All these instincts accumulate and discharge themselves when the situation allows.
However, there are also other factors affecting man as a human, not just an animal: the environment, personal experience as well as education.
fig.191A - A smile and a
gesture can sometimes
By environment we should consider any influence, physical or psychological, surrounding the individual, affecting in different ways and intensity certain aspects of our personality, thus common to everyone, more than others.
If someone since childhood had to fight physically to survive, he doesn't really consider verbal confrontation as an option, physical force is his language.
Often parents who abuse their children come from a background of abuse themselves, and they apply what they consider their "normal" system of education according to the education received and the values learned.
Aggressive behaviour is often the product of frustration, coming from many factors like deprivations, punishments, physical impediments, anything that makes the individual feel inadequate or in any case surfacing when he cannot satisfy his needs or desires. This often translates into channelling anger towards the perceived cause of the frustration.
Typical is the case when the boss is assaulted by a member of staff who perceives him or her as a source of personal frustration at work.
Often is the wife the unfortunate target of rage induced by frustration and this is the reason why often fathers punish their children with excessive force because they add their frustration to the punishment.
We are discussing this to understand that very often-aggressive behaviour is unplanned, or poorly planned, often unconsciously produced as a raptus.
Of course, there are exceptions (for example serial killers) that plan every detail very carefully but this is not the website for that, even though self-defence techniques still apply.
fig.192 -Turning your back and running away
from an attacking dog is the worst
thing you can do.
In any case, knowing the basic psychological mechanisms producing aggressive behaviour will allow you to know what to hit psychologically to neutralize an aggressive threat effectively. Any attacker knows to have a superior position, because of the surprise factor. Very often he feels very strong and he feels strongly motivated, almost on a mission.
If you are just defending yourself you can only be effective if you don't let the situation (scenario) overwhelm you but you adapt to regain control.
We are perfectly aware that this is easier said than done, we have stressed already that prevention is better, and the first reaction to a threat should be a verbal disengagement. There are some well-proven techniques to achieve that, let's see what really works.
A firm tone often works, especially when a date goes in a direction that makes you uncomfortable.
If you have gone out with someone and quite fancy him but you are not quite ready to have sex with that person then avoid sending signals that most men will tend to misinterpret. If he takes you back home and you ask him if he wants to come up for a cup of coffee you can expect that what he understand is "come in for wild sex". Best if you really want him to come in for a while to state very clearly that coffee is all he is going to get.
This is when self-defence, if properly taught, can help, as a general state of mind to understand and prevent. Don't think of learning how to defend yourself just as a series of striking techniques, joint locks, or throws. Think of it as an attitude that allows you to think and react properly in response to a threat of any kind, including a dog attack.
Turning your back to the dog and running, or freezing and falling to the ground are common reactions to the untrained person but if you are trained, in other words if you know how to, you can handle the situation. In this case, you know that running is bad, it will provoke the dog into attacking you, while standing your ground and wrap anything around your arm quickly to give that as target, can save your life.
These reactions are the product of experience-derived techniques, knowing what works best in that given scenario. (see also ANIMALS)
To stand your ground when somebody physically grabs you will surprise him, putting you in a superior position. This doesn't necessarily mean to react physically every time, reacting means also using a firm tone to stop the aggressor on his tracks, again surprising him. Don't forget that an aggressor perceives his victim as incapable to react, verbally and physically. This is why when somebody is subjected to abuse repeatedly, over a long period of time there is a vicious circle where the more he or she is abused the more insecure and withdrawn the victim becomes.
Also you shouldn't rely, and I say this with great sadness, on other people coming to your rescue. It is a phenomenon called "COLLECTIVE INERTIA" studied by psychologist and sociologists alike all over the world. Basically, before somebody would help somebody under attack or when threatened, he wants to make sure that the threat or attack is real, meaning not a game between lovers for instance.
This has happened to me few years ago, tackling someone who was chasing a woman in the street. As I tackled him and pinned him to the ground the woman came back, yelling at me in tears to leave him alone. It turned out they were just messing around and being foolish.
Apart from being hugely embarrassed I nearly got into trouble for assault.
Would I do it again? Sure, maybe though I would wait a bit longer, just to make sure my judgment is correct. Generally speaking quite unfortunately the common perception is that if several people are present everyone will think it's up to the others to intervene, therefore nobody does as well as sometimes quite shockingly so the general belief is that because nobody is intervening there is no need to do so.
All this to help you understand what goes on psychologically in a threatening or aggressive situation. I have witnessed someone succeeding in throwing a big man onto the floor and being shocked on how easy it was.
This tells you that often we tend to overestimate the aggressor and we just become passive because we think there is no point resisting, we are sure that we cannot succeed and then it's not even worth trying
Think of two athletes competing against each other, having the same built, the same diet, the same training. Only the one with the will to win is going to win. We have seen in VICTIMS that we shouldn't feel sorry for ourselves and we shouldn't think that resisting is futile. Instead we should learn to conquer fear and not let other people intimidate us only because we think they are stronger: you become a victim the moment you think already as a victim.
Based on these notions let's see how "switching off" works in practice.
One of my favourite techniques when confronted by someone who is trying to pick up a fight, has always been answering to his threatening behaviour with a big smile, raising my hands as to surrender, saying something like "Sorry, I don't really want to cause any trouble... Really sorry" and as I am turning away, carry on my turn transforming in a spinning side-kick to his stomach (see fig.52).
fig.193 - As I am turning away I transform my turning into a spinning side-kick
to his stomach.
So why suddenly such a fancy kick becomes effective? The reasons lay on several factors. He's moving towards me to control me and probably throw a punch; he is angry, full of adrenalin and prepared for a fight.
If I react in the same manner we both are going to get hurt.
So first I have to switch him off, meaning stop the flow of adrenalin and anger that increases his strength, raise the pain threshold and gives him fast reactions.
As I smile and apologize, immediately he perceives me as a coward or in any case not a threat, so his defence and aggressive mechanisms go down, relaxing. He's less alert and probably he's going to keep moving towards me to mock me as I walk away.
As I turn I carry on my action tensing up as I kick him, doubling the effect of the kick since he is walking right into it. This is an extreme example but it summarizes from front to end what the switching off technique is about.
Personally, I take great pride if I succeed to diffuse a volatile situation just with words and body language, believe me I'm not an aggressive person and I believe violence should only be used to defend yourself when everything else failed.
But often that is not possible and I have a verbal sequence that will "make" me hit the aggressor doesn't matter what. In other words because deciding to hit someone is quite difficult, especially if you are a decent human being, decide that in case you will be facing a potentially violent confrontation you will have a phrase that you will use that will make you hit that someone. Ideally something that engages his brain for a period of time long enough that "switches off" his adrenalin or alertness. A good example is something that has nothing to do with the situation at hand, for instance "tell me why you are so handsome?" This kind of question does two things, confuses him because it has nothing to do with the situation and at the same time cannot be answered with a simple "yes" or "no", meaning you make him talk. That is when you strike
Delaying or trying to talk your way out it's plain suicide. However if you think it can be resolved with an apology then do so.
I just apologize even at the classic "what are you looking at?" ending aggressive behaviour towards me and I am happy to say sorry without feeling hurt.
Sometimes though, like when you turn your back to an attacking animal, this behaviour is perceived as an identifying mark for easy prey and turns into an attack, often with a sucker punch.
As we have seen before in other sections, a softening technique, like a fake or creating a distraction, could help you building your window of opportunity.
To understand this, we should examine the importance of body language.
We normally think that words define us. Instead what really describes best what we are is the way we move and carry ourselves. Somebody who has bad intentions will select his target carefully, he wants no fuss, and prefers somebody who is submissive and doesn't cause any trouble. Next time you are in a busy place have a look around and think whom would you challenge to an arm wrestling contest? I really don't think you would stop the passing bodybuilder or the occasional burly man, and now you can see how this is the way potential victims are selected.
Ask yourself if, as you walk, you look assertive and confident or timid and easy to bully. I'm not suggesting that you should change who you are, but try to avoid constant fidgeting with your hands, looking away all the time and walking with your chin down.
Force yourself to feel that with a bit of knowledge you can defend yourself, if you know what to do, you can certainly do it.
So the first rule to apply effective switch-off techniques is becoming more self-assertive, relaxed and confident. Imagine a teacher going through the lesson to her pupils and being very insecure, nervous and fidgety. What kind of atmosphere would you have in such class? Probably total chaos with the odd paper plane landing on the teacher's desk. So if you have to confront somebody for whatever reason, they are either threatening you or molesting you, think of them as children that need to be told off. Use a polite but firm tone, and speak to them as a police officer or a teacher would, leaving no chance to answer inappropriately.
If you don't know what to say, maybe because you have been outsmarted, smile politely and don't say anything, not to provoke further reactions.
What has worked in the past for few people is pretending that you know a relative well, for instance you look at the group or at more than one person at the same time and say "I know your mother/sister and she won't be pleased when she finds out".
If the answer that comes back is "My mother died three years ago" or "I don't have a sister" point to someone to the group you were looking and say "not you.. him!"
To do this you need to be bold though and it only works if there is a group.
If you are one to one or have been abducted it will make things worse and he might decide to kill you so you won't tell. An effective and well-known technique is to repeat in a very firm voice the same set of words over and over again, like a "broken record".
For instance, if somebody is insisting following you, your best line of action will be to turn around, standing your ground and repeating at first a couple of times "Stop following me, go away." Without adding anything, repeating exactly the same words a few times with the same tone, truly like a broken record. This has normally the effect of disarming the other person; it is not a reaction he or she would expect.
It is equally important to show no anger but confidence and assertiveness; your message should be that you are not accepting the other person's behaviour.
Confidence doesn't come from one source; it is a feeling that grows with you, increasing with training, experience and keeping an attitude of not feeling sorry for yourself. Basically what you want to show is that you are not an easy prey, and to let know to someone who has bad intentions that he is not welcome.
As we've said before people that would attack another person, especially the sexually motivated types, are more often than not cowards with serious sexual problems, incapable of having normal relationships (we are keeping this simple, in fact it's obviously more complicated). We have seen in VICTIMS, how the shock of actually being attacked makes you freeze and unable to react. People who have been subjected to attacks and were unable to react, usually suffer huge guilt, thinking they should have reacted and fought back. In fact, they were only reacting that way because they have no previous experience of violence or similar situation.
They had no time to react and their main state of mind was of denial, thinking, "This is not happening to me."
To sum it up, you can switch off someone with bad intentions showing a calm, confident approach and watching your body language, avoiding doing anything that gives away signs of fear, such as looking down, voice quivering or high pitched, sweating profusely. Repeat mentally many times "I can do this... I can do this.. I can do this".
If somebody cuts you up while driving, your reaction immediately is to blow the horn and mouth some unpleasant epithets. As most of you will know it can happen that the other person will get out of the car with seriously bad intentions.
fig.194 - Raise your hands and apologize.
Raise your arms, smile and mouth with your lips "I am sorry" and then gesture at the same time to go ahead and not block traffic. Also pointing your right index at your temple and gesturing a trigger being pulled, as if saying you are at fault, works effectively.
The same applies if somebody in a bar or pub spills a drink over you, of course your first reaction would be swearing, but even if that person was trying to provoke you, try to diffuse the situation and especially when alcohol is involved remember that everything feels amplified and louder, and most people under the effect of alcohol become very aggressive.
Avoiding confrontations is always better than resorting to physical action, even if you are just trying to defend yourself.
You should always try to make someone who is threatening you think and in a calm tone appeal to his heart or feelings.
You could try for instance if someone is trying to rape you, or if you think you are in danger of, to say things like "please stop, what if someone would do this to your sister, mother, girlfriend." The aim is to create either a window of opportunity to strike or to flee, but maybe you might be able to make him stop altogether and he might even apologize. It has happened.
Always report a rape or attempted rape to the authorities; you might save someone else going through the same ordeal or worse.
A calm approach to most heat up moments is always the first line of defence, and it does help adding a bit of humour, if you are naturally good at it.
A few years ago, I was crossing the road with a friend and a car came out of nowhere at crazy speed and nearly run us over. As we jumped to safety, my friend yelled something I cannot write here. The car came to an abrupt halt, and reversed manically to where we were. The man that came out of the car was huge and very intimidating. I stood up, smiled, and said "You don't earn many points running over average guys, you should try with old ladies, crossing with a Zimmer frame.
The man stopped on his tracks, laughed nervously and then suddenly grabbed me and started crying, holding me tight to his chest, my feet inches off the ground. His wife had just left him, his job was horrible, and he was tired and lonely. Gasping for air I managed to breath out "Let's go for a drink". We are still friends after all these years.
Remember, violence calls for more violence: your first line of defence, prevention aside, should be de-escalating a situation.
You shouldn't try to outsmart somebody who is trying to intimidate you, do not patronize him. At the same time do not argue, but still make your point.
Be polite but firm and keep you're hands down without gesticulating, that certainly irritates most people. Don't raise your voice and listen to what he has to say, keeping your distance. Do not turn away or show him that you are not really interested in what he has to say, that could really inflame things. Just repeat, "Please calm down, I can't hear if you shout ", and maybe ask him to sit down for a second. If all this doesn't work just say, "Listen if you keep shouting and swearing at me I won't be able to answer".
For instance, you are minding your own business, lost in your thoughts, and suddenly someone says, "Are you looking at me?" or similar. Quietly, firmly, without showing distress, politely reply, "I really don't see why I should, can you?"
This will make him realize the stupidity of his behaviour and often that will be the end of it. You didn't say "No I'm not", you didn't apologize, and basically you didn't submit.
You simply stood your ground and gave him no chance of using your answer against you.
Another good answer would be "Yes, I was: you look like a good friend of mine, but obviously I was mistaken." His only reply can be "Yes, you are. " and it ends there.
This last particular answer has worked well in cases when someone is trying to use skin colour or other race related issues to provoke a fight. If you find yourself threatened by someone of different race letting him know that you have friends like him will make him realize you are not staring at him because of the colour of his skin (were you?).
fig.195 - Make yourself small if facing a mob.
In this case you are witnessing a group of people
fighting each other in a street, where will you be?
Switching off also means being able to distract your opponent in all sorts of ways.
The classic trick in Western films pretending somebody is coming to your rescue from behind your opponent, always works and always gives you a good window of opportunity. Similarly, you can call to a passer-by, pretending you know him, ask him to come here or quickly run to him, pretending you are joining him.
That person might think you are a bit weird but in any case it will help you getting out of a potentially harmful situation.
If being threatened, even at gunpoint, you could even pretend you are having an asthma attack or a heart attack and fall to the ground, shouting to call an ambulance, it has been used and it always works, for some reason people can't cope with that and flee. When it comes to survive something anything counts.
Are you worried about your dignity or to make a fool of yourself?
Years ago I survived an assault by armed bandits in Africa, stripping myself naked and jumping around pretending to be a monkey. They were laughing so hysterically that didn't notice that I grabbed one of the machine guns and they fled as soon as I started firing into the air. It worked. Embarrassing? Not at all, a good sense of humour is a very good defensive weapon. There are countless cases when behaving in a funny way managed to resolve the threat. The latter approach is a good way to defend yourself against a madman, or somebody who is drunk, since in both cases there is a huge flow of emotive status in their mind.
Given the chance and the proper environment you can act drunk (you can wobble and assume the classic lost look with your eyes). For instance if in a bar situation you end up upsetting somebody and he's threatening you, you can just say "I'm sorry, I had too much to drink, I didn't mean it. " and stagger your way out.
Switching off relies heavily on distracting techniques, so think on your feet what you can do to distract and divert the attention of whoever is threatening you. Normally, standing your ground if outnumbered won't work.
If there is a mob, like a small crowd, angered for whatever reason or simply fuelled by alcohol, you might try and dispatch the first one who is laying hands on you, and the others might have second thoughts but most of the time might just have the effect of pouring petrol over flames, you are just gonna make things worse.
So in this particular case, try to escape early enough, if you can't then back to a wall and make yourself small, pretend you are sick and throw up, and if you can make yourself cry, do so.
The angry mob will think you are not worth it, most probably you will feel ashamed and embarrassed at your behaviour afterwards but at least you are alive and unhurt.
If you spot a gang of teenagers or school kids in a fight it is better if you don't intervene, you might end up hurting them and end up in court for assault.
Call the police if you think it's not just play fight, and shout that you have just called the police and that they should stop NOW. In the case of two men fighting, including when one is a friend or a relative is a potentially very dangerous situation, and if they don't stop at your requests call the police and just keep an eye on them from a safe distance.
Switching off in an attempted rape scenario relies on making yourself seen as a person, not just an object. An attacker who is using violence towards you does not want to know your name, cannot see you as a person and does not want to see you as a person. So remember in this and similar cases, try to appeal to the attackers' heart, tell him you are a mother, sister, anything that you can see can appeal to his "good side" if we can call it as such.
There have been cases where a woman subjected to rape managed to convince not the actual person on top of her but one of the others of the group to stop the violence, simply saying "What about if somebody would this to your sister, mother, girlfriend?"
This tells you that even when you might think the attacker it's only driven by his barest instinct, you can still hit some part of his personality that might switch him off.
Another technique, in this case, is to pretend you are sick, or sticking two fingers down your throat, throw up. As we have seen in other sections this might also create a window of opportunity and allow you to strike back. In any case not complying might be the best solution. In many cases of violent rape the attacker when interviewed later on by Police said that because the victim "complied" needed to be punished because he saw her submission as slut's behaviour.
If confronted by a group, especially teenagers, don't try to outsmart them, the reaction to that is that they feel patronized and will attack you, but calmly tell them to stop behaving like children and act like men.
The most common reason for loutish behaviour is to attract attention and look tough, that in the youngsters mind is synonym of being grown-up.
There is always a leader in any group, and you can address the leader in a calm, firm manner saying something like:
fig.196 - Beware of the sucker punch as you walk
away. Often coming from a mate of the person
you argued with.
" Stop, there is no need for this!" and giving a half smile, quietly leave, always keeping an eye on what's going on around you, because as you leave there is a good chance that you'll be on the receiving end of a "sucker punch".
A sucker punch is when without any warning and often delivered from close range, your aggressor of one of his mates hits you.
Very often is given while smiling or talking, and it is not necessarily a punch, often can come as a head butt.
It is a technique to end a fight before it even starts, and it is difficult to avoid.
The only form of defence is to keep your distance at all time, at least one and half meter (4-5 feet). It is sometimes thrown feigning fear or submission, very often also when you are walking away sure that all is resolved.
That is the reason why you should never loose sight of someone who has shown aggressive behaviour, especially if and when in company of few mates, and as soon as you walk away he will go for a sucker punch, intended to cause maximum damage and using surprise as the main factor. And sadly I need to add that sometimes unfortunately the sucker punch takes the shape of a knife strike.
Switching off means de-escalating a situation, avoiding confrontation, and using distracting techniques, always bearing in mind that it is not just what you say verbally, it's your entire body language that is also communicating with the people threatening you.
A fight is decided before punches are exchanged, just by body language.
fig.197 - Some of the most common gestures and behavioral patterns
have a hidden meaning, herewith a simplified guide to body
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