10 principles of self-defense

1.    Your best defense is AVOIDANCE

Risk awareness, reduction, recognition, and avoidance are your primary defenses. Attackers usually don’t come out of nowhere. Attacks don’t happen out of the blue. Violence usually has stages and dynamics, and the more you know about these stages and dynamics, the better able you are to avoid violence.

 2.    Avoidance is based on AWARENESS

You need to be aware of risk to avoid it.  Risk awareness is based on situational awareness. Situational awareness needs to be based on good self-awareness. Tune into your your feelings like fear, unease, or anxiousness. Note your bodily sensations such as unease, a tight neck, clenching jaw muscles, or general tenseness. Trust your gut feelings and your body’s sensation when something doesn’t feel right or when you don’t feel comfortable with someone.

 3.    Trust your GUT REACTIONS

Your gut reactions are your body’s early warning system. At any given point in time your sensory neurons take in about 12 million pieces of information that your subconscious brain quickly categorizes into threat or not a threat. The neocortex takes in only a small fraction of the data sorted out by the subconscious brain. In addition, it takes much longer for the neocortex to analyze that limited information and to decide if and how you should react to the stimuli it has processed. People who have been attacked often note that they had a bad feeling about someone or something but that they couldn’t articulate what it was that made them feel that way. If you think about the millions of pieces of data that your survival brain sorts and categorizes, and the limited information that you are conscious of and and that you can articulate, that’s completely understandable.

When you have a gut reaction to someone or something, trust your body and act on the alarm. Leave a place or a situation or ask for help.

4.    Set and enforce your BOUNDARIES

Please check out our blog posts on setting and enforcing your boundaries.

Never give up


Boundary setting requires assertiveness. Match you verbal assertiveness with your body language, gestures, and facial expressions. Your tone of voice should be matter-of-fact. Talk in a pitch that feels natural to you and isn’t too high or too low. Use an inflection that goes down at the end. You are giving a command. You aren’t asking a question with your inflection going up at the end of the sentence. Neither do you want to continue the conversation which is indicated by the tone of voice staying at the same inflection. Remember, when you assert your boundaries verbally, you are giving a command. You don’t owe any excuse or explanation.

Your body language should reflect your assertiveness. Keep your shoulders down and back and your chin up.

Your facial expression should also demonstrate your control and assertiveness. Keep your facial expression neutral, neither smiling nor angry.

6. Use your VOICE

Yelling has several benefits:

  • It can help you snap out of a freeze.

  • It can jumpstart your counter-attack.

  • It can help you breath.

  • It can distract your attacker.

  • It may gain the attention of others who might be able to help.

  • It may help you avoid a physical attack by deterring him because he might not want to be caught.

7. Don’t let yourself get taken to a SECONDARY LOCATION

Generally the risk of being killed or raped or both go up dramatically when you are taken to a secondary location. Resist with 100% commitment.

8. Realize that statistically your greatest risk comes from PEOPLE YOU KNOW, not stranger danger.

In most of the United States, over 80% of all attacks against women and girls are perpetrated by men they know in places we generally consider safe.

9. Two broad categories of violence: PREDATORY and EMOTION-BASED or AFFECTIVE

Aggressiveness can deselect you as a victim of a predator, but with emotion-based violence, the same response can escalate violence and get you hurt or killed.

A basic understanding of the categorical differences between predatory and emotion-based violence could save your life. Predatory violence is generally planned, calculated, and goal-driven. The predator usually doesn’t want witnesses or attention. He often observes people, selects a target that appears vulnerable, weak, or passive. He ambushes the victim or lures the victim into isolation and then attacks. Aggressive reactions can de-select you as a potential target of a predator who wants a compliant victim and doesn’t want to risk getting caught or hurt himself.

Such aggression could, however, escalate an encounter with an emotion-based attacker. Emotion-driven violence often erupts out of fear or anger. It can be based on ego issues like hierarchy, alpha status, or role in a group. For example, a woman and her friends were leaving a nightclub when they were confronted by a group of young men. When their leader demanded her purse, the woman replied, “What are you going to do? Shoot us?” That’s exactly what the guy did. He shot her, killing her, and he shot and wounded one of her friends. The shooter may have felt threatened in his status with his group. He may have felt that the woman had “disrespected” him in front of his gang. He may have been insecure in his role as the leader and may have felt the need to react to preserve his alpha status. Of course, the woman who was shot should not be blamed or faulted. I use this story only because it illustrates that one response does not fit all situations. A robbery may have turned into a homicide when giving up the purse and leaving might have saved the woman’s life.

Territorial disputes, such as cutting someone off in traffic or taking a parking spot someone else feels entitled to, are notorious for escalating into violence. When the limbic brain, which we sometimes call the monkey brain, takes over, people’s ability to think logically and rationally is compromised. A dispute that could easily have been deescalated by rational minds, can easily turn violent, especially with insecure, easily enraged people. Remember to work on recognizing your own triggers and on reigning in your own monkey brain so that you can use your thinking skills to deescalate. Emotion-based violence often has stages, where you can leave the scene as long as you can make rational decisions. Don’t let your own monkey brain take over.

Violence doesn’t always neatly fit into boxes. Sometimes, a predatory attacker can also react based on emotion. But with some fundamental knowledge of violence dynamics and the differences between predatory and emotion-propelled attacks you have a better chance of avoiding violence.


Develop a survivor mindset and never give up. You are worth it. Fight for your life with a 100% commitment.