Recently, IMPACT Instructors Martha Thompson and Rob Babcock taught our graduate teaching class ways to set and enforce boundaries both in our classrooms as well as in the outside world. We learned things like how to let someone know they are invading our space, to tell them we want them to leave, or to end conversations or interactions we are not comfortable with. The tips we learned through role playing were very informative, and we all left feeling empowered by having a few more tools to use in the future.
Yet since the day of the workshop, I had not thought a lot about these tools. They would come up in my head occasionally, but they were not on my mind a lot. Then one day I was doing work at a coffee shop with a friend of mine who was also in the workshop. I had my headphones on and was obviously focused on my reading, when a man approached me, said he noticed me, and proceeded to try to engage me in conversation as a way to hit on me. I did not feel unsafe, but I did feel uncomfortable and a little annoyed. I also felt frustrated because I did not want to make him think I was interested and I needed to get back to my work, but I also did not want to be overly rude.
Then, out of the blue, I found myself unconsciously saying things we learned in the workshop - just that I did not want to talk and that I wanted to end the discussion. My friend and I looked at each other shortly after he left and laughed - because it occurred to her too that I was using the same methods we had learned in the workshop. I should point out that I am not a shy person and would normally have had no problem asserting myself in telling him to go away. But the tools we learned made me feel more confident, and to feel like I had every right to make myself understood without worrying too much about if he would be hurt.
I was not rude, just assertive. And again this was not an unsafe or even terribly uncomfortable situation - I had a friend there and it was at a location that I am familiar with. But the experience made me appreciate even more having these tools to rely on instantly when I need them.
Thanks again to the folks at IMPACT who are doing the important work of giving people tools to protect ourselves!