Monday, June 29, 2020

Student Philanthropy Initiative Funds IMPACT Chicago Project

The Student Philanthropy Initiative (SPI) at Latin School has awarded IMPACT Chicago a grant to collaborate with existing organizations to bring our programs to people in Uptown who are moving from one life circumstance to another. Our priorities are people who identify as women or girls and are moving into middle school, high school, college, or the workforce; people who identify as women or girls and have experienced violence and human rights violations; and people of all genders with intellectual/developmental disabilities who are moving into independent living and/or the workforce. 

Once we are again offering unrestricted in-person programs, a staff member or client/participant from an Uptown Center organization will take the Core Program or IMPACT for Girls and then assist with on-site workshops we will offer to staff, clients, and volunteers. In the meantime, we are developing a plan for alternative ways to offer programs before we return to unrestricted in-person programs. 

Thank you, Student Philanthropy Initiative!


Monday, June 22, 2020

Get to Safety: Alternatives to 911

IMPACT Chicago teaches a verbal shorthand to defenders as a way to navigate the moments after the mock aggressor is knocked out but before leaving the situation.


In the early days of IMPACT Chicago, we encouraged defenders to check out the larger environment ("Look"), make sure the aggressor remained knocked out ("Assess"), shake off adrenaline with a loud "NO," and then get to safety and get support ("911"). 


One way in which IMPACT Chicago has since examined our biases and revised our approach is changing the way we handle getting to safety after an attack.  Yelling "911" was based on good intentions but didn't reflect the experiences of people of color, people with disabilities, transgender, and gender non-conforming people with the police. In particular, the guiding principles of Black Lives Matter, Mariame Kaba No Selves to Defend, and a multitude of deaths and injuries of Black people in police custody underscored the necessity of revising our shorthand.  As a result, several years ago we changed “911” to "Get to Safety" or "Walk to Safety."


The change to "Get to Safety" is consistent with our commitment to expanding people's choices and not offering a formulaic approach to self-defense.  Everyone has benefited from this change because it places the emphasis on defenders making choices based on their assessment of themselves, their relationship with the person(s) targeting them, and their knowledge of the situation they are in – and not on assumptions about what safety is for all.

The decision chart "Steps to Ask Yourself Before Calling the Police" is a helpful guide for questions to ask to assess what is best for yours and others' safety.

Martha Thompson
IMPACT Chicago
Lead Instructor
Admin Team Co-Chair

Monday, June 15, 2020

What Is Self-Defense in a Racist World?

In "Self-Defense in a Racist World," IMPACT Bay Area Executive Director Linda Leu addresses how without a commitment to anti-racism, defenders can twist self-defense tools into weapons that support white supremacy. She focuses on strategies to keep ourselves safer and to challenge racism. For important details, please read her full blog post. Here are some topics:
  • Distinguish intuition and implicit bias
  • Learn adrenaline management
  • Practice awareness and threat assessment
  • Commit to unlearning implicit bias
Thank you, Linda!

Monday, June 8, 2020

Empowerment Self-Defense Training is Sexual Assault Prevention

Much of the research published on Empowerment Self-Defense (ESD) has focused on young people in college or younger. In "Empowerment Self-Defense Training in a Community Population" Psychology of Women, Jocelyn Hollander and Jeanine Cunningham compared women who took an Empowerment Self-Defense course with a comparable group of women who did not take the course. The participants ranged in age from 18-77.  

In comparison to women who did not take an ESD course, those who did reported: 
  • less sexual assault, including unwanted sexual intercourse, one year later
  • greater self-defense efficacy
  • more accurate knowledge about sexual assault and the possibility of resistance
  • less self-silencing than those who did not take the course
Hollander and Cunningham make the case for Empowerment Self-Defense programs to be part of  comprehensive community efforts to  prevent violence against women. They make it clear that even though ESD training reduces women's risks of sexual assault, it does not mean that women are in anyway responsible for stopping or preventing violence. 

Hollander,  Jocelyn A. and Jeanine Cunningham. 2020. Empowerment self-defense training in a community population. Psychology of Women 1-16.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Respecting Boundaries: I Can Do Anti-Racist Work Anywhere

A white friend told me about an experience he had last week when he asked a white neighbor to maintain social distancing because his family is at high risk. The neighbor sarcastically said he had forgotten his tape measure and not to worry because he would stay away from my friend and his family.

One of the things I know from years of teaching Empowerment Self-Defense is that there is a wide range of responses when people set boundaries. Much of the time, people respect the boundaries others set but sometimes people push back or respond in a hostile way like the neighbor above did. 

The person responding, not a boundary-setter, is responsible for whether or not they honor a boundary; however, when people responding to boundary-setting act as if their social prestige, privilege, or power gives them the right to ignore, threaten or abuse boundary-setters, the community also has a responsibility. The rest of us have to make it clear that having prestige, privilege, or power does not let anyone off the hook for their behavior. Unfortunately, there is no lack of examples, but two specific situations have been highlighted in the news this week where individuals have responded to boundary-setting with verbal or physical violence, consciously or unconsciously assuming their power and privilege allowed them to disregard the safety of another human being.

“I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.” White woman Amy Cooper said, threatening to call the police when Christian Cooper asked her to leash her dog in accordance with the rules of the Ramble in Central Park.

“I can’t breathe” said George Floyd, an African American man, who was killed by Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer, by kneeling on his neck for over 8 minutes. Floyd clearly stated and repeated his need for air which was ignored not only by Derek Chauvin who killed him but by three other police officers.

George Floyd was described by his brother Philonise Floyd as “a gentle giant.” Philonise Floyd also said “to know my brother is to love my brother.”  Christian Cooper is aware not only of the rules of the Ramble but also aware and appreciative of the beauty and song of the birds he comes to watch so asking someone to leash their dog is not only following the rules of the Ramble but caring for the larger environment.

As a white person, I have the privilege to distance myself from Amy Cooper and Derek Chauvin; I have the privilege to focus on their individual decisions to disrespect the boundaries set by Christian Cooper and George Floyd and not on the ways that my own unearned privileges contributed to their perceived social license to respond with hostility. But, as Chicago Tribune columnist Dahleen Glanton said in White America, if you want to know who’s responsible for racism, look in the mirror: “regardless of how much you say you detest racism, you are the sole reason it has flourished for centuries. And you are the only ones who can stop it.” So distancing from Amy Cooper and Derek Chauvin or holding them solely responsible does not stop racism.

Removing the racism woven into the fabric of our society for centuries is huge and can seem daunting; but because racism is everywhere, I can do anti-racist work anywhere. I draw inspiration from IMPACT and Empowerment Self-Defense to:

  • evaluate safety on the basis of others' behavior, not their presumed social position or appearance. To focus on behavior and to recognize and move beyond deeply embedded racism doesn't just happen; it means to engage in conscious self-examination, which may be very uncomfortable and unsettling.
  • regard respecting boundaries set by people of color as highly as setting my own boundaries. Pat Parker in her poem "For the White Person Who Wants to Know How to Be My Friend," offers the dual consciousness to cultivate: "The first thing you do is to forget that i'm Black. Second, you must never forget that i'm Black." 
  • be an active and engaged bystander and take action when other white people use white privilege to dismiss, undermine, threaten or abuse boundaries set by people of color. 
Martha Thompson
IMPACT Chicago
Admin Team Co-Leader


Monday, May 18, 2020

Parenting and Crisis

Alena Schaim, Executive Director of Resolve (also offers IMPACT in New Mexico), offers things to think about in her blog post "Parenting in Times of Crisis." She suggests we think about:

How do our past patterns around trauma influence this moment?

What is within our realm of control right now?

What is our plan for our mental health and our family's well-being?

How can we still care for our communities with physical distancing?

What is our plan for conflict?

How can we teach our children love and support when things are tough?

Monday, May 11, 2020

Supporting Teens in Setting Boundaries with Friends

If your teen is having lots of screen time with friends, some of these things may happen with a friend:
  • their friend needs a lot of support during this pandemic and your teen is feeling emotionally drained.
  • their friend is great to hang out with but is sometimes thoughtless and your teen's feelings are often hurt.
  • their friend does all the talking and your teen rarely has a chance to talk.
In "5 Ways to Help Teens Set Boundaries with Friends," Barbara Greenberg makes these suggestions:

1. Teach your teens to label their feelings.

2. Encourage teens to heed their feelings and intuition.

3. Explain to your teens that they can't be all things to all friends.

4. Discuss different ways to set boundaries.

5. Look at your behavior in relationships.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Teaching Children Body Autonomy

In "Seven Steps to Teaching Children Body Autonomy," M.D. Shalon Nienow identifies 7 things for parents to teach their children about their bodies.

  • Teach the anatomic names for their body parts.
  • It is OK to say NO.
  • Ask permission before touching someone else's body
  • There is a difference between touch that makes them feel happy and touch that feels uncomfortable, scary, or confusing.
  • There are OK secrets (what you are getting your dad for his birthday) and not OK (hiding when you have been hurt or hurt someone else or someone has touched your body in a way you do not like)
  • It is not their fault if something happens to their body they didn't like.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Improve Media Reporting of Violence

Level Up, a feminist organization in the UK, has published guidelines for the press on improving how domestic violence is reported. These guidelines broadly apply to any reporting of gender-based violence. 

You can use the following guidelines to evaluate news articles about domestic violence.

Accountability: does the article place responsibility solely on perpetrators of violence?

Accuracy: does it accurately name the crime as domestic violence?

Dignity: does it avoid sensationalizing language, invasive or graphic details.

Equality: does it avoid insensitive or trivializing language or images. Does it use words and images that emphasize the seriousness and danger of domestic violence.

Images: does it avoid using stock images that reinforce myths about domestic violence. Does it use images that reveal the personhood of those who experience violence.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Boundaries During a Pandemic

If you're struggling with boundaries during social distancing, you're not alone. Resolve (IMPACT New Mexico) staff member Marie Schow says boundaries continue to be important and that it continues to be important to respect the limits that we set while recognizing the needs of others around us.

Resolve staff spends a lot of time talking about boundaries – how to set them, how to respect them, and why they’re important. They know boundaries are the key to feeling safe and happy in all realms of life. Boundaries are an expression of love and care. And right now, during an unprecedented health crisis, boundaries are more important than ever.

Read more about Marie's perspective on Boundaries during a Pandemic.

Monday, April 13, 2020

What is an Authentic Apology for Committing Sexual Violence?

In her Ted Talk "The Alchemy of an Apology,"  Eve Ensler, playwright and activist, outlines four steps to an authentic apology for committing sexual violence:

  • Self-interrogate: what contributed to your being capable of sexual violence?
  • Undertake a detailed account of what you did
  • Open your heart and allow yourself to feel what the person(s) you victimized felt.
  • Take responsibility for your actions.

Monday, April 6, 2020

A New Era of Boundary Setting

In "A New Era of Boundary Setting," Shay Orent from sister chapter IMPACT Boston says that "being able to set clear boundaries now is more important than ever in order to PROTECT ourselves and our community." 

She writes about what has and hasn't changed, examples of ways we can model good boundary setting, and reminders why effective boundary setting is so important now. Check out "A New Era of Boundary Setting."

Thank you, Shay!

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

IMPACT and Empowerment Self-Defense Online

Until we are able to resume our in-person classes and workshops, IMPACT and Empowerment Self-Defense Organizations are offering some online programs that you may be interested in.

Online Intro to Personal Safety (Free)
Wednesday, April 1, 8-9 pm CT

Online Verbal Strategies for Boundary Setting and De-escalation (Free)
Thursday, April 2, 8-9 pm CT

Online Assertiveness & Boundary Setting Workshop (Free)
Thursday, April 2, 3:00 - 4:30 CT
Open to adults of all genders 18 years and older

How to Stay Sane and Healthy in a Remote World
Saturday, April 4, 2-3 pm

Active Bystander Skills for Stopping Anti-Asian Hate
Basic Boundaries During the Pandemic
Dealing with Too Much Togetherness

Self-Defense 101 (6 week course)

Update March 31, 3:30 pm: Due to COVID-19, IMPACT Chicago programs and workshops have been canceled through April 30 following Governor Pritzker’s extension of stay-at-home & school closures. As official information and guidelines are updated and affect our program offerings, we will send updates to program participants and to our entire community via email, on our website, and through our Facebook page.

Monday, March 30, 2020

What Can Empowerment Self-Defense Lessons Offer Us During a Pandemic?

Sister IMPACT Chapter Prepare in NYC offers insights into "What Can Empowerment Self-Defense Lessons Offer Us During a Pandemic" and how protecting public health is a form of self-defense because it keeps us all safer.
  • Safer physical boundaries might be the highest expression of love as we heed the call to implement social distancing measures
  • Verbal and physical boundary-setting is a life skill for a variety of challenging situations
  • Flattening the curve to slow the spread, protect the most vulnerable, and to ensure that our healthcare workers and institutions can respond at capacity, requires each of us to enact and sustain a new set of boundaries in the interest of public health.
In the full blog, Prepare identifies IMPACT Core Principles and how they apply to physical distancing and COVID-19. 

You can find the full blog HERE.

Thank you, Prepare!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Say Something Superhero

Say Something Superhero Field Guide: A Manual for Eliminating Interpersonal Violence is a project of Safe Passage, Inc. in Northhampton MA which draws upon the anti-violence work of Lynne Marie Wanamaker, ESD Instructor and co-founder of the Empowerment Self-Defense Alliance (ESDA).

It can be awkward being a "Say Something Superhero," that is, bringing attention to behavior  (and by doing so to yourself) that you would like to see changed. Check out the manual for details (link above) but here are some highlights:
  • Know that you can make a difference
  • Acknowledge the awkward
  • Know your objective
  • People are watching
  • Expect feelings
  • Remember: You didn't invite the icky
  • Connect with like-minded others

Friday, March 13, 2020

IMPACT Chicago Response to Coronavirus

Update: May 13, 2020
We continue to monitor the spread of COVID-19 and are keeping a close eye on official information and guidance from the CDC, the State of Illinois, and the City of Chicago. We will fully comply with Governor Pritzker's Restore Illinois plan for re-opening, as well as any requirements issued by the City of Chicago's COVID-19 Recovery Task Force. We are committed to providing a safe space for participants and staff in our programs. 

As of now, IMPACT programs and workshops have been canceled through June 30. As official information and guidelines are updated and affect our program offerings, we will send updates to program participants and to our entire community via email, on our website, and through our Facebook page.
If you have any questions, please contact us at or send us a message via Facebook  and your inquiry will be routed to the best person to answer your question.
Additional Resources from the Chicago Department of Public Health:
Get the Facts: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
What you need to know about COVID-19 (EnglishSpanishSimplified Chinese)
What to do if you are sick with COVID-19 (EnglishSpanishSimplified Chinese)
Stop the Spread of Germs Poster (EnglishSpanishSimplified Chinese)
Symptoms of Coronavirus Disease 2019 Poster (EnglishSpanish)

Monday, March 9, 2020

Gender Inclusivity at IMPACT Chicago

IMPACT celebrates diverse gender identities and expressions, and affirms the rights of people of all genders to feel safe and respected. Our instructor team includes people who identify as women, men, and non-binary. While we are continually working to improve the inclusiveness of our programming, there are also limitations of some of our current courses and aspects that may not feel like a good fit for everyone. You can find specifics about our various programs HERE.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Addressing Stereotypes and Social Inequalities in the Self-Defense Classroom

A couple of years ago, I met a woman in a professional context for the first time who, after learning that I live on the South Side of Chicago, responded that she never goes there. “Aren’t you scared?” she asked, not waiting for an answer, before telling me that if she has to pass through the South Side, she goes by car. And, if it’s dark, she said, she doesn’t stop at red lights. “I figure if the cops pull me over, they’ll understand.”
I felt conflicting urges. Part of me, an indignant and incredulous part, wanted to argue, to draw attention to all the riches the South Side has to offer that she was missing. I had done this a thousand times before in similar conversations. On the other hand, I was also weary of this kind of casual racism. I wanted to simply shake her by the shoulders and make her see that the invisible walls that divide our city, one of the most segregated in the country, shouldn’t be respected. Those walls have been built, year after dreary year, by racist policies and appalling structural violence, and they have been fortified by the city’s residents. I wanted to upend her fortress mentality—one that separates “good” neighborhoods from “bad” neighborhoods—and all the fears that come with it. In the end, I didn’t do any of these things. Now I can’t even remember how the conversation ended, but it did, and quickly. It was not a learning moment for either of us; we both simply moved on, choosing to put our respective energies into a better interaction.
It is not uncommon in self-defense classes to encounter a version of the question: “what should I do if I end up in the wrong neighborhood?” The student’s feeling about what is “wrong”--about places and, inevitably, the people in them--reflects the same atmosphere of racialized fear that created our cities. Biased “commonsense,” in this case, may come to feel like intuition. What’s more, this kind of question is an anxious one. It seeks the false stability of a rule: “don’t be out after dark in X neighborhood, city, or country;” “don’t take public transportation;” or, incredibly, “don’t stop at red lights at night.” So, on one hand, the premise is not something that people committed to creating a better urban future would want to endorse by not refuting. And, on the other hand, the answer that it seeks—a rule of behavior based on fear—is both ineffective and antithetical to the broader goals of empowerment self-defense. What is an instructor to do?
One way to reorient the student, to begin from a different starting point, is simply not to repeat the language of “bad” and “good” neighborhoods. The goal of empowerment self-defense is to encourage people to participate in their own lives to the fullest and to expand their horizons. That, by definition, always involves embracing unfamiliar experiences. Language that recreates an atmosphere of fear curtails all of that rich possibility. Moreover, fear of what’s “out there” shouldn’t obscure what is closer to home. We know that gender-based violence most often happens in quotidian settings with people who are known to the target. Quickly shifting the starting point with both language and information can lay the groundwork for a deeper discussion.
              For over 30 years, IMPACT Chicago has grappled with how to communicate that stereotypes make people less safe while also adding to students’ self-defense toolkits. In the early days, lead instructors addressed the issue when setting up verbal scenarios for the first time or when students asked questions about “bad” neighborhoods. To minimize shaming students who said "wrong" or "bad" neighborhoods and to stress its importance, about 15 years ago lead instructors began to integrate their comments into the course introduction. I asked Chicago IMPACT instructor Rachel Marro to share how this is addressed in programs: "When teaching how to assess potential risk and danger, we emphasize that we get the most accurate information from someone's behavior and their response to our boundaries. Indicators like someone's clothing, language, or which neighborhood they're from do not give us information about their intentions. Reorienting ourselves to pay attention to behavioral red flags can help reduce fear about circumstances that may not actually be threatening, allowing us to engage in the world more freely. Simultaneously, it can help us pay attention to dynamics that may be unhealthy or threatening in circumstances where we've been taught to ignore those red flags-- in particular, with people who are familiar or similar to us."
This commitment to focusing on behavior and not stereotypes is reflected in IMPACT Chicago policy about suited instructor characters. It has long been the policy of IMPACT Chicago that suited instructors do not play characters outside of their own racial/ethnic affiliation.
Empowerment self-defense is a powerful method of individual transformation. Participants can begin to relax their grip on patterns of fear that they have learned over the years as they gain confidence in their bodies and in their voices. They can reenter the world each day with a greater sense of power and purpose. But empowerment self-defense also entails a commitment to creating networks of support among all people who are at risk for or have experienced gender-based violence. It is a social affirmation, one that recognizes that the problem itself does not discriminate and that the best response will crisscross the borders that otherwise divide us.
Priya Nelson
IMPACT Chicago Volunteer and Workshop Leader

Monday, February 24, 2020

How A Self-Defense Program Made Me A Better Therapist: Part 2: Using My Body

"Your power is in your lower body, use it!” yelled my instructor as a man laid on top of me holding my wrists at my sides. His body weight pushed me into the mat, and I could barely move. I took a breath, then flipped him onto his back and kicked him repeatedly in the head. Women were screaming and clapping as he put his hands on his head, a sign of defeat.

At 34 years old, I completed IMPACT’s Core Program, and it was the first time I was given “permission” to physically defend myself. I was saddened by the realization that I needed permission. Why would I need someone’s permission to keep myself safe? With some self-reflection and a good therapist, I made a discovery. My parents never defended themselves; they both froze whenever they were physically or emotionally threatened. Moreover, teachers, daycare providers, and community members taught me that girls should ignore those who physically assault them. I can still hear their lessons: “Just ignore them,” “You’ll just make it worse,” and “Don’t give them a reason to hurt you worse.” Sadly, statistics indicate that the opposite is true. People who seek to harm others target those who appear as if they won’t fight back. Simply put, if an assailant thinks you’ll fight back, they are more likely to leave you alone and look for another target. You’re just not worth the trouble. Have I been unknowingly sending signals that I’m an easy target? Yes, I had been.

I gradually learned to give myself permission to use my body to protect myself and I began to physically assert myself in my life. I perfected my walk - fast paced, shoulders back, and not hesitant to look you in the eye. My walk communicates that I intend to fight back if threatened. I began walking around those who walk at a slower pace, instead of meekly walking behind them. I started pushing my chest out while sitting and I noticed how empowering it felt to take up space. A year later I completed an advanced IMPACT program called Defense Against an Armed Rapist, as I realized that feeling comfortable using my body to defend myself is something that may never come automatically, but is something that I need to practice continually.  

My experiences helped me integrate somatic interventions into my work as a trauma therapist. Like me, my clients experience obstacles that make it difficult for them to use their bodies to protect themselves. Some clients believe that their bodies are unsafe, others were punished as children for protecting themselves, and some have biological trauma responses (Flight, Fight, Freeze, and Faun) that are stuck in their bodies. After IMPACT, I began focusing more on my clients’ physical reactions. I began encouraging clients to use their bodies in order to process trauma, physically comfort their inner child(ren), and learn to keep calm under stressful or threatening circumstances. I noticed that some clients started to make more progress as they integrated their bodies in treatment. 

In addition to trauma work, I applied somatic interventions to help clients improve their self-worth. One of my favorite interventions is to encourage clients to take actions in order to learn how to talk up space in the world. These actions can include taking the last open seat on a busy train, requiring a person to yield when walking directly toward them on a sidewalk, sitting in a confident posture, and taking up physical space in an enclosed setting such as a meeting or class (instead of trying to take up as little space as possible.) When we physically take up space in the world, we can change our brain chemistry and advance our own self-worth.  

The phrase “life changing” is admittedly cliche, yet there is no other way for me to describe my experience with IMPACT Chicago’s Self-Defense Programs. These programs taught me how to use my voice and body to carve out my rightful place in the world. And now, I pass this knowledge on to my clients.

This post was first published HERE. Reprinted with permission from Amanda Gregory.You can find Amanda Gregory's "How a Self-Defense Program Made Me a Better Trauma Therapist, Part 1: Finding My Voice" on the IMPACT Chicago blog HERE.

Amanda Ann Gregory is a psychotherapist, author, and speaker. She practices in Chicago and specializes in trauma, attachment, and anxiety treatment. She has written for Highlights Magazine, Addiction Professional, Adoption Today, Holistic Parenting, New Therapist, and Psychology Tomorrow.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Thank you to 2019 IMPACT Chicago Donors

Tuition and grants cover about 65% of the costs of the Core Program and IMPACT for Girls. Donations cover the rest. 

Thank you to all those who supported the IMPACT Chicago 2019 Fund Drive! Your generosity enables us to bring IMPACT self-defense training to more women and girls.
David & Janet Altman   
Lisa Amoroso & Phil Tracy          
Ellyn Bank         
Susan Blessing  
Bruce Brio
Sheila & Steve Carson   
Nancy Cohen    
Christina Collins
Dianne Costanzo    
Cyd Curtis Bates    Constanzo Fund
Judith Feilen-Kocsis       
Eileen Gelblat
Robyn Gray       
David Hart         
Margit & John Henderson          
Loretta Jackson
Valerie Jenkins 
Carol Jennings  
Pamela Jurkowski
John Kitley
Kasey Klipsch    
Ruth Lipschutz  
Jeff Lisse
Carmen Maso   
Margaret McGrath        
Deb Mier & Sheila Hickey
Shiyu & Anthony Nitsos
Clara Orban
Lauren Perez   
Liz Pfau  
Rachel Pildis      
Lisa Pines
Don & Judy Rosedale    In honor of Katie Skibbe
Roger Safian     
Tania Schusler  
Janette Scott     
Katie Skibbe      
Carole & Richard Spreitzer         
Martha Thompson      In honor of IMPACT Chicago Admin Team, Board, & Instructors   
Margaret Tomasik         
Caroline Villa    
Iris Waichler Costanzo Fund
Amelia Zimet    

Please let us know if we have made any errors. Thank you!

Monday, February 10, 2020

Rape, Recovery, Resilience

I was violently sexually assaulted by an ex-boyfriend of mine my freshman year of college. We had been best friends for three years before we dated, and after we broke up, we had pledged to go back to being close friends. When I decided to visit a group of high school friends on spring break, and he happened to be there, this boy who I thought I could trust went on to strangle and force me to perform sexual acts on him. Something in me shattered that night, and from that point on I was ruled by fear. 

It took me months to share what had happened to me with my family, and even with their love and support I could no longer conjure any self-love. I left college and returned home to face the trauma I had incurred. I lived with my grandma and spent my time cooking, reading, and swimming with her, as well as introspecting into my turbulent headspace. With intense, consistent effort, I was able to let go of the anger and hurt I felt because of my ex-boyfriend, and forgive him for what he did to me. (I want to emphasize here that it was essential for me to be as magnanimous as I could!) My forgiveness allowed me to shed my aggressive and hateful emotions, and construct in its vestiges a burgeoning personal security and love. 

Even though I began building up a strong self-confidence, I was still scared of men. A conversation with my dad where I disclosed that I was considering buying a knife and pepper spray led to a discussion at dinner that inspired my step-mom, Meg (I call Meggie), to research the offerings for a women’s self defense course in the Chicago area. The next time I saw her, she told me about the IMPACT Core Program, a three day women’s self defense intensive. She said that she was brought to tears when she watched videos of the Program, and wondered if I wanted to take it with her. I replied an enthusiastic “yes!” without hesitation.

On Friday, April 11th, me and Meggie parked our blue Volvo station wagon on the west side of Ebeneazer Lutheran Church. It took us a couple tries to find the right entrance, but we eventually hit the black button next to a heavy, wooden door and were buzzed inside. Through another wooden door and up a wooden staircase we went, and we found ourselves welcomed by smiling women instructing us to check in and make a name tag. The room we were situated in was a long rectangular space, with a painting of Jesus on one end of the wall. 

Now I am not one to feel awkward, however in this moment I started to feel nervous, awkward, and uncomfortable.Would I be ostracized for being raped? Was it too soon to take a course like this, after my experience?Am I capable of defending myself?As the door buzzed and as fourteen other female faces, old and young, filled the room, my anticipation grew. Then the lead teacher beckoned us all over to the side of the room with Jesus, where the floor was covered in blue gymnastics mats. We sat in a circle, and within the next twenty minutes my awkward feeling completely disappeared. Right off of the bat, Margaret and the other teachers fostered a safe, inclusive environment where all of us were able to freely share our thoughts and emotions. 

And so I began to learn something I had not been taught before. I learned that the strength of a woman’s body lies in her hips, and I practiced playing to these strengths to protect myself from an assailant. I learned how to operate under adrenaline, and fight for my life. And this is where my emotional transformation occurred: by learning how to fight for my life, and then by fighting using my full force, I had to decide that my life was worth fighting for. When I looked my assailant in the face, called him by my ex-boyfriend’s name, and delivered kick after unforgiving kick, I overcame my fear. Not only did my physical self defense skills evolve, so did my verbal boundary setting skills. As my kicks got stronger, my voice got louder. Now when I tell someone not to touch me, there is power behind my words. One of the most empowering aspects of this program was my peers. During each of my fights, I could hear them cheering me on, encouraging me to be brave. No matter our body type, ethnicity, or age, we all wholeheartedly supported one another. After each fight, we sat in a circle to debrief and express our reactions. In these circles I felt listened to, understood, and like I was not alone in my experience. 

Because of IMPACT I no longer let fear control me, and this has changed my life. I feel more free and empowered by my identity as an independent woman. I do not feel held back by my past, and instead I am a strong advocate for women’s rights and equality in my everyday life. Nine months later, I am successfully setting and enforcing boundaries with men. When I am walking alone in unfamiliar places, I replay my learned self-defense techniques, just in case. Most importantly, I live each day as Emilia, unapologetically.
Emilia Donenberg Smith
IMPACT Chicago graduate

Monday, February 3, 2020

How a Self-Defense Program Made Me a Better Trauma Therapist, Part 1: Finding My Voice

I spoke to my “attempted rapist” after I’d landed multiple kicks to his face and groin. I confessed to him—an instructor acting as an assailant— that I fear raising my voice in public because I’m afraid to appear rude, dramatic, or “crazy.” I had the heartbreaking realization that I’d rather risk being harmed than offend someone.

Two years ago, I completed IMPACT Chicago’s Core Program, where “participants learn and practice a range of tools and strategies to increase their choices when faced with uncomfortable, intrusive, or dangerous situations.” I’d recently moved to Chicago from a small town in Missouri, so I planned to take a simple self-defense class in order to feel more confident walking alone at night. Instead of a simple class, I found myself in the midst of a life changing experience. 

As a trauma therapist, my voice is a valuable tool. I use my voice to foster safety, connection, acceptance, and growth. I’ve spent years teaching my clients how to create and communicate healthy boundaries designed to keep them safe. Yet, I focused too much on words - which is only one part of using one’s voice. IMPACT taught me the importance of expressing intent by focusing on the volume and tone of one’s voice. I learned that I can use the perfect words, but if my expression doesn’t match my intent, my message will not be effectively conveyed. There is a noticeable difference between the phrases: “Stand back” and “STAND BACK!” Same words, different meaning. To feel comfortable using my voice in order to promote my safety, I needed to address the obstacles that had been in my way. 

There are many reasons why people are hesitant to use a heightened volume and tone of voice in public to promote their safety. The most common obstacles that I’ve seen from my clients are trauma, anxiety, sexism, racism, a lack of trust in the legal system/law enforcement, and low self-worth. I discovered that my own obstacles were sexism and trauma. Society taught me that a woman who yells, regardless of the reason, is unstable. So, having internalized societal expectations, I almost never raised my voice. In addition, my parents taught me that yelling and/or a firm tone of voice is a warning from someone who is planning to harm you. Thus, my trauma response is to not yell or sound firm so that I don’t harm anyone or give them the impression that I will. IMPACT taught me how to yell and be firm by having me repeatedly practice yelling boundary-setting phrases with my peers. It was extremely uncomfortable, and at times I froze up and couldn’t speak. But, the more I yelled, the more comfortable I felt using my voice. 

After IMPACT, I began to place less focus on my client's words and greater emphasis on their vocal expressions. I started encouraging my clients to practice using their voices during their therapy sessions. These interventions consisted of role playing, desensitization behavioral exercises, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), and somatic experiencing. One of my favorite exercises is having clients scream a neutral word in session, then in public. They chose a word that’s not threatening, offensive, or one that could be perceived as indicating an emergency. Words such as, “SWEATERS!,” “TACOS!,” or (because my practice is based in Chicago) “COLD!” This exercise has helped my clients not only to practice using a loud voice and firm tone in public, but it desensitizes them to any anticipated negative consequences associated with using their voice. Yes, people may judge them or stare at them. But, there usually aren’t any significant consequences and this intervention can help clients become more adept at using their voices to protect themselves.

I learned that the more that I’m able to use my voice, the more my clients feel safe to use theirs. 

This post was first published HERE. Reprinted with permission from Amanda Gregory.

Amanda Ann Gregory is a psychotherapist, author, and speaker. She practices in Chicago and specializes in trauma, attachment, and anxiety treatment. She has written for Highlights Magazine, Addiction Professional, Adoption Today, Holistic Parenting, New Therapist, and Psychology Tomorrow.