If you read the words self-protection and got an image of a shield and armor defending you, you are definitely on the right track.
Self protection is the practice of knowing your boundaries and creating your own space to feel emotionally safe, to shield yourself against the negativity, toxicity and harmful interactions that life can sometimes bring.
Like with many parts of self-care, we have to highlight the importance of practicing emotionally protecting yourself. It is a self-caring act that may take time to develop.
One of the best ways to begin protecting yourself emotionally is by understanding what your boundaries are, which is the structure of your self protection shield.
We mention boundaries a lot around here — we refer to boundaries as the parts of self-care that help us feel safe and help us navigate our world. We all have experiences from our past that influence how we show up today, so learning what your boundaries are is similar to taking a crash course in self-awareness.
Sometimes, we are in situations where we are feeling emotionally activated, distressed and uncomfortable. When you are familiar with what pushes your buttons or what causes you to react/feel something strongly (sometimes referred to as a trigger), you are actually better equipped to protect yourself.
When you have an understanding of what your boundaries are, your next step is knowing when to take hold of that shield and how to put it to use.
When you recognize that your boundaries have been crossed or you are feeling a strong reaction to a situation, put that shield to work. If you have trouble asserting yourself or knowing when you need protection, this is an important step to remember. Part of your self-care may be to practice using your shield.
Creating spaces that are emotionally safe for you may require you to reflect on the environments that you spend time in and being mindful of the relationships in your life. We talk more about this in more detail in our posts about toxic friendships and office bullying.
Learn when to use your self-protection shield by asking yourself:
- Is it my choice be in this space? Am I here voluntarily or is it required for me to spend time here?
- What’s causing me to feel distressed? Which of my boundaries are being crossed right now? Name your feelings and your boundaries here.
- Is spending time in this space helping me grow? (Am I trying something new or safely stepping out of my comfort zone?)
- Do I have the option to take a break, step away or remove myself completely from this space? How can I protect myself here?
For example, I recently experienced a quite unpleasant conversation with a person at a social get-together. This person was invading my personal space and making unwanted sexual comments towards me. I took a moment to reflect on the questions above to figure out if I needed to put my shield to work:
- It is my choice to be in this space, as I was invited to a party. I am not required or mandated to be here. I do have the option to not talk to this person.
- I feel violated and uncomfortable by this person’s behavior. My personal space is being impacted and the comments this person is making are unwanted, too intimate and inappropriate to me.
- I have the option to step away from this person by excusing myself and walking away.
Sometimes, creating your own emotional safe space means removing yourself from a triggering, emotionally unsafe environment, interaction or relationship.
In taking a moment to reflect on how to create my own safe space, I was able to maintain my own boundary in a way that felt right for me. My invisible luggage was being activated — I treasure my personal space and I have negative experiences with unwanted advances. My emotional safety was being compromised and I needed to protect myself.
Self protection can be a means to re-affirm your own boundaries and decrease the amount of time and energy we sometimes spend from recovering for the toxic experiences that happen from time to time.
It’s important to note when, where, why and how often your self protection shield is put to use. Notice if you have to use it often with the same person (as I share here) or if you have to use it over and over again in the same environments (like this one). If you are experiencing harm or toxicity on a regular basis, consider taking more long-term, permanent steps to protect yourself (for more on what this looks like, take a look here and here).
What do you believe the key is to self protection?