top of page

The Psychology of Self-Defense: Embodied Self-Defense

Updated: Oct 24, 2021

Photo by Steve Harvey on Unsplash

Arizona Brodie of Embodied Self-Defense is a domestic abuse counselor who works mostly with male, LGBTQIA+ and non-binary survivors of domestic violence. She is also a former bouncer and the second woman in Scottish history to earn her black belt in BJJ. Arizona is a rape survivor and is outspoken about the differences between combat sport training and the tools one needs to navigate life with "embodied self-defense".

From her experience in helping clients navigate and heal from domestic violence Arizona shares her idea of "embodied self-defense" as a way of being. While Asphalt Anthropology is dedicated to help folks navigate dense, often chaotic, public spaces, the principles and red flags related to domestic violence are principles and red flags for conflicts in other areas of our lives as well.

Red flags that Arizona recommends looking out for are:

  • Does the person want to accelerate the relationship quickly?

  • How do they handle your "no"?

  • Is there an overall atmosphere of threat?

  • Is there emotional safety?

  • Does the person guilt trip you?

As we spoke, Arizona connected the dots on how these behaviors can transcend domestic violence and show up in a range of other scenarios. For example:

  • That panhandler that won't take no for an answer and will often rely on guilting you into helping them (remember, someone looking to rob you must close the physical distance from you. Repeatedly talking to you after you said "no" is one tactic for closing that distance).

  • That co-worker who won't take no for an answer and then tries to make you feel bad about the no (I once had a low-level team member "ask" if the title of a project could be changed. When she was told "no" she set off on a multi-week campaign to get it changed and disrupted the whole campaign. Wisely she was removed from the campaign and we rarely ever saw her after that.)

Whether it's in an intimate relationship, an encounter on the street or at work, Arizona tells us, "What they do small, they'll do big". Or as Maya Angelou famously put it, "When people show you who they are, believe them".

If you are looking for self-defense instruction, Arizona shares with us that style is less important than the teacher's experience with trauma. In addition to physical skills she recommends looking for an instructor who:

  • Is trauma-informed

  • Will celebrate your boundaries, not force you to push through them

  • Knows how to manage flashbacks and anxiety attacks

  • Is sensitive in the language and imagery they use

For many who have experienced trauma, it can often be difficult to discern threats. This is why many folks who have been victimized often fall prey to predators again... and perhaps again and again. This is because of a misfire in our threat detection center of our brain and NOT because people are stupid, uninformed, situationally unaware, "asked for it", or were a "slut". (Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, 2015).

So how does one practice recognizing threats if we are still recovering from trauma? Arizona has some exercises for that! As we wrap up October as Domestic Violence awareness month take a deep dive into embodied self-defense. Full interview below!

45 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page