International Women’s Day Sneak Peek: Empowered Boundaries
Categories: Psychology & Personal Growth Society & Politics
In celebration of International Women’s Day 2018 I sat down with NAB Acquisitions Manager Alison Knowles to talk about one of our much anticipated Fall 2018 titles, Empowered Boundaries: Speaking Truth, Setting Boundaries, and Inspiring Social Change, by Cristien Storm (on sale: September 18, 2018). The book offers an invaluable resource on boundary-setting practices for anyone looking to challenge our default social conditioning and create empowered relationships and communities. Here are some highlights from our conversation:
Julia Sadowski: What about Cristien’s approach to self-help and self-care do you find particularly “Nabby”?
Alison Knowles: Cristien has a deep background in social justice work, which is Nabby. She’s really looking at boundary setting less from a traditional white, male centered viewpoint, which is something that we’re always striving for. Cristien’s work centers largely around communities that are underprivileged or underrepresented, and really trying to lift them up and strengthen their options and opportunities. I think all of those things align with NAB values. Like other books that we publish, Cristien’s work is focused on issues of social justice.
JS: As an editor, what about Cristien’s message resonates with you today as we celebrate International Women’s Day 2018?
AK: I think with the #MeToo movement, people are finally becoming aware of how often boundaries are crossed in our everyday lives, especially for women, especially for women of color and underprivileged groups. Her book gives me a lot of hope that we can learn how to stand our ground and enforce our own boundaries, whether they be pedestrian and about a roommate stealing your butter or violent and need to be radically defended for personal safety. As an editor, I want to support and lift up the voices of people who can help us create that kind of new positive world–someplace where my first-grade daughter will never have to learn about #MeToo because it will be so rare.
JS: Why is it important to showcase women’s voices, and specifically those whose work isn’t yet part of the mainstream cultural conversation?
AK: It’s always important to hear voices from women and people who aren’t part of the mainstream because it broadens our perspective on life and allows us a greater understanding of what it’s like to be someone else. When you look at the typical list of The New York Times Best Sellers or a high school literature class, the majority of the works are going to be from the perspective of a white male. If you aren’t a white male, your viewpoint isn’t as well represented. It’s important to raise up those other voices that are not being represented because it levels the playing field for all of us and gives us all more perspective on the “other.” That helps us become less fearful of the “other” and instead more curious, friendly, and open to new people and experiences.
JS: Is there a section of the book that struck you as particularly interesting or important?
AK: What I really like about Cristien’s work is how she talks about intuition as it relates to boundary setting. I understood boundary setting from self-defense courses, and had a vague sense of “no means no” and “this is my boundary,” and so on. Cristien touches on a variety of different settings including the workplace and other real life situations and not just the dark street or the scary bus stop experiences. She also unpacks the “scary dark street experience” and how we intuitively perceive it. We are all social beings who have been raised with certain “-isms” that we may or may not be aware of and that affect us. Cristien shows us how we can’t automatically intuit that a person approaching us on the street poses a threat just because he is a man or because he is a man who is homeless, or what have you. Yes, a culmination of factors can lead you to believe that a person is a threat, but automatically assuming: “a person is approaching me and is going to hurt me” may need to be unpacked more. We need to question our own social conditioning and ask why we see certain things a certain way. If a little girl approached you on the street would you be afraid? Why? Cristien forces us to examine our intuition and to make sure that we are speaking and reacting from a place that is warranted, so that we don’t live in fear unnecessarily.
The book is also filled with a variety of nuanced situations. I found myself thinking: oh yeah, how do you tell someone: “Don’t eat my peanut butter,” or how do you defend your boundary when someone asks you to do something that violates one of your core values. I found this book to be powerful, interesting, and helpful for navigating uncomfortable situations.
JS: Have you used any of the tools from the book?
AK: The book is filled with practical tools. There have been a lot of times when I’ve thought about topics covered in the book–when I’m sitting in meetings or thinking about negotiating a raise, or times when someone might be pushing my boundaries. I may not be sure what boundary is being pushed, but I know I want to continue to hold that line. I, like most people, get anxious, or frustrated, or stressed when I’m in a situation where I don’t feel like there’s a comfortable, defined boundary.
For example, sometimes I think you can really notice boundary crossing in the context of personal space boundaries. After working on this book, when my personal space is intruded on I ask myself, “is this a boundary I need to defend?” But it’s important to notice why you’re feeling the way that you’re feeling. That can really help you figure out how to react, and what you need to do to set or defend that boundary.
There are also a lot of boundary books that all are about saying “No!”. They focus on all of the things that you can say no to. Cristien talks about how when you say no to something, you’re also saying yes to all of these other positive things within that boundary. The book feels really positive in that way. The things you say yes to are just as important as whatever you’re saying no to outside of your boundary. It’s a different take.
JS: Cristien is a therapist, activist and the co-founder and former Executive Director of Home Alive, a Seattle-based self-defense organization. Given her unique background and skill set, how does this book differ from a traditional self-help guide?
AK: I think because of her background and because she has taught these practices in hundreds of workshops over the last two decades, since the 90s when Home Alive was formed, she’s seen these strategies work in a variety of scenarios. She’s fielded a lot of questions over the years from people asking “What would I do in this scenario?” “How would I do this in this scenario?”. Cristien is also using examples that are less traditional than what you might see in your average self-help guide, which feels appropriate for this book and makes the conversations in it more interesting.
JS: In one chapter she talks about attending a self-defense class and how the teacher instructed the class to yell the F-word if they were attacked. Cristien notes that in her community, yelling the F-word isn’t an unusual thing to say or hear, and that it wouldn’t garner much attention.
AK: Yes, that traditional self-defense class was about imagining that you were in a sort of upper crust neighborhood where yelling the F-word might get attention, whereas in other neighborhoods no one is even turning around when they here that. I think that’s what kind of drove her to do this work; these ideas that people were traditionally putting out there about self-defense were not helpful for everyone. The imagined audience is this white, middle-class suburban mom. We’re not all like that, and we’re not all in those situations. Many of us are in other situations. Maybe we’re a musician hauling our instruments in and out of a club late at night and we need to be able to tell someone to leave us alone, or we need to be able to feel comfortable in a variety of situations that are not lily-white and safe.
Empowered Boundaries: Speaking Truth, Setting Boundaries, and Inspiring Social Change by Cristien Storm, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2019 by Cristien Storm. Pre-order your copy here.