I’ve already talked a little about what self consent is here. I want to expand on that, because I see self consent as a concept, and also as a set of skills that we can learn and develop. Conceptually, self consent is the act of turning into and acting upon your needs, desires and boundaries. But that takes a lot of inter-related skills that we may or may not have learned. In beginning to understand self consent, it can be helpful to see that this isn’t just something that you have or don’t have. It is something that some folks have already learned how to do, and others haven’t, yet. There are bio / psycho / social reasons for this! If you want to know more about bio/psycho/social theory you can check out this video I made, but suffice to say there is a reason that some folks have learned and others haven’t, and it doesn’t mean anything is wrong with a person that still has learning to do.
I’ve been thinking about how we often look at the way other people are simply able to do things we can’t, and sometimes we see those things in a fatalistic way. Like being able to do something is somehow innate. They can do it and we can’t, and it will always be that way. Of course a LOT of things play into our capacity to learn and do things, but once they are broken down I think most of us have the capacity to get way better at things we admire other folks doing and that we aren’t yet able to.
I’m not suggesting that my dyslexic brain is going to be a world champion at spelling, but I did learn to spell ‘knowledge’ when I put my mind to it. I’m not suggesting that my ADHD brain is going to always remember to close the cupboard door (can you imagine how annoying that is for my partner to live with?), but I did learn to always hang my towel in the right place. What I’m saying is that balancing acceptance of who we are now with the possibility of being able to change in the future is REALLY important.
Learning self consent has been a long journey for me. I’ve had to learn a lot of skills and I didn’t have a road map for how I’d get to where I wanted to go. I wanted to have easier access to knowing what I want, need and my boundaries. I wanted to be able to make requests more easily and to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ from a place of really knowing it was a choice I was making based on my values, capacity and boundaries at the time. Flexibly. I’d spent a long time ‘going with the flow’ and just doing what other people wanted me to. Or, worse, what I GUESSED other people wanted me to. That led to resentment, frustration, exhaustion and overwhelm. I knew there was a better way.
My work on self consent – and especially the new course I’m facilitating – is all about creating that road map for people to explore their own experiences of self consent. It is my way of breaking down the kinds of skills I think we all need to become more ourselves (and our selves) and to express centered and authentic requests, boundaries and desires.
I could write a post, a chapter, frankly probably a thesis on each one of these areas, because I think they are really fundamental to our relationships with ourselves, learning and other people, but I’ll try to be a bit more brief than that. At least for now – you will get to hear WAY more about it if you come along to one of my workshops or my course. But here is my starting point.
Knowing your zone of influence
This is important because there are things we can change and things we can’t. I can’t change that my walking is limited to about 14 minutes. I can change whether or not I decide to use a mobility aid (though there was a time that didn’t even occur to me as an option!). If I use my wheelchair I can’t change (at least immediately) that a bunch of places don’t have level access, but I can change how I respond to that.
The more privilege we have, generally speaking, the more options we have. But nearly everyone has choices they aren’t exercising.
Attunement to self
Being attuned to your body and emotions, and the present moment, is a pre-requisite for being able to make decisions that reflect you. We need to be able to notice what is going on for us, which often means slowing down and giving ourselves time to reflect or feel into ourselves.
It is hard to discern the difference between danger and discomfort sometimes, especially if we have experienced trauma or have brought forward difficult patterns from our families of origin. We often need to experience uncomfortable emotions to learn and grow, and that can be impossible if unpleasant emotions feel like danger to us. Finding our learning edge, or the resilient edge of risk is key here.
Naming our emotions, learning to regulate, accept and change them is really important to self consent. After all, our emotions are telling us really important information about the world around us and ourselves. We often can’t interpret that information effectively when we are really distressed or activated. We need the skills to be with our emotions without being utterly overwhelmed to help us feel at home with them and confident about our ability to interpret them effectively.
Review, celebrate, plan
In some ways this is about how we learn, and in others it is about how we prime ourselves to be as likely as possible to treat ourselves consensually.
Interaction with others
Even if we are 100% sure about our needs, boundaries and desires, sometimes interaction with others can overwhelm us and push us towards self abandonment. These skills are all about how to make requests. How to understand what gets in the way. How to build up resources to help us cope with invalidation and push back.
If you have got all the way to the end of this post, consider it an invitation to join me for a monthly call to build the skills to increase your own self consent. It is a subscription service & I’m excited to be building a community all about developing the skills to make choices centering self consent.