Heading to any festivals this year? Brush up on your boundary skills before you go to make it the most integrated, aligned and FUN experience possible!
The motto of my holistic self-defense project, Mujeres Fuertes Autodefensa, is “Find your NO. Live your YES.” I believe that when we understand our boundaries and have the tools to express them (and defend them if necessary) we are better equipped to fully embody our “yes”—to live with openness and curiosity, and to enjoy deep connection, pleasure, and play.
Festivals are unique spaces for exploration, expanding limits, and broadening comfort zones. This is a wonderful thing, as long as we go into them with self-awareness, a working understanding of consent, and a toolbox full of tools for staying safe.
It is my wish that every festival-goer, dancer, lover, and seeker be able to experience the magic of these spaces feeling secure and confident in their safety and agency. To that end, below I will share 6 tools for boundary setting and assertive communication. I hope they will empower your festival journey—and your day-to-day life!
Before we dive in, remember:
- Boundaries are personal. No one else gets to tell you where yours are… and vice versa.
- Boundaries can change. It is okay and totally normal to want one thing one day, and something different the next. You get to decide how and when your boundaries shift, always.
- It depends on context. Your boundaries may be different with different people or in different spaces or situations, and again, that’s okay and normal!
- It is never too late to set a boundary. You can always let someone know a minute, hour, or year later that they crossed a line.
- You are responsible for communicating your boundary, but not for how other people react to that. Usually the people who react negatively to your boundaries don’t want you to have any.
- There are always (at least) two sides to consent. Try to treat other people’s boundaries the way you would like yours to be treated.
- When in doubt, trust your gut. If it feels wrong, unsafe, or undesired, it is.
6 Boundary Setting Tools for a Safe & Expansive Festival Experience
- Listen to Your Intuition.
We often internalize the social conditioning that everyone else knows more about our boundaries and our bodies than we do. In fact, we know very well when a situation is unsafe and, conversely, when we can relax and settle. Intuition is the soft, quiet voice that whispers in your gut, “Yes.” “No.” “This way, not that way.” “Danger.” “All clear. The trick is learning to listen, and then trust that voice.
Intuition warns us when a person, place or situation is potentially dangerous. It may feel like tightness in the chest or belly, shaking in the hands or legs, buzzing in the forehead, or a general sense of tension or closing in. And, it will guide us to know when to trust new friends or dive into “risky” adventures. That may feel like openness in the chest, relaxation or softness in the belly or jaw, or a general feeling of leaning in. The more we heed these signs and engage with our intuitive mind, the sharper it will become.
- Be Aware.
Awareness is key for staying and feeling safe, no matter where we are. Staying conscious of our environment—no need for stress or tension—not only helps us to identify danger or risk well before it becomes an emergency; it also can help us get oriented in a new environment, observe more details and beauty along our journey, and enjoy our adventure with full-bodied presence. As we rely more and more heavily on technology for navigation and communication, we may feel the urge to check our phones frequently, even at festivals. But the best thing to do is keep your eyes up, phone away, and look and act like you are confident and at ease.
Alert body language communicates to the outside world that you are confident and aware (and you are). And, it sends a message to your own brain and body that you are not afraid to take up space, increasing your self-confidence and security at a cellular level.
- Say No.
Remember, you have a right to set the boundaries that feel good to you, no explanation required. With the crowds and stimulation of a festival environment, sometimes you need to say “no” to a dance, a hug, or any number of other invitations. It can be a “no” with a smile, or a “no, but thank you so much.” However, if the message isn’t getting across with gentle, polite communication, sometimes you have to be more assertive: “I said no,” on repeat, with an even, low tone of voice and confident posture, usually gets results.
“No” is a complete sentence, requiring neither apology nor explanation. Do not fall into the trap of negotiating over your no, or you will end up spending time and energy on conversations, situations, and people you don’t actually want. Of course you can apologize or explain if you want to. The point, as I am constantly reminding students in my self-defense classes, is that it is a choice, not an obligation.
- Be a Broken Record.
When dealing with harassment—unwanted touch, flirtation, or other behavior—a similar technique works well. Choose one line (e.g. “I don’t want to talk right now.” “Do not touch me.” “Leave me alone.”) and stick with it. It is hard to argue or manipulate past stolid repetition. Be a broken record, repeating your one, assertive line until the person gets the message. There is no need to shout or get defensive unless the harasser becomes more threatening.
A low, even tone, confident body language, and a refusal to enter into any negotiations (but why? Come on… I’m just being nice, etc.) can put a stop to a lot of unwanted behaviors. Even in festival spaces, where consent culture tends to be dominant and the vibes are high, it is good to be prepared to neatly end unwanted interactions or uncomfortable, potentially unsafe situations.
- Name and Transform It.
An alternative strategy involves “naming” the behavior we want to change or stop. This is one of my favorite techniques. We first name the behavior (e.g. “Your hand is on my leg.” “You’re staring at me.” “You’re following me.”) without questions or qualifications. Questions invite response, denial, or negotiation. In a dangerous or uncomfortable situation, we don’t want to start a conversation or argue over the facts; we just want to make the necessary changes to feel safe.
After naming the behavior, we demand the change we wish to see (e.g. “Stop touching me.” “Leave me alone.”) without feeling obliged to ask nicely or say please. If once is not enough, we can return to repetition until the message lands.
I love this technique for several reasons. First, it leaves no room for doubt; we both know what’s going on here, and we’re not going to argue over that. Second, it alerts any bystanders to the situation. Finally, it clearly states a boundary: “You’re doing this. I don’t want you to. Stop.” If the behavior persists, we then know a person does not respect our boundaries or care about our needs.
- Don’t be Afraid to Get Loud.
If the situation calls for it, you may also want to turn up the volume. Yelling has been shown to prevent as many as 50% of assaults against women. The voice is a powerful self-defense tool. To yell effectively, be sure to use your belly—singers, actors, and public speakers will already know how to do that—to protect your vocal chords and bring more power and resonance to your voice.
I encourage trying this at home! Grab a few friends, blast some music, and practice shouting “NO!” as loud as you can. Remember to yell from your center; it can be helpful to keep your hands on your belly as a tactile reminder when practicing.