How to create a culture of consent and respect?

(this is part two in my series on looking for integrity in teachers, coaches, and other “inspirational authorities“.)

If someone has not learned to say „stop” or „no” according to what their actual, physical and emotional need is, it is tricky to talk with them about consent. Consent is based on knowing when to say stop. Knowing that whether I want something or not makes a difference.

To say stop can be uncomfortable for many reasons – it can trigger a fear to wake up the others’ anger or disappointment, it can imply that I’m not tough enough if I need to say stop, or that I’m in some other way not as strong, smart, relaxed… as I’m supposed to be in this moment. And in the case of being in a learning environment: that I cannot live up to the apparent expectation of my teacher, coach or parent.

 

So, both saying stop or giving consent are based on trust and courage, when I express how this situation is for me.

 

When I enter a learning process with my students or clients, I assume and clarify that we’re working together. Even though for me it is obvious, I explicitly mention, that I learn about their body just as they do and we are finding a language together, that makes sense for us.
I respect them very much. Most of them are adults, living their lives, in many cases having responsibility for other people as well and no matter what they went through, they found a way to live. I know that they’re able to take care of their lives and find ways to cope, even if they might be in a moment of challenge or frustration.

I appreciate that they come to me and trust me with their bodies, their stories; that they allow me to accompany them in a process of change. And I appreciate that they in this process might question some of their old ways of doing things, in order to create a change, move a limit and experiment with the unknown. They meet me with their trust, for me to watch out that in this process, they won’t lose themselves.

A couple of years ago a client asked me to stop,

because something was hurting too much, and I reduced the pressure until she said it was ok. A short moment after she asked me to go a bit deeper again, then said stop again and so on. Slowly we managed to work with a muscle that had been very tense for a long time and it became soft. She left very looking very happy.

Early in my practice, I had learned that I need to be able to touch pain and that people can deal with more than they think. And I think, very often this might be true, but it still depends on consent and is a movement along a fine line.

The experience with this particular client surprised me with a realisation about myself as a client: I would not have said stop. I would have either told myself to be tough and endure until it’s over, hoping that my practitioner would notice that it’s too much and will stop. Soon. Or I could’ve tightened inside and left with a grudge and finding the person incompetent and avoid them further on.

 

Since that session, I can see this happening not only with myself (after this, I have not had another session where I stayed in something that felt too much) but with a lot of my clients and I realised that actually, the first step I need to teach some of them is about consent. What should be obvious, isn’t, in so many cases.
And I discovered a new world.
First of all, I started to remind some people, not only in the beginning but also while we’re working, that they can stop me when something feels too strong. With some people, this is enough.
Some will then say stop at a point where they’re afraid that it will be too much, rather than actually feeling the pain is too much. But that allows us to then discover this fear and move at a pace that they can follow, without feeling panicky.


Some people still don’t say stop. And I actually practice with them. We do a couple of „rounds“ where as soon as they feel my touch they voice the word „stop“ or „enough“ or something that makes sense for them. And just this exercise is incredibly powerful for many of them.

To hear their voice and to notice, that what they say matters. When they say stop, I stop.

Sometimes we end up in discussions – „but I don’t know what will be too much, I might just be scared, maybe I could learn faster if I let you just push through“… And I discover that part of this practice is learning, that it is also ok to say stop too early, notice it and then ask to continue.

I have had full sessions with clients, where we work with this. Where they learn to stop me, – someone who they know has good intentions, who they know they trust and who still might have a different perception of the situation.

Secondly, when I ask my clients to describe a physical sensation, I can see them looking for ways to describe it in a way, that matches my expectation. Or when I ask them, what they mean when they say they are sad or frustrated – I can see them looking for a description of frustration or sadness, that matches my „expert book on feelings“…

So I have started also there to be extremely vocal about „I’m not looking for you to confirm what I experience, I’m interested how it is for you“, “which words or ideas are important for you?“.
I have also started to be precise when I describe what I experience, to start with „to me it seems like there is a cold airy sensation on your skin“ – inviting them to sense something they might not have noticed. And if they can’t feel that, I ask how it is for them or what else they’re feeling.

In the beginning of this practice, I noticed, that it felt „wrong“ to ask them because I was supposed to be the expert. And I was supposed to be confident and trust my own sensation. And, of course, I work only with their consent and don’t force anything on them…

But after a while, I realised that there is no conflict with that at all. I can have experience with bodies, many different ones even and flows and processes of the body. This offers me more ways of paying attention and angles to approach my client and their learning. And I can be confident in my experience. But how my client experiences something is the relevant aspect for adapting the learning process. And if someone hasn’t experienced, how to fully say yes, because they didn’t know they are allowed to say no – how could they give full consent?

If I’m honest about wanting to teach them, I need their perception and to offer them something they can connect to. Confirmation of my personal sensation irrelevant in this context.

I can be confident, that what I felt was relevant for my experience. And it might give me a guideline and will influence how I think about the learning process I’m working with. I need to be confident, that I’m working with their consent and for this, I need to find a frame with each client about how we express it.
In the end, hearing the words my clients uses allows me to learn better with them and to describe my experiences in words that make sense in their awareness.

 

Both the exercise of saying stop out loud and daring to describe experiences in their own words have been very powerful. The relief that they have expressed (after a short moment of disbelief), has been remarkable and made me wonder why it seems so special?

I understand because I have also had this experience of relief in my own way. And of course, I am happy that my clients feel safe with me and that I manage to teach them something that changes the way they approach challenges and even pain.

But why is it so special, that we can say NO to someone who we trust and who we want to learn from? Why is that not the normal thing to do?

And how can we, as a community of people working in the empowerment of others, ethical leadership and the likes, foster a culture where this becomes stronger? How can we invite others to guard their borders, while maintaining our own confidence allowing our students and clients to grow alongside us?

 

Especially: How can we make it public and normal, that you can say no to someone’s suggestion, that you can say respect my experience and find a way to expand, that doesn’t involve questioning me?

Looking at the kindling politicians in this world, I have these same questions…
But to start with… Looking at my field of expertise, my community of colleagues, who are working towards a more healthy and sustainable world… I want to raise that subject, as it is larger than my working room. This is beyond an individual experience. We can each do our thing and we can each work with high integrity… But is there a way that we can become stronger? So that the approach of consent and acknowledging what can happen when there is a power- or authority-asymmetry, strengthens those who work ethically.

Can we gather?

I would be happy to be “a hub“, collecting and connecting people with similar interests for action. So if you’re interested in this kind of thinking process, please write and let me know. I have no plan, I just have questions and will continue exploring. (And if you know someone, who I should talk to, because they’re doing a similar thing already, I would be happy for a connection!)
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  • “Aninia has a very special ability to understand the body and its reactions to pain. She is thorough, trusting and not least, a good teacher.”

    – Stine, 28

  • “… to just see what happens and enjoy the moment. This is a great gift. Thank you for it.”

    – Anne, 32

  • “I have been going to Grinberg Sessions with Aninia … This gives me more freedom in being who I want to be both in the workplace and in my personal, close relationships.”

    – Dorthe, Head of Payroll, 42

  • “I learnt to open up to our physical language as the mirror reflection of our mental state, and to date I can say this led to better control and confidence in dealing with both good and hard times.”

    – Francesca, Project Manager, 35

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Danielle Schönfeld

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