In the book The Gift of Fear, author Gavin De Becker explains his counterintuitive title. He describes how we register a sense of fear intuitively in a situation that presents a potential danger. Too often people discount this feeling by telling themselves that everything is OK when it isn’t. The book offers sad examples of what happened to people who overrode their fear and didn’t take corrective action.
However, the book is not primarily a collection of sad reminders. It is about how to lower the odds of becoming a victim to violence. De Becker knows what he is speaking about. When the book was published in 1997, he was running a company that provided protective advice to many famous people who had been threatened in one way or another.
Fear versus Worry
De Becker differentiates between fear and worry. Fear is a feeling that is occurring in the present. The person is perceiving aspects in the current environment that are signaling to some part of them that there is something dangerous about the current situation. It is the feeling that animals respond to. The gazelle doesn’t debate with itself about whether a nearby lion looks dangerous or not. It gets out of there!
Worry, on the other hand, is about an imagined future. Some worries are realistic and can lead to real action. Many worries are about situations that are too far off in the future to take corrective action in the present or are about situations we can’t control.
People interviewed after someone they know who committed a violent crime often say that there were no signs that anything bad was going to happen. De Becker says we can see the signs if we know what to look for. He identifies what he calls “pre-incident indicators” that occur before violent behavior. He discusses the contexts in which these indicators can occur. They include intimate relationships, occupational situations, threats to commit violence against a stranger, breaking up with someone, and adolescents who threaten their parents.
Techniques for More Safety and Less Fear
The book needs to be read in order to take in all of the information that De Becker has to offer. However, let me give you some specific examples of techniques that De Becker offers about how those with ill intent gain the trust of their intended victim.
Forced teaming is when the predator discusses how the victim and they are in the same boat in order to establish a false perception of closeness between the victim and themselves. However, the situation is not accidental; it is intentional and directed by the predator. The predator is trying to project a shared purpose or experience where none actually exists. The simple defense against this ploy is to make a clear refusal to accept the concept of partnership.
How many time have you heard someone say, “Of, but they were so nice (or charming)” and then later regretted it? De Becker points out that charm is almost always done intentionally to accomplish an unstated motive. He recommends thinking of charm, or niceness, not as a trait of the stranger, but as a way that they are behaving to gain the desired effect.
Here’s a third one of the several other techniques that De Becker discusses. He states that someone who wants to deceive you will at times give you too many details. The details serve as a distraction and are an attempt to get you to lose sight of the context in which the interaction is occurring. Defend against this by remaining aware of that context.
Now to Follow Up
I hope that this information has been helpful to you to avoid harm from future danger. Sadly, there’s no guarantee that even with the information from this blog or even from the whole book that a person won’t be a victim of violence. We all need to take personal responsibility for our safety.
However, if you have been involved with someone in the past in a way that was traumatic for you or is still involved with this type of person, then you might want to discuss this with one of the therapists at Specialized Therapy Associates. Please call us at 201-488-6678 to speak to our intake coordinator to set up an intake for yourself to further your healing process.