The Gift of Fear

I never really struggle to find books to read. There are loads of them and I’ve read hardly any. For me, it’s more about not buying all the books I see that I think I’d like to read. Sometimes I try to resist. Honestly. Then a book will come into my awareness and I’ll think I should read that, but I manage to exercise some self-control and don’t buy it. But it will keep popping up in articles that I’m reading or people around me will talk about it, and if that book keeps making its presence known, I’ll think I am meant to read it. The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker is one of those books.

de Becker works with a wide range of people and organizations to predict when someone will become violent. He discusses all sorts of situations including dates that turn into stalking, the fired employee who won’t let go, assassination threats against public figures, helpful strangers who are really predators, and people obsessed with a single issue. In many cases these situations won’t become violent, but sometimes they will and this book explores how to determine the ones that will.

Violence is predictable. And many of us know when it’s going to happen. We tell ourselves not to listen to our intuition. We don’t want to say no, or to risk offending someone, or to be melodramatic, so we ignore the signs that our subconscious has picked up. Much of the advice in this book is based around listening to yourself and taking notice of what we’re feeling.

Some of the advice is about how to respond so as to shut down potentially violent situations. For example, how to say no. Women particularly, although not exclusively, are socialized to believe that saying no makes them a bad person, or even that saying no will invite an aggressive response. In fact, not saying no communicates that you can’t say no and are an easy target. Another example is not responding. We’re tempted to think that if we just explain clearly, once and for all, the reasons why the person can’t have their job back, or that their accusations are unfounded, then they will respond like a rational person and back off. If you’ve done that once already and it didn’t work, then it’s not going to. Because that person is not rational and all you do is show them they can get a response. Also, we probably need to let go of having the last word.

There is a list of warning signs that tell you when someone is not safe. These are:

  • Forced Teaming. This is when a person tries to pretend that he has something in common with a person and that they are in the same predicament when that isn’t really true.
  • Charm and Niceness. This is being polite and friendly to a person in order to manipulate him or her.
  • Too many details. If a person is lying they will add excessive details to make themselves sound more credible.
  • Typecasting. An insult to get a person who would otherwise ignore one to talk to one. For example: “Oh, I bet you’re too stuck-up to talk to a guy like me.”
  • Loan Sharking. Giving unsolicited help and expecting favors in return.
  • The Unsolicited Promise. A promise to do (or not do) something when no such promise is asked for; this usually means that such a promise will be broken. For example: an unsolicited, “I promise I’ll leave you alone after this,” usually means you will not be left alone. Similarly, an unsolicited “I promise I won’t hurt you” usually means the person intends to hurt you.
  • Discounting the Word “No”. Refusing to accept rejection.

I’m really, really glad I read this book. I can look back on a lot of times when I thought someone or something was iffy and I acted on that, and then felt guilty for being rude, not giving someone a chance, or unwilling to accept help. In most of those cases at least one of the indicators of violence was present. Knowing that I know what to look out for and that I can trust my instincts is empowering. Unlike many things you read, this book is meant to help you be less afraid because your intuition can’t help you if you’re afraid of everything. It’s amazing and everyone should read it.

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