Monday, 16 May 2011

The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence



Author: Gavin de Becker

Genre: Self-Help

Type: Hardcover

Pages: 322

Published: 1997

First Line: "He had probably been watching her for awhile."

Synopsis: Gavin de Becker is a leading expert on predicting violent behaviour. He is also no stranger to violence being raised in a violent home himself. Now he runs a highly successful risk assessment firms in the US working with corporations, police, FBI and famous Hollywood stars.

In this book de Becker shows his readers that by fine tuning their instincts and 'gut feelings' they can avoid situations that can be life-threatening. Our instinct is constantly running in the background of our minds picking up subtle details of our environment and others around us which gives us the feeling of fear when we're in danger. Unfortunately, many of us discount that instinctive fear for rational reasons instead of tuning in to why we have that sense of fear in the first place.

My Thoughts: Get ready for my longest book review yet. It's a doozy. Go grab a coffee or tea. Go on. I'll wait. {whistling the tune from 'Jeopardy'} Ok, here we go ....

After seeing de Becker on (I think) Nate Berkus' show (or was it Oprah?) I was intrigued by the premise of his book. As a psych major I've always been fascinated by the human mind and how we use (or don't use) it.

This book was an interesting look into how humans deal with fear and violence. People intuitively evaluate other people and situations constantly but it's only brought into our consciousness if there is a reason. De Becker believes that people need to respect and use their survival instinct. When we feel that something's not right there's probably a reason for that feeling and we shouldn't just ignore it. We need to trust our intuition/gut instinct/6th sense (whatever you want to call it) instead of dismissing it for various reasons. What's also amazing is that out of all living things, humans choose not to explore and often ignore our own survival signals! We actually ignore our natural response.

That's not to say that de Becker wants us to fear everything around us. When we use gut instinct appropriately, and not excessively, to assess the situation our fear stops immediately. If we fear everything then how are we to recognize a true signal of fear when it's important? Fear is meant to only last a very short time which means that excessive or enduring fear is detrimental and can have power over us greatly limiting our lives.

De Becker goes on to talk about worrying and that section struck a chord with me. I am a self-proclaimed worrier. It's what I do. Some people knit or paint for a hobby, I worry. But de Becker showed me how useless worrying is. I have admittedly used worry to protect myself against future disappointment. I'm a total 'what if-er'!! I use it to prepare myself 'in case' something bad happens. Almost like a 'knock on wood' deal with fate. What a waste of my time and energy. Worrying is a choice and a 'fear we manufacture' which is not constructive. Huh.

De Becker gives three great tips for dealing with worry:

1. When you feel fear, listen.
2. When you don't feel fear, don't manufacture it.
3. If you find yourself creating worry, explore and discover why.

De Becker lists several survival instincts which I found fascinating (and was one of my favourite parts of the book). This may seem long-winded but I found it fascinating and added it in here so that I can refer back to these points in the future. Bear with me or skip down a bit. :)

Forced Teaming -- is the intentional projection of a shared experience between the stranger and the victim. It gets the victim to see the aggressor as having something in common with them and therefore can cause the victim to not perceive the stranger as a threat.

Charm & Niceness -- used to compel or control a person. Just because a person seems nice doesn't mean they are nice. We need to realize (and help our kids realize) that niceness doesn't equal goodness"

Too Many Details -- when people are truthful they don't feel doubted so they don't feel the need to elaborate and give excessive details. The stranger uses the details to distract us from what's really happening ... the con.

Typecasting -- slightly insulting or labelling a person a certain way (ie "You're a snob so you probably won't take the time to talk to me.") hoping that the victim will prove that opinion is wrong (ie keep talking to the stranger).

Loan Sharking -- ie. the stranger wants to 'help' you bring your bags to your apartment so that you'll feel indebted to him which makes it hard to say 'no' to him when he undoubtedly will ask for a much bigger favour from the victim

Unsolicited Promise -- the stranger will promise something to the victim (ie "I'll just drop the bags in your doorway and go. Promise.") We must remember that promises don't equal guarantees. A stranger will promise something because he's still trying to convince the victim of his intentions. The fact that the victim still has some doubts means their survival instinct is active!! Always be suspicious of an unsolicited promise!

Discounting the word "NO" -- "No" is a complete sentence and must never be negotiated. If a person ignores 'no' they're trying to control the other person. If you give in after saying 'no' you open the door to the person trying to set up ways to control you even more

One of de Becker's points that struck me was his comment on how women are constantly considering their safety and in fear of their general safety while men don't normally deal with that kind of (almost) daily fear. I've wondered that too so I asked Brad - my expert on all things male. I asked "Would you ever feel that your safety was at risk walking down the street in the dark (we're in total suburbia) or walking in an underground parking garage by yourself"? His answer was 'No, never'. For me? Definitely. Is the risk great that someone would hurt me while walking the dog at night? No. Would I ever choose to walk in a parking garage by myself? Definitely not. Is my concern valid or real? Yes. As a woman I was raised to always be aware of my surroundings ... men just aren't tuned into that fear like women are.

From a young age women are (I'm making a generalization here) taught to be 'nice', not to offend others and to 'please' people. This tactic is totally wrong and potentially dangerous. It's OK to not accept help from a man if you don't feel comfortable. Like I mentioned above, "No." is a full sentence and we shouldn't feel the need to stand there are justify our reasons for saying no. If I offend a man who innocently offers to help me bring my bags to my car in an underground garage that's OK. If he's a nice guy he'll probably understand. Even if he walks away in a huff, that's OK because my safety is paramount to me, not his slighted feelings. Plus a nice guy probably wouldn't approach a woman in that situation. If he's a violent guy and I've forcefully said "No" then I've shown him that I'm not someone to be messed with and hopefully avoided a dangerous situation.

De Becker also discusses our other basic instincts. Fear is not the only basic instinct (although it is the instinct with the greatest urgency). We also have instincts of : apprehension, suspicion, doubt, gut feelings, hunches, curiosity and humour. De Becker goes into detail describing the various levels of intuition so that we can recognize them and learn to use them.

While I did enjoy this book I did have some issues with it as well. The middle of the book, which dealt more with business and employees, I didn't find nearly as interesting for me. I also didn't relate with the large section on how Hollywood-type people deal with stalkers or unwanted attention from fans. I thought the book was going to focus more on how to teach yourself to look for clues to avoid trouble with others who mean us harm. That wasn't the case. While the book was very interesting it did have a psychology text feel to it and did get bogged down in the middle.

Also, I was a little let down when the book didn't go into as much detail on 'how to' as I was hoping. I was looking for more ways to protect myself and my family or ways to weed out the criminals from the normal folk. That being said, I obviously did enjoy a good chunk of this book, I learned a lot and would recommend this book.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars


1 comment:

Jen at The Three Little Piglets said...

I'm a worrier too and have a hard time letting go of that worry. It's always frustrating to read a book that analyzes what you already know so you understand why you do what you do, but still have no idea what to do to change!

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