Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Gift of Fear

As part of my "Be Strong" project, I’ve challenged myself to read at least one book a month dealing with an aspect of inner strength such as confidence, communication skills, working with difficult people, self-knowledge, willpower, etc. My February read was Gavin De Becker’s book The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence. I chose this book after Maria of Redirecting Chaos recommended reading it in the comments of previous posts not once, but twice

What is The Gift of Fear about?
Gavin de Becker, a security specialist based in Los Angeles and the founder of Gavin de Becker and Associates a private security firm whose clients includes Hollywood stars and government agencies, has written a book exploring how fear is a gift that can be used to keep us safe. The book explains how we can spot even subtle signs of danger—before it’s too late.

My Thoughts:
Gavin de Becker’s intention in writing the book was to share factors his company considers when identifying and predicting violent people and their behaviors in simple to understand terms. He achieves this by including powerful real life stories that left me chilled knowing these examples actually occurred.

I am highlighting some of the major lessons I learned from this book:

He provides potential warning signs to watch for when confronted by a stranger or manipulative person. He calls these survival signals:

  • Forced Teaming. Shown through the use of the word “we” a person tries to pretend he has something in common with you and that you are both in the same predicament when it isn’t really true.
  • Charm and Niceness. This is being polite and friendly to a person in order to manipulate them. Niceness does not equal goodness.
  • Too many details. When people lie, even if what they say sounds credible, it doesn’t sound credible to them, so they keep talking.
  • Typecasting. Always involves a slight insult and usually one that is easy to refute. For example: “You are probably too snobbish to talk to the likes of me.”
  • Loan Sharking. Offers assistance, but is always calculating the debt. The fact that you owe a person something makes it harder to ask them to leave you alone.
  • The Unsolicited Promise. This is one of the most reliable signals. It shows nothing more than the speaker’s desire to convince you of something. Ask yourself why does this person need to convince me? For example” “I’ll just put this stuff down and go. I promise.”
  • Discounting the Word “No”. Refusing to accept the word no.

“No” is a word that must never be negotiated and was the most important lesson I took from this book. The person who chooses not to hear the word “no” is trying to control you. Don’t trust them. If you let someone talk you out of the word “no” you might as well wear a sign that reads, “You are in charge.” (Pg. 62)

A woman alone who needs assistance is actually far better off choosing someone and asking for help, as opposed to waiting for an unsolicited approach. The person you choose is nowhere near as likely to bring you hazard as the person who chooses you. (Pg. 63)

Never show fear:
Threats are never spoken from a position of power. Whatever power they have is derived from the fear instilled in the victim, for fear is the currency of the threatener. (Pg. 109)

Persistence only proves persistence:
It does not prove love. The fact that a romantic pursuer is relentless doesn’t mean you are special – it means he is troubled. (Pg. 196)

Women should never explain why they don’t want a relationship:
Mr. Wrong will challenge each reason she offers. Instead women should make it clear they have thought it over, that this is the decision and that they expect the man to respect it. (Pg. 199)

The problem with restraining orders:
Many batterers find intolerable the idea of being under the control of their victims, and with a court order, a woman seeks to control her husband’s conduct, thus turning the tables of their relationship. (Pg. 189)

Worry is the fear we manufacture – it is not authentic. (Pg. 286)

Anxiety, unlike real fear, is always caused by uncertainty. (Pg. 291)

Bottom Line:
The Gift of Fear may be the best self-help book I’ve ever read and is most likely going to be one of the most important reads of my strength challenge. It includes much more than the items I’ve highlighted above i.e. listening to and trusting your intuition. One thing I know for sure, I will never look at a person who challenges my “no” the same way ever again.

Have you read The Gift of Fear?  If so, what were your thoughts? Do you have any future books or topics suggestions for my "BE Strong" Reading Challenge?

If you enjoyed this post you may also like:
Verbal Judo Communication
Learning about self-esteem
How to Avoid Being Conned on a Dating Site


  1. I read the book a long time ago and now that my girls are getting older, I need to read it again.

  2. Anonymous9:43 PM

    Restraining orders are just all wrong and full of problems!

    I also love the part about no not being negotiable. I think we as women are so easily swayed if we're afraid we are hurting someone.

    Sounds like a great book.

  3. I'll be adding this to my reading list.

  4. {Melinda} This sounds like an amazing book. Love his descriptions of manipulative people -- very spot on.
    I have to find time to read this!

  5. This is a book every woman needs to read, though I admit I dragged my feet on it for a long time. The title turned me off - who wants to read about fear?

    It's actually about empowerment, and NOT feeling fear all the time, but only and when appropriate, and NOT overruling our gut instincts that something is wrong in order to be "nice."

    Would suggest an oldie but goodie, "When I Say No, I Feel Guilty" Manuel J. Smith.

  6. The Dose of Reality,
    I agree this is a book that can be read more than once. I bet you get just as much out of it the second time around. The chapters covering "No" is one of the biggest lessons I've read in awhile.

  7. Carli Alice,
    It was a great book.
    It was with a heavy heart that I wrote about restraining orders. Last October 3 women were killed at the Asana Day Spa here in Brookfield. The murderer went there with the specific purpose of shooting his estranged wife. Yes, she had filed a restraining order against him. Gavin de Becker’s point is if someone wants to harm you a restraining order isn’t going to do any good.
    Also agree women are more easily swayed if we think we may hurt someone.

  8. Tracie,
    I think you will find this to be an important read. He tries to teach us to use our intuition to keep us safe and how to recognize people we should avoid.

  9. Mothering from scratch,
    You won't be disappointed.

  10. Beverly,
    I put off reading this book for the same reason. You are right it is more about empowerment and not feeling - or showing fear.

    I'm adding When I Say No, I Feel Guilty" to my reading list. I also have an issue with guilt, so this sounds like a great read.

  11. Hi Savvy WorkingGal,

    Glad to see you learned a lot from that book. I did as well, though I'm not quite as good at applying it in my life.

  12. Maria,
    Thanks for recommending it. I think just being aware is so helpful.