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The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence
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445 of 460 people found the following review helpful
on September 11, 1999
Few crime prevention experts emphasize intuition. Instead, they talk about staying alert to crime. Sometimes crime prevention experts generate more fear than they alleviate.
Gavin deBecker, on the other hand, makes intuition and freedom from fear the focus of his philosophy. Instead of imagining the bad things that could happen, he says, live without worry of crime.
He also says to stop watching the news. It only generates needless worry and gives one a distorted view of the world. I have been teaching these same concepts for years as a black belt in karate, so it was refreshing to read them from someone else. I avoid newspapers and TV news--it only darkens our view of the world. It only makes crime seem worse. Give up news for two weeks and notice how your outlook improves.
As a teacher of women's self-defense, I've heard many stories of intuition. Some people call it the "back ground music," because it is like the music that plays in a movie before something bad happens.
As deBecker writes, act upon your survival signals (run, search your house in the middle of the night, stay away from an individual, etc.), even if you feel foolish doing so.
Shed the fears in your life, because fear clouds the survival signals. Those who live in fear of crime are already victims.
Some of the book is difficult to read, such as chapters on child abuse. But the book is still worth it. Buy copies for yourself and friends. If you spend time worrying about crime, this book could change your life.
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160 of 165 people found the following review helpful
on March 9, 2002
This book recently helped me to recognize the manipulative tactics of a man I dated one time, and it showed me the most effective way to dump him before getting sucked into a bad relationship. Repeatedly discounting the word "no", even in small matters; typecasting; attempted loansharking; deceptive and self-serving charm; and unwarranted persistence were all warning signs of a bad dating situation.
The chapter "I was trying to let him down easy" provides an effective method to end a no-win situation quickly and without guilt. The strategy: Tell him explicitly that you have decided to not go out with him again. (Do not use the word "date"; he may counter-offer and suggest "going out as friends" instead. Then you are still stuck with him.) Do not offer reasons why. Do not negotiate. Your reasons are your business; his only interest is in your final decision. Cease contact, and do not respond to any attempted contact by him.
This technique may appear cold; certainly, it isn't warranted in every breakup. Recognize, though, that manipulators have honed a strategy that advances their interests with little regard to your well-being. Don't feel sorry for them. They know what they are doing. With this book, you are better equipped to see them realistically and rid them from your life before they cause real damage.
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318 of 337 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 11, 2004
When a young relative of mine was vacationing, a stranger grabbed her by the arm and said, "Come with me or I'll kill you." She reacted instinctively and broke free, and as she ran she expected to be shot at any second. But she made it to safety and provided the cops with a good description.

One year later and 100 miles from where that happened, another little girl was grabbed by a stranger, who said something to her--this was captured on videotape. The frightened child, instead of fleeing, cooperated. She was later murdered by her abductor.

I think most of us fall into that second category, because we don't listen to the instinct to run, or to fight, or to (best of all) avoid those situations in the first place. We've been trained to suppress those very instincts that exist to preserve our lives.

What deBecker's book so expertly does is re-train us to listen to our intuition, to scope out our environment and everyone in it, and to read the danger signs we would otherwise prefer to ignore.

Panic and anxiety are not useful emotions; fear is different. Fear is what compels us to take action if there is a clear and present danger; it's what allows us to see what's happening and respond appropriately. It's an emotion that should be nurtured instead of conquered. We don't want our kids to grow up afraid of the boogeyman, scared to go out of their homes or try new things or meet new people. De becker teaches us that, instead, if we develop and learn to trust our intuition, we can free ourselves from that trap, just as we can react positively if we are ever in a position that requires immediate escape.

He shows, with examples and self-reflective exercises, what to ask yourself, and what to do, if you have a "gut feeling" that tells you something is wrong.

Parents, children and women especially need this skill.

It's great to learn self-defense, to build your confidence in what you can physically do to protect yourself. But that ability is enhanced by the lessons in this book. And sometimes, being a black-belt is irrelevent to dangers that are out there.

DeBecker's best lessons are learning how to listen to yourself, how to interpret warning signs from dangerous people, and teaching us how to predict behavior. You don't have to be "surprised" by someone's crazy or hostile actions if you can see them coming and cut them off at the pass. He points out that every time we get behind the wheel of a car, we're predicting what every other driver on the road will do. All we have to learn is how to apply that knowledge to a boyfriend who won't take no for an answer, a neighbor who takes a creepy interest in our kid, or a job applicant who is a little too persistent.

DeBecker says some things that will rub people the wrong way--such as, for battered partners: the first time it happens, you're a victim and the second time, you're a volunteer. But that's actually true. If you KNOW what this person is going to do, and you choose to stay in the relationship in spite of this information, then you have to own the consequences.

The appendices are useful and the reading list is also a good resource, but the IMPACT self-defense classes deBecker recommends are not available everywhere. I wish the book gave a little more information about choosing a self-defense course if IMPACT is not in the area.
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139 of 147 people found the following review helpful
I found this 2 tape set, narrated by the author, to be superior in many respects to the longer book. First, given the limited time available, the points made about crime avoidance are reduced to their essential elements. Second, the author is a convincing narrator, who brings passion and the abhorence of violent crime to his subject. In particular, the author's narration of the crime described in the opening pages of the book, and the victim's instinctive reliance on the "gift of fear" which saves her life, is riveting. While the book is worthy of a careful read, the taped version is an excellent condensation. Buy it, if not for yourself, for your sons, daughters, cousins, nieces, and nephews.
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63 of 67 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2004
This is my work background:

1) I've spent almost 10 years as a counselor in a psychiatric setting.

2) For over a year, I was as a counselor for a Domestic Violence Shelter.

3) Currently, I'm in Law Enforcement.

I thought that this book would have nothing to offer me; I was wrong. Becker has written an easy to read, fascinating, all too important book that could potentially save your life.

I have recommended this book to court service personel, who work exclusively with victims of violent crime. I have personally proffered the information, contained within this book, to numerous victims - especially, those people who are being stalked.

" The Gift of Fear" is invaluable.

It's worth your time. Quite literally, this book could save your life.

I'm not exagerating.
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 1997
The book concentrates largely on threat assessment, de
Becker's specialty--reading behavoral cues to gauge how likely someone
will be to initiate violence. It deals to a lesser extent with how to
handle people that your assessment tells you are going to be a
problem. De Becker systematically goes through cases where violence
aparrently came "out of the blue" and demonstrates that in each
situation, there were plenty of danger signals, and that the victim's
intuition had already registered these signals and communicated them
as feelings of uneasiness. People invariably knew that
something was out of place, but ignored the feelings. The book goes
on to inform the reader's intuition with an analytical breakdown of
danger signals in different environments: from strangers, stalkers,
angry employees, controlling spouses, obsessive fans, and people who
deliver death threats. The bottom line for de Becker is "listen to
your gut-level intuition"; people usually have a pretty acute sense
of when they are truly at risk.

The book's biggest shortcoming is that it deals only with the
above situations--where the potential aggressor is known to the
victim, or some kind of seduction is present before violence is
initiated. On page 61 de Becker writes:

"I haven't focused here on the criminal who simply walks
up, displays a weapon, and demands money. That is because he is
distinctly more obvious that those who use the strategies I've
described"

And with that farewell he abandons fifty percent of the violent crimes
in America to concentrate on the ones where threat assessment might
make a more substantial difference in the outcome. This can
unfortunately leave the reader with the impression that all crime is
avoidable, when in fact, the cases that don't fit his profiles
(interpersonal contact with victim precedes violence) haven't even
been discussed. Conspicuously absent are:

1. Any evaluation, pro or con, of firearms or other self-defense
precautions for personal protection, though indirectly he
recommends IMPACT associates, who provide self-defense training for
women. This omission is unfortunate, because "get a gun" is
oft-quoted counsel for people at risk, and de Becker's perspective could make a difference.

2. Any analysis of victim selection in predatory crime, or
suggestions for avoiding appearing "victimizable." The latter is a
particularly unfortunate omission, since the perceived vulnerability
of a victim is a significantly influential factor in whether or
not they will be selected for violence, and it is something that
people can take definite action about.

The book is also remarkably short on suggestions about what to do
once you know someone means you ill. In only three scenarios does de
Becker have a set of proactive recommendations: firing an angry
employee, leaving an abusive spouse, and cutting off communications
with persistent or obsessive callers. His recommendations in these
cases are excellent, but in the rest of his examples (stalkings,
children known to be at sexual risk, violent assaults by
strangers, burglars in the house, credible death threats, persistent
violations of restraining orders, recreational assaults by teenagers)
he has very little to say beyond identifying risk factors. As my wife
pointed out, his primary, and recurring, scenario (that of Kelly, who,
knowing that she was going to be killed if she followed a rapist's
instructions to stay put, instead silently followed him down the
hallway and let herself out the door) is a fantasy of non-violent
conflict resolution. Far more common is the situation where the
threat is known, but options are uncertain. De Becker investigates
the situations where neighbors say "We had no idea; we would have
never suspected," but pays little attention to the countless
situations where the neighbors were expecting it all along, had known
for years that there was going to be trouble, and who it was going to come
from.

Because the fundamental conclusion of the book is correct: people
usually do have an accurate and powerful sense of their own
risk. If you go for a ride with the LAPD, they know who the
drug dealers and gangbangers and chronic offenders are, and often have
a good idea of who their victims will be. What to do about it--now,
there's a more difficult issue.

That said, I think this book is looking in the right direction:
victim empowerment. It's not a book for law enforcement or
professional security agencies--it's a book written for the individual
at risk. It emphasizes that you are the person who makes the
difference in your own security--especially in situations where the
probable aggressor is someone you know. It encourages people not to
participate in their own victimization, and repeatedly shows that in
critical moments in the commission of crimes, you are the only person
who can make the difference. His information on threat assessment is
excellent, written with the honest intention of giving the reader
enough intelligence to take to recognize risk when they see it and to
take proactive steps toward their own security. I highly recommend
this book to anyone with an interest.

Other recommended reading: John Douglas, _Mindhunter_, and
Robert Ressler _Whoever Fights Monsters_ (on the FBI's profiling of
serial criminals); Paxton Quigley, _Not an Easy Target: A Women's
Guide to Self-Protection_ (on victim selection and pragmatic threat
avoidance); Linden Gross, _To Have and to Harm: True Stories of
Stalkers and their Victims_.
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48 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 2004
THE GIFT OF FEAR: AND OTHER SURVIVAL SIGNALS THAT PROTECT US FROM VIOLENCE by Gavin de Becker is a helpful, engaging quick read (it's a trade paperback of around 380 pages). His premise is that fear is a means of survival and that if we listen to it and follow it, we can save our own and others' lives; however, for various reasons, we often discount our intuition about danger or we don't listen to our fear and put ourselves unnecessarily at risk.
The book begins with a "true crime" story about Kelly, a woman who was raped in her apartment by a man she met in her stairwell who offered to carry the groceries she had dropped up to her apartment. De Becker parses the incident and categorizes the methods the attacker employed to get her to do what he wanted and put herself under his control, and this section is very enlightening. But the main theme of this first chapter and the book is that men and women should follow their intuition -- intuition isn't some flighty, sixth sense; it's a call to action when your brain has become aware of many small signs that something isn't right, even if, at that moment, you cannot articulate exactly what is wrong.
This book is not a self-defense or how-to guide, but rather makes a case for intuition and believing in oneself when one senses danger or feels fear, and the best reading in it, I think, is the examples de Becker explicates from his many years in the security and risk-assessment business (he also lived through an exceedingly violent and abusive childhood). The chapters address being in the presence of danger, how intuition works and functions, the science of violence predictors, survival signals, violent crime from strangers, high-stakes predictions, understanding threats to kill, dealing with too-persistent people, violence in the workplace, domestic violence, dating abuses and violence, violent children, public figure attacks and pursuits and extreme cases.
I found several things particularly interesting and engaging about this book. First, de Becker states emphatically throughout the work that violence is predictable, and that no one ever "just snaps" or is just an inexplicably bad person. Second, his predictor of violence is a useful tool -- and I would think may be applicable in other assessment situations -- to make informed judgments on risk. Third, I got a great deal personally out of his comparisons of worry and anxiety with fear in which he suggest that the first two are destructive and distracting (and may prevent someone from spotting real danger signs), but that fear is what has saved many, many lives and could save your own. Fourth, his writing on people who are too persistent is very interesting, and he shows how people's attempts to deal with stalkers is often just going to keep the situation alive.
Finally, the chapter on domestic violence was absolutely fascinating, primarily because this is a man who deals in truth and reality, not romance and excuses. He states that when assessing relationships, women often make judgments based on potential rather than on the present situation, which causes them to ignore warning signs and predictive incidents. He also says that he is in the business of safety, not justice, and that because of that he isn't a supporter of restraining orders in all cases because in some, they aggravate the offender more and can actually be a precipitating incident toward murder or its attempt.
Toward the beginning of the book, de Becker writes about how men don't really understand the risk under which women constantly live, but that for women personal safety is a constant consideration. He writes, "Men are worried that women will laugh at them. Women are worried that men will kill them." I learned a lot about listening to intuition, choosing not to worry and living safely.
I recommend this book, especially to women.
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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Gavin de Becker has produced a landmark work in the dual fields of criminal psychology and self defense. I was recommended "The Gift of Fear" by a colleague with experience in law enforcement: he claimed it was the best overall book on self preservation and personal safety he had ever read, and while it is excellent for both sexes, it is especially valuable for women. I purchased the book for a female friend on his recommendation, and I read it as well. The book is detailed, personal, practical, and poignant.

The book extols the value of intuition (and resultant fear) as a predictor of potential violent or harmful behavior. Although my original intent in purchasing the book was a concern about violence from outsiders, the area of the book that I believe is most useful (especially to women) is violence from intimate partners. I found the sections on predicting violent behavior from people known to a victim to be the most harrowing yet most practical in the book. One thing that runs as a theme through the book (again, especially useful to women) is that controlling behavior in any relationship is an extremely serious warning. Although most controlling males don't become violent, the likelihood of violence from them is dramatically higher than in a healthy relationship; further, even if the scenarios don't escalate to violence, control issues can manifest themselves in a variety of other awful ways that are only touched on here.

In this book de Becker makes the case that intuition is actually reasoned, but it is a function performed so fast in our brains that we are unaware exactly why we have such feelings. I think the book argues persuasively that we ignore such warnings at our own risk and that while we may be more comfortable with reason and logic, intuition is an invaluable ally, as is genuine fear (which is altogether different from worry or anxiety.)

Although I bought this book for a very close friend for a very specific reason, I am going to purchase several more copies for other people I love and care about. Rarely do I recommend a self-help book unequivocally, but this is one of those times. Buy this book, read it yourself, and pass it along to people you love.

This is a fantastic book, and I wholeheartedly endorse it.
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62 of 68 people found the following review helpful
Gavin DeBecker could have named this book "The Gift of Intuition" and tapped into an even larger reader base. Human beings have an enormous capacity to reach deep inside and access the powers within. We just choose not to. Whether it is a religious belief that makes us look outside of ourself for help or just conditioning, we have let this gift atrophy. I always said the answer to so many of our problems is in the listening, not the doing or talking. Just sit quietly and listen, the answers are all there if you're willing to allow them to surface.
DeBecker knows this and teaches you how to hone these skills. He will show you how to trust yourself, have faith in your own ability to know when a situation is terribly wrong.
How many of us suddenly see all the red flags at the end of a horrible relationship or situation? Those red flags did not suddenly appear out of nowhere. They were there from the beginning and were ignored or pushed aside either out of ignorance or the desire for the "appearance" of a situation. The great guy, the independence, the can't miss business opportunity. All of these can shout decibels louder than your intuition ever could. Intuition is quiet voice, it has to be actively listened too, it won't overpower any voice you choose to hear. "The Gift of Fear" will help you listen to yourself, to hear what is inside you.
This is the best gift you can give your teenagers, help them learn this from the start. I might even go as far as to say no better graduation gift exists. Okay, so put it on the seat of that new car or put the cash inside the pages instead of a card, but do give this as a gift to the ones you love. It very well might save their lives. At the very least, it will make their lives better by helping them to live it more aware and in control.
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 1999
I visited Amazon today to buy two copies of this book (as gifts for people I work with) - I know it sounds silly to say reading a book changed my life, but this one did. You learn how to let go of needless worries and anxieties and instead listen to your natural insticts, which can truly protect you from harm. The book is a great tool for both men and women, but women especially can identify with the stories and content. Ever had a stalker, or even just an ex-boyfriend who won't go away? You can learn what you're unintentionally doing to still encourage him, girls, and learn how to rid your life of these sort of harmful people for once and for all. All the stories and info are true, but written like a thriller...the celebrity protection tales are utterly riveting. Once you're done with this book, you will know everything from how to screen-out potentially unbalanced employees to how to walk to your car in a deserted garage at night. A terrific must-read!
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