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The Gift of Fear : Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence Hardcover – June 1, 1997


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Amazon.com Review

Each hour, 75 women are raped in the United States, and every few seconds, a woman is beaten. Each day, 400 Americans suffer shooting injuries, and another 1,100 face criminals armed with guns. Author Gavin de Becker says victims of violent behavior usually feel a sense of fear before any threat or violence takes place. They may distrust the fear, or it may impel them to some action that saves their lives. A leading expert on predicting violent behavior, de Becker believes we can all learn to recognize these signals of the "universal code of violence," and use them as tools to help us survive. The book teaches how to identify the warning signals of a potential attacker and recommends strategies for dealing with the problem before it becomes life threatening. The case studies are gripping and suspenseful, and include tactics for dealing with similar situations.

People don't just "snap" and become violent, says de Becker, whose clients include federal government agencies, celebrities, police departments, and shelters for battered women. "There is a process as observable, and often as predictable, as water coming to a boil." Learning to predict violence is the cornerstone to preventing it. De Becker is a master of the psychology of violence, and his advice may save your life. --Joan Price


A Q&A with Gavin de Becker

Question: In today’s world, where terror and tragedy seem omnipresent, the fear of violence never seems more heightened. Is the world a more violent place than it ever has been?

Gavin de Becker : Your question contains much of the answer: today’s world, "where terror and tragedy seem omnipresent..." The key word is "seem." When TV news coverage presents so much on these topics, it elevates the perception of terrorism and tragedy way beyond the reality. In every major city, TV news creates forty hours of original production every day, most of it composed and presented to get our attention with fear. Hence an incident on an airplane in which a man fails to do any damage is treated as if the make-shift bomb actually exploded. It didn’t. Imagine having a near miss in your car, avoiding what would have been a serious collision--and then talking about every hour for months after the fact. Welcome to TV news.

To the second part of your question, No, the world is not a more violent place than it has ever been, however we live as if it were. The U.S. is the most powerful nation in world history--and also the most afraid.

Question: You were just on the Oprah show discussing spousal homicide--can you talk about the show, and whether spousal homicide is a growing epidemic?

Gavin de Becker: Through two shows Oprah dedicated to the topic, we’re conveying a great deal of new information, and most of all, Oprah’s announcement that a MOSAIC assessment system developed by my firm will be made available to any person who wants to use it, at no cost, via her website. This will allow anyone to diagnose a relationship to determine if it has the combination of factors most associated with escalated violence, and spousal homicide. Is spousal homicide increasing? It is not; however, the reality is more disturbing than an increase: Spousal homicide has remained a constant in our lives, such that every four hours at least one woman is killed in America by a husband or boyfriend. That uninterrupted and sad statistic can be interrupted and changed--because as explored in The Gift of Fear, spousal homicide is the single most preventable serious crime in America--largely owing to that fact that it always occurs after many warning signs, and after several people are aware of the risk.

Question: Your bestselling book The Gift of Fear gives many examples to help readers recognize what you call pre-incident indicators (PINS) of violence. What role does intuition play in recognizing these signals?

Gavin de Becker: Like every creature on earth, we have an extraordinary defense resource: We don’t have the sharpest claws and strongest jaws--but we do have the biggest brains, and intuition is the most impressive process of these brains. It might be hard to accept its importance because intuition is often described as emotional, unreasonable, or inexplicable. Husbands chide their wives about "feminine intuition" and don’t take it seriously. If intuition is used by a woman to explain some choice she made or a concern she can’t let go of, men roll their eyes and write it off. We much prefer logic, the grounded, explainable, unemotional thought process that ends in a supportable conclusion. In fact, Americans worship logic, even when it’s wrong, and deny intuition, even when it’s right. Men, of course, have their own version of intuition, not so light and inconsequential, they tell themselves, as that feminine stuff. Theirs is more viscerally named a "gut feeling," but whatever name we use, it isn’t just a feeling. It is a process more extraordinary and ultimately more logical in the natural order than the most fantastic computer calculation. It is our most complex cognitive process and, at the same time, the simplest.

Intuition connects us to the natural world and to our nature. It carries us to predictions we will later marvel at. "Somehow I knew," we will say about the chance meeting we predicted, or about the unexpected phone call from a distant friend, or the unlikely turnaround in someone’s behavior, or about the violence we steered clear of, or, too often, the violence we elected not to steer clear of. The Gift of Fear offers strategies that help us recognize the signals of intuition--and helps us avoid denial, which is the enemy of safety.

Question: Your latest book, Just 2 Seconds, has been called a "masterpiece" of analysis on the art of preventing assassination. It contains an entire compendium of attacks on protected persons across the globe. What motivated you to put together such a definitive reference? What tenets can be applied to one’s everyday life?

Gavin de Becker: Most of all, we wrote the book we needed. My co-authors and I had long looked for an extensive collection of attack summaries from which important new insights could be harvested. Unable to find it, we committed to do the work ourselves, eventually collecting more than 1400 cases to analyze. Many new insights and concepts emerged from the study, and the one most applicable to day to day life, even for people who are not living with unusual risks, is to be in the present; pre-sent, as it were. Now is the only time anything ever happens--now is where the action is. All focus on anything outside the Now (the past, memory, the future, fantasy) detracts focus from what’s actually happening in your environment. Human being have the capacity to look right at something and not see it, and in studying such a crisp event--the few seconds during which assassinations have occurred--Just 2 Seconds aims to enhance the reader’s ability to see the value of the present moment.

(Photo © Avery Helm)


From Library Journal

De Becker, the CEO of a firm that attempts to predict and prevent violence against individuals, shares his informed insights on enhancing personal safety. He believes that violence is part of the human condition and that America is increasingly a violent place. For example, homicide is now the leading cause of death for women in the workplace. De Becker posits that intuition is our most basic and reliable survival skill. When it produces fear?as distinct from worry or anxiety?we should pay attention. Mixing theory with case histories, he discusses stranger-to-stranger crime, obsessive admirers, employee rampages, and spousal crime, as well as the more esoteric categories of celebrity stalkers and assassins. Having suffered an abusive childhood himself, de Becker has a special empathy for victims and an acute awareness of the signs of criminal intent. A valuable contribution on a timely topic, this is recommended for public libraries.
-Gregor A. Preston, formerly with Univ. of California Lib., Davis
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 334 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1st edition (June 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316235024
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316235020
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,157 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #15,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gavin de Becker is a three-time presidential appointee whose pioneering work has changed the way our government evaluates threats to our nation's highest officials. His firm advises many of the world's most prominent media figures, corporations, and law enforcement agencies on predicting violence, and it also serves regular citizens who are victims of domestic abuse and stalking. De Becker has advised the prosecution on major cases, including the O.J. Simpson murder trial. He has testified before many legislative bodies and has successfully proposed new laws to help manage violence.

Customer Reviews

I know my life will be better for having read this book.
Sonja Foust
In the book, Gift of Fear Mr. de Becker speaks about listening to instincts and the reasons behind them.
KJELFTR
This book was a very easy read....interesting and informative.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

415 of 428 people found the following review helpful By Arnold Howard on September 11, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
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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288 of 306 people found the following review helpful By Mary Esterhammer-Fic VINE VOICE on February 11, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
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.
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119 of 124 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 8, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
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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125 of 132 people found the following review helpful By G. Lawton on June 3, 2006
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
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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