Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Review: The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker

A dangerous situation ... via
Reviewed by Ingrid

Published: 1997

It's about: Gavin de Becker is a pro when it comes to understanding why violence happens and how to predict when it. He wrote this book to explain how to recognize dangerous people and situations and how to deal with them. So often the news describes violence events as "senseless," something that "no one saw coming." De Becker argues that you always can see it coming, if you look for the right signals.

I thought: I usually stay away from self-help books, or more specifically books that look like self-help books. But the title of this book caught my attention when I heard about it from someone's comment on this post, and I found out the kindle edition was pretty cheap. Being a person who suffers from anxiety, sometimes anxiety over whether or not I'll be able to differentiate between anxiety and true fear in a dangerous situation, I figured this book was worth my investigation.

Most of this book explains how manipulators work and how to predict their actions, and thus how to protect yourself from them. De Becker tells us that manipulators use forced teaming, too many details, charm, niceness, typecasting, and loan sharking to try to put vulnerable people - most often women - under their control. Be wary of someone who use these devices, he says, and if your intuition says get away from them, then get away.

The last chapter, though, was especially helpful to me. De Becker explains how fear is different from panic and anxiety, and how real fear to move you to action that can save your life. As I was reading this last chapter, I thought about a concept I read about in the book Composing a Life. Life never happens how we expect, and it's much better to enjoy the present and embrace discontinuities than to stress about how life isn't following our every expectation. I realized that, similarly, dangerous or life-threatening situations rarely play out how we expect they would in our imaginations. De Becker says,
I strongly recommend caution and precaution, but many people believe—and we are even taught—that we must be extra alert to be safe. In fact, this usually decreases the likelihood of perceiving hazard and thus reduces safety. Alertly looking around while thinking, “Someone could jump out from behind that hedge; maybe there’s someone hiding in that car” replaces perception of what actually is happening with imaginings of what could happen. We are far more open to every signal when we don’t focus on the expectation of specific signals.
 In other words, anxiety can be detrimental to us, because it clouds our brain and distracts us from what could be real signals of a totally different dangerous situation than we are expecting. If we eliminate anxiety and calmly be alert to what's happening around us, our intuition will send us necessary signals if need be. We can know when we feel real fear as opposed to worry or anxiety because, once our intuition tells us something is wrong, by looking around our mind will be able to figure out what is out of place or not quite right. Usually then we can see what we need to do to take action.

Reading this book made me feel much more confident in myself and my intuition. I highly recommend it, especially to anyone who has problems with anxiety or worry.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf.

Reading Recommendations: This book should be required reading for every woman. Don't be put off by the fact that it is/looks like a self-help book . . . it wasn't nearly as gimmicky as I expected it to be.

Favorite excerpts:

"The fact the a romantic pursuer is relentless doesn't mean you are special--it means he is troubled."

"I've successfully lobbied and testified for stalking laws in several states, but I would trade them all for a high school class that would teach young men how to hear 'no,' and teach young women that it’s all right to explicitly reject."

"Anxiety, unlike real fear, is always cause by uncertainty."

"Predictions in which you have high confidence free you to respond, adjust, feel sadness, accept, prepare, or to do whatever is needed. Accordingly, anxiety is reduced by improving your predictions, thus increasing your certainty."

"If you can bring yourself to apply your imagination to finding the possible favorable outcomes of undesired developments, even if only as an exercise, you’ll see that it fosters creativity. This suggestion is much more than a way to find the silver lining our grandmothers encouraged us to look for. I include it in this book because creativity is linked to intuition, and intuition is the way out of the most serious challenges you might face. Albert Einstein said that when you follow intuition, 'The solutions come to you, and you don’t know how or why.'"

What I'm reading next: Blue Nights by Joan Didion