Book Review: “The Gift Of Fear”

“He had probably been watching her for awhile. We aren’t sure — but what we do know is that she was not his first victim.” – The Gift of Fear

I wish I had read this book sooner. I wish every man, woman, and child were required to read it. I wish they would devote a class to it in high school. As the cover advertises: “This book could save your life.” I fully believe it.

Written by Gavin De Becker, an expert on predicting violence and the behavior of  “murderers, stalkers, would-be assassins, rejected boyfriends, estranged husbands, angry former employees, mass killers, and others,” the book is about showing you how to listen to your instincts and heeding them to keep you safe.

Its recognizing that funny feeling when you’re walking down the street that someone is following you. Or that nagging suspicion about that weird guy at the end of the bar who keeps looking at you. Not trusting someone with no reason for it.

Or so you think.

“I’ve learned some lessons about safety through years of asking people who’ve suffered violence, ‘Could you have seen this coming?’ Most often they say, ‘No, it just came out of nowhere,’ but if I am quiet, if I wait a moment, here comes the information: ‘I felt uneasy when I first met that guy …’ or ‘Now that I think of it, I was suspicious when he approached me,’ or ‘I realize now I had seen that car earlier in the day.’

Of course, if they realize it now, they knew it then. We all see the signals because there is a universal code of violence.” – The Gift of Fear

The book deals with practically all aspects of intimidation and violence and gives you the tools to recognize and hopefully avoid them. I’ve re-read it about four times since I bought it and each time I come away with something new. Violence is an unfortunate part of our society. Accepting that fact, can help save your life. Some statistics:

“By this time tomorrow, 400 more Americans will suffer a shooting injury, and another 1,100 will face a criminal with a gun … Within the hour, another 75 women will be raped …. In (sad) fact, if a full jumbo jet crashed into a mountain killing everyone on board, and if that happened every month, month in and month out, the number of people killed still wouldn’t equal the number of women murdered by their husbands and boyfriends each year.” – The Gift of Fear

Its something I’m going to teach my children, incrementally and as age-appropriately as I can. I plan to make both my children read this book when they’re old enough — especially my daughter. I will also sign both of them up for self-defense courses as they grow.

Now that I’m a parent, I know why my dad was so protective. So worried. So fiercely determined that I would know how to protect myself. I understand it now. This book has only solidified my beliefs.

I used to think my dad was the most paranoid person on the planet. Growing up, he wouldn’t let me ride the school bus because he didn’t think it was safe. When he finally relented, it was only because my mother drove to school, watched me get on the bus, followed it to my stop, then drove me home. I wasn’t allowed to walk the four blocks alone.

I grew up in the time when highly-publicized child kidnappings seemed like a daily occurrence on the nightly news. My dad would look at the TV and hang his head, sadness filling his eyes. When I asked him why, he’d look me in the eyes: “Its been 48 hours honey. She’s gone.”

My father was a police office before I was born. He doesn’t talk about it much. My mom speaks of long shifts, and long nights. Of waiting up until he came home safe. I asked him about it once and his response was: “We pay police officers to deal with, and handle, the people in society I hope you never have to meet.”

He was a father who in rough-housing at age 2, taught me where to kick someone from the standing position and if I were to be knocked to the ground. Who told me that if I were ever kidnapped, to write my parent’s address on the return section of an envelope and try to get it into the mailbox, nevermind the stamp, because it would be delivered back to them. Who told me to never stop fighting, even if it meant jumping from a moving car. Who taught me how to roll from that jump, so I would be hurt, but not killed. Who made me carry an open Bic ballpoint pen in my back pocket when I went out with friends, and made jeans with a belt — preferably with sneakers or boots — a requirement for those occasions. I was one of the first kids in high school to get a cell phone. Not because I wanted one, but because I might need it.

He sent me to a self-defense class when I was 13. He got a whole group together — girls from my sports team and even my cousin, wheedling their parents to help protect their children. I was cocky when I went in, he had taught me self-defense moves since I was barely walking. Surely this had little value.

I was wrong. Because at that class, I got my first taste of fear. Fear as  De Becker describes it: As “the powerful ally that says, ‘Do what I tell you to do.’ Sometimes, it tells a person to play dead, or to stop breathing, or to run or scream or fight.”

It was a full-contact self-defense course, taught by two women instructors and two men in full-body suits. They told us not to worry about hurting them and that they were going to say intimidating things, and physically attack us so we would know the fear and use it to our advantage.

I scoffed. How scary could two guys in protective suits with a giant helmet possibly be?

When they’ve tripped you, and you’re on your back, trying to turn, digging your nails into the mat so you can get up and run, but they’ve got one of your legs and are pulling you toward them while saying things that you’ve never even heard in the movies, and grabbing at you? They’re damn scary. I was terrified. He was behind me, starting to crawl up my body, to actually get on top of me.

I went dead calm. If he pinned me, that was it. I would lose. And in the moment, it wasn’t an exercise anymore. It was real.

I looked over my shoulder and let him come closer, then rammed my elbow into the eye socket of his helmet. Again. And again. And again. When the female instructor blew the whistle (she had to blow it four times before I registered it), he was rolled to his other side — away from me — holding the helmet on his head. I was standing over him, breathing hard. I had been kicking the helmet. The straps had broken off and the screen of  the eye socket was missing. He had to go in the back for a new helmet and “to catch his breath.”

Do you realize how empowered I felt at that moment? That I could protect myself if I had to? At least enough to make a getaway? Every woman should know that feeling. Have that knowledge. When our parents picked us up, we gave them a demonstration. Mouths fell open as individual 13-year-old girls handily took down full-grown men in seconds.

Take the first step: Read this book. If you can, take a self-defense class. It could save your life.

De Becker was on Oprah in 2008 talking about his methods. Here’s the link; it has several videos.

For an excerpt from the book, go here.


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