It seems trite to say, “This book changed my life.” But The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker changed the way I think about how to protect myself and my kids from abuse and violence—which changed the way I view the world, and how I act in it. I have no hesitation recommending this as a Must Read for every woman, and every man who is concerned about the women in his life.
I used to think it was my Christian duty to allow myself to remain in uncomfortable and compromising situations because I needed to be friendly, gracious, and live up to my responsibility to witness to everyone I came in contact with. I thought I had to tolerate behaviors I felt were disrespectful and, at times, downright rude, because I was supposed to ‘turn the other cheek,’ be forgiving, love others as God loved me… Doubts or uneasiness were dismissed as the kind of fear condemned in 2 Timothy 1:7, or just female hysteria.
I felt trapped until I read The Gift of Fear, in which de Becker explores the patterns of violence and gives women (and men) the tools they need to listen to their instincts and predict possible danger:
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. (p. 7-8)
I believe this book is so important that every time I find a good deal on a copy, I buy it so I always have one to give away.
The message of this book in no way contradicts Scriptural mandates to trust God (Proverbs 3:5), and to not fear man, but fear God (Luke 12:4-5). I don’t believe the kind of bravery and sacrifice described in Scripture involves a woman allowing herself to be victimized by a predator.
To be clear, the author is not suggesting that we live with or act on irrational, unwarranted fear. Instead, he offers information about how to use fears as a survival signal and learn to interpret them to protect ourselves. He proposes that we possess instincts based on a lifetime of acquired information and guided by our previous experiences, showing us that we are equipped to predict violent behavior in ways we might not realize.
The first chapter, “In the Presence of Danger,” begins with the seemingly miraculous survival of a young woman who was the victim of a rapist/murderer. She learned that listening to her intuition saved her life, just as squelching it had put her at risk. The examination of the incident serves as a thread that runs through most of the book.
The next two chapters, “The Technology of Intuition” and “The Academy of Prediction” further explain what Mr. de Becker means when he uses words like “fear,” “instinct” and “behavior prediction.” He acknowledges that we often think of our “knowing without knowing why” as inexplicable and even magical, but he believes it is a cognitive process more firmly rooted in our conscious mind than we’ve given it credit. We often place ourselves at risk because in our modern era we are too invested in denying anything that doesn’t seem firmly rooted in logic. And as Christians we sometimes talk ourselves out of being cautious because we see that as a lack of faith. This is a particular problem for women, who are not only more vulnerable, but also the most frequent targets of predators.
The following illustration is a great example of this:
A woman is waiting for an elevator, and when the doors open she sees a man inside who causes her apprehension. Since she is not usually afraid, it may be the late hour, his size, the way he looks at her, the rate of attacks in the neighborhood, an article she read a year ago—it doesn’t matter why. The point is, she gets a feeling of fear. How does she respond to nature’s strongest survival signal? She suppresses it, telling herself ,”I’m not going to live like that; I’m not going to insult this guy by letting the door close in his face.” When the fear doesn’t go away, she tells herself not to be so silly, and she gets into the elevator.
Now, which is sillier: waiting a moment for the next elevator, or getting into a soundproofed steel chamber with a stranger she is afraid of? (p.31)
Women make these choices every day, sometimes several times a day. I appreciate that the book clearly addresses the fact that men often don’t understand why a woman would be wary, and treat their sisters, wives, daughters, and friends with impatience and even disdain for feeling anxious. They try to talk them out of their concerns and anxiety, but in a world where 3 out of 4 women will experience violence at some point in their lives, a woman should not have to explain why she is cautious, or be subject to criticism for it. She needs support and encouragement to listen to her inner voice, and a man who genuinely cares about the women in his life will listen as well.
Each chapter that follows explores a different aspect of predicting and avoiding violence, from date stalking to showdowns in the workplace to assassinations. The last chapter, “The Gift of Fear,” outlines rules for balancing instinct-based fear against paranoia, and proposes that by allowing oneself to be open to intuition, you can, in a sense, free yourself from anxiety and worry.
In summary, we as women must give ourselves permission to leave an uncomfortable situation, and reject advances—however well-intentioned or apparently friendly—that allow a man who makes us feel wary into our space. When too many warning signs are there, it may be necessary to stop being “a nice Christian” and get out of there by any means necessary.
Let’s not forget that most crimes against women (64%) are committed by men they know and are already in their space.* They get into that space because they are predators, and this book may help you spot them before they are deeply embedded in your life or even in your home.
In recent years, Christians and church leadership have become more aware of predators using the church to find and isolate victims, but I don’t believe we are doing enough to balance the safety of our church’s most vulnerable members with weekly directives to “Go and Tell.” I think a book like The Gift of Fear can help us be wiser in these matters.
Note: Gavin de Becker is recognized as an expert on these matters. He is the designer of the MOSAIC threat assessment system used to screen threats to Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, members of Congress, and senior officials of the CIA. It is also used by law enforcement all over America to assess cases involving domestic violence and stalking. Gavin de Becker is also the author of Protecting the Gift, a sort of sequel to The Gift of Fear. It shows parents how to teach children the principles of listening to one’s survival signals.