Reading, Gavin de Becker’s the Gift of Fear,
I was surprised at how relevant it was to Blackbird and I’s discussion about self-inquiry, honesty, and investigating and re-purposing or finding value in yucky feelings.
Although I found it a quick read, the book is dense and I won’t review it in its entirety here. Briefly, de Walker is a professional threat analyst who consults on security, criminal profiling, and prevention. He is also candid throughout the book on his childhood experience of domestic abuse which provide a personal nuance to a topic that has become his profession. The chapters address high profile assassinations, anonymous threats, stalking, workplace violence, domestic abuse, and violence from strangers. Scenarios are demystified with case studies in narrative form, hard data about crime, warning signs or techniques for civilians, and protocols the author’s firm uses to assess the potential for violence in the field.
We’ve all seen survivors struggle to explain the instincts that saved them from danger saying, “I don’t why I was suspicious” or “I can’t explain what seemed off.” De Walker’s point is actually that these brave, but perfectly ordinary people did know. Their intuition is not coincidence or luck. We are all processing very minute details faster than our conscious minds can acknowledge. That might seem a little less mysterious than supernatural senses or guardian spirits, but I find this revelation to be exceptionally empowering. It is not a gift bestowed at random to a blessed few, it is something we all possess.
Whether your conscious mind registers it or not, you are constantly evaluating what is out of place, too loud, too quiet, too fast, too slow, if someone near you is signaling anxiety or aggression or ease. In fact, intuition even works in your sleep. We have all slept through very loud but also very commonplace noises only to awaken to a subtle but unfamiliar or out of place sound.
For example, a woman described a sudden panic to leap out of her seat and lock the doors of the car she was waiting in. It was as if an unseen force compelled her out of nowhere. In reality, she saw a 3 inch patch of blue denim in the side mirror out of the corner of her eye. Her brain registered that it was too close, moving too fast. It was the shirt of a man who would try to abduct her.
Anecdotes like this one are fascinating and worth reading in the context of the book. However, in case you never do, here are some methods that jumped out to me as useful exercises in developing intuition of any kind, not just danger-related response. They are also tools for self-care and self-inquiry into the types of response we mistake for fear but are anxieties of our own making or conversely the habit of dismissing or explaining away genuine intuitive signals that can protect us.
Fans of My Favorite Murder know that way too many people shove their “stranger danger” spidey-sense deep down when they should nope the fuck out because they are worried about seeming rude. De Walker supplies emphatic evidence on why accidentally upsetting a well meaning stranger is ALWAYS better than being targeted by a predator who meant you harm. If someone tries to tell you otherwise, remember, “He has nothing to contribute to the topic of your personal security. Your survival instinct is a gift from Nature that knows a lot more about your safety than he does. Nature does not require his approval.”
Fear is mean to be brief
“Fear in not an emotion like sadness or happiness, either of which might exist for a long while. It is not a state, like anxiety… Worry, wariness, anxiety, and concern all have a purpose, but they are not all fear. So any time your dreaded outcome cannot be linked to pain or death and it isn’t a signal in the presence of danger, the it really shouldn’t be confused with fear. [However], It may very well be something worth understanding and trying to manage”
Make a List
This thought game is for identifying a culprit, sussing out a reasonable motive, or if the threat is a genuine indicator of violence. Obviously for situations when you have time to reflect on the safety concern, not for situations when you are interacting with someone who is making you fearful. I also think it would be handy for recovering other types of intuited information that the conscious mind is trying to explain away, dismiss as unimportant, etc.
Write out three or more choices or scenarios with the intention of picking one. By knowing that at least two are going to be “wrong”, you free yourself from the judgement of being “right” or “reasonable” and let yourself flesh out possibilities that may have merit or reveal concerns you might have ignored as a “wild guess” or “crazy.”
While conducting interview with clients or survivors, de Walker takes note of a phenomenon he calls “satellite” details which are seemingly extraneous or unrelated to the topic. In these anecdotes, the extraneous information is often the most pertinent clue.
For example, one women was receiving anonymous messages urging her to move “or else” and other threats. The threats were intimidating enough that she was in the process of relocating. In the course of brainstorming possible suspects, she went on a tangent about how moving was a burden but that she was grateful that she lucked into meeting a real estate agent that was helping her. You guessed it, the guy she mentioned in passing turned out to be the culprit. Even though her conscious mind had convinced her she ought to be grateful for the new acquaintance’s help and that a total stranger would have nothing to do with the threats, her intuitive mind picked up on the clues that their “chance” meeting was suspicious and his motives were insincere. This intuited information surfaced as a seemingly meaningless tangent.
Sometimes the intuited information is actually a revelation about one’s own motives and anxieties.
A woman was afraid of being followed at her workplace. When elaborating, she specified that she was afraid of being followed on the way to her car because she was often “the last to leave” and it was dark and quiet and she was alone. The satellite detail of “being the last to leave” repeated several times. When pressed and asked why she didn’t simply leave earlier, she insisted, “Oh I can’t! If I did people would think I’m lazy.” To sum up a much longer and detailed conversation, the woman’s worry, which probably felt real to her, was actually tied to her anxiety about being perceived as a valuable coworker not an actual attack. This is certainly not to say that being alert in vulnerable situations is unwarranted. But as the author points out, this person was describing a persistent worry in the absence of a physical threat.
It would hard to use this technique on oneself, but could be employed with a trusted friend. Word vomit, let the friend listen or even transcribe the conversation, then pick out the extraneous information. Then, the friend can ask further questions about these satellites and discover their relevance. Be open and keep talking. If you find yourself saying, “I don’t know why I said that” or “That doesn’t matter” or “it’s silly” keep rambling anyway and have your friend be pre-instructed to keep picking.
Look into the Abyss
“Acts of extraordinary horror and violence happen, and we cannot learn why they happen by looking at rare behavior as if it something outside ourselves. To really work toward prediction and prevention, we must accept that these acts are done by people included in the “we” of humanity, not by interlopers who sneaked in.”
Interestingly, the way the author demonstrates this truth is not by anecdotes about how notorious criminals have a soft side or by coaching the reader to feel empathy for these predators. Rather, he asks the reader to conjure up most horrible, deranged act one person could do do another. Something “original,” worse than any movie or headline.
Now here’s the kick in the tits: that fictitious scenario has most definitely been done to someone. If you can think it, it exists somewhere. That capacity for horror exists inside you. You have the ability to conceive of it, even if you would never act on it or derive pleasure from it. As Nietzsche observed and FBI behavior scientist Robert Ressler reiterated, “When you look into the abyss, the abyss looks into you.”
Contemplating the nature of understanding versus acceptance, seeking explanations but not excuses, even the nature of fear and predation itself is not your run of the mill “love and light” fluffy self help, but that’s not what we witches are here for, is it?
This book has lots of insider info on profiling if your a true crime junkie. It also has loads of street smart techniques for spotting, shutting down, or surviving violence that you can memorize and use right away.
However, the stuff I most enjoyed and why I picked it up in the first place was that spooky curiosity about how the mind works. How do we accomplish feats of perception and bravery? How do the minds of dangerous people work? How can they commit acts of cruelty even it it threatens their own freedom from incarceration? For me, to call on unseen forces and make magic always comes back to these questions.