During winter break I caught up on some reading that I’d gotten behind on. One was Rory Miller’s Facing Violence, one was a book about avoiding social problems that I quit half-way through, and one was Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear. I probably should have read de Becker first. Mostly, I read him because I was curious why so many well-intentioned people tell others not to read him because “he is triggering.” One sentence, as it turns out, is the problem. One sentence in the entire book. Now, I had other problems with him, and not that one sentence.
De Becker runs a company that specializes in protecting people, notably VIPs, actors, businesspeople and their families, and so on. One of his long-term interests is “Why do people let themselves get into trouble? And what warns other people away from trouble?” If your internal alarms are shrieking, and something seems increasingly “off,” why do you not run, or slam a door in people’s faces, or scream for help, or start fighting back? Conversely, what signals do put you on alert and cause you to leave the scene before something bad happens? De Becker looks at the types of risks women face, the hints inside of us that serve as alarms, and the things that signal “predator” and “prey.” A lot of what he writes about I’m already familiar with, some from painful learning experiences, others from reading a lot and talking to people who have been there and survived that. Female socialization plays a role, although I think that is changing. We are no longer trained that we must be polite and cooperative with everyone.*
The problem the activists have with De Becker is the sentence where he says that the first time a woman [or man] is beaten by a partner, she is a victim. The second time she is an accomplice. Screeeeeech crash! OK, back up here. De Becker’s job is to keep people out of danger and get them away from those trying to harm them, like stalkers and former spouses. He sees no reason why a woman would 1) not flee at the first opportunity and stay away, or 2) get the heck out of danger and never return. Intellectually, I sympathize with his argument, BUT I’ve never been physically and emotionally engaged with an abuser. There’s an enormous amount of evidence that abused partners go back, or stay, for lots and lots of reasons, some of them “better” than others. De Becker watched his entire family stay in an abusive situation with his mother, so he’s been on both sides.
My problem with De Becker is 1) I knew most of what he said already. 2) His strong feelings against individual self-defense with firearms. He’s from California, and his job is protecting people. If you have not trained how to work with bodyguards and who does what, I can see that trying to use a firearm in a pinch might not be a great thing.
For someone who has NO experience with street-smarts and trouble and wants an intro, I would recommend De Becker with the caveats listed above. I personally found Rory Miller’s book more useful. He looks at the legal concerns, the physical things, and the steps of conflict, with emphasis on avoiding trouble. If you cannot avoid, then what? Then he goes into responding, breaking the “freeze” that comes with first blow, how to get away, and how to start coping with the aftermath – physical, psychological, legal. De Becker talks about avoiding trouble and knowing the signs to watch and listen for. Miller deals more with “OK, you tried to avoid trouble and it leaned on the doorbell, then kicked in the door. Now what?”
I’d recommend Miller’s book for someone who has decided to take their immediate defense into their own hands, or for someone who wants to know about all that violence entails, at least the very general sense. Miller writes for people who are clear-eyed about trouble, which is partly why the legal aspects and cautions come very early in the book. Yes, you survived the mugging/attempted rape/assault. Now the bastage is suing you, or his family is suing you because he was just turning his life around/you should have known the knife was fake/you should have run instead of trying to protect the other person… De Becker doesn’t worry about that. That’s not his point. It is a serious point for those of us who choose to take our protection into our own hands rather than trusting that a peace officer will be thirty seconds away and have his radio turned up and not be answering another emergency call.
Miller focuses on police and civilians, not military. The military has its own way of training. Miller’s concerned about the rest of us. I found his section on breaking the freeze especially useful. You are going to freeze. Peter Grant and others have talked about freezing despite training. They lived to tell the tale. Others don’t. How do you break the “Oh sheepdip, he hit me/that’s a real knife/the dojo’s nothing like this/ that’s a really big gun” and respond? Knowing that you’re going to freeze is part of if. The first time I was attacked by an individual, I froze, then my body reacted and got a book up between us (500 page hardback. You use what you have.) Then you continue on and process later.
For someone who has never been around violence, I recommend De Becker as a starting point. For people who have learned to listen to that little inner voice screaming “Get the h-ll out of here, run, run!” Miller is a better book.
*However, the argument that girls should be taught to be rude as a form of protection is going overboard, in my opinion. You can be polite and respectful without making yourself a target or victim. You can also assert yourself without being a jerk.
FTC Disclaimer – I purchased all three books mentioned here with my own funds for my own use. I did not receive any remuneration for this review.