The Gift of Fear, Part 2: Is It Fear or Is It Anxiety?
by Sandra L. Brown, MA
Posted Tuesday, July 22, 2014 at 1:00 pm
Last week we began talking about the difference between fear and anxiety. Real fear draws on your animalistic instincts and causes a sincere fight-or-flight reaction. Anxiety causes you to worry about the situation, but you aren’t likely to bolt.
Anxiety can develop as a counterfeit trait to the true fear you never reacted to.
Gavin de Becker is a Danger Analyst and, in his classic book The Gift of Fear, has much to say about the preventability of most bad outcomes. He says there is, “Always, always, always a pre-incident indicator (a PIN) that women ignore.”
In my books, I call them red flags—the wisdom of your body that recognizes primitive fear and sends a signal to your body to react. In that split second, you can run or you can rename it. Renaming it causes your body to react less and less to the messages it does send. Not one woman in the 25+ years I’ve been doing this has said there wasn’t an initial red flag that she CONSCIOUSLY ignored. Almost 100% of the time, the early red flags end up being exactly why the relationship ended. You could have saved yourself 3, 5, 15, 20 or more years of a dangerous relationship by listening to your body instead of your head!
Let’s go back to more stories by Gavin…
Dorothy says her ex-boyfriend, Kevan, was a fun guy with a master’s degree and a CPA. “He was charming, and it never let up,” Dorothy says. “He was willing to do whatever I wanted to do.”
Eventually, Dorothy began to feel that something wasn’t right. “He would buy me a present or buy me a beautiful bouquet of roses and have it sitting on the table and that was very nice, but that night or the next day he wanted me to be with him all the time.”
As Dorothy shares her story, Gavin points out some of the warning signs, starting with Kevan’s charm. “A great thing is to think of charm as a verb. It’s something you do. ‘I will charm [Dorothy] now.’ It’s not a feature of [one’s] personality,” Gavin says.
What happened next stunned Dorothy. “I was out visiting my sister in California, and he was calling me, calling me, and he asked me to marry him over the cell phone,” she says. “I thought, you’re kidding. I’ve always said I would never get married again. And I said, ‘That’s the last time I’m going to talk about it.’”
After rejecting Kevan and coming home, Dorothy says he remained persistent. He showed Dorothy the picture of a diamond ring he wanted to buy, and told her he wanted to buy a house. “And he had it all mapped out, how it was going to work for us,” she says.
When Kevan refused to listen when Dorothy repeatedly told him no, Gavin says it should have raised serious red flags. “Anytime someone doesn’t hear no, it means they’re trying to control you,” Gavin says. “When a man says no in this culture, it’s the end of the discussion. When a woman says no, it’s the beginning of a negotiation.”
After four and a half years and many red flags, Dorothy finally broke off her relationship with Kevan. But that wasn’t the end. “He kept calling me, calling me with repeated questions. ‘What are you doing now?’ ‘What are you going to do tonight?’” Dorothy says. “And that’s when I realized I am in trouble here.”
On the urging of her son, Dorothy got a restraining order against Kevan, which she says gave her peace of mind. “And that was a huge mistake,” she says.
One night, Dorothy was asleep in her bed when she awoke to the sound of her name being shouted. “I turned to my left shoulder, and I saw a knife [about 10 inches long]. I could see the reflection of my TV in the blade. Then I saw that he had cutoff surgical gloves, and that was scary,” Dorothy says. “I put the covers right over my head and curled into a fetal position and started praying. He said to me, ‘Are you scared?’”
Rather than panic, Dorothy says she got out of bed, stood up and told Kevan he was leaving. As she walked calmly out the door, he followed her to the parking lot. “So I said, ‘You’re leaving now,’” she says. “He turned, went down the street, and I didn’t see him again.” Dorothy immediately called 9-1-1, and police later arrested Kevan. He was convicted and is serving a four-year prison sentence.
Gavin says when Dorothy stood up, spoke firmly to Kevan and walked out, she was accepting a gift of power by acting on her instincts. “The fetal position is not a position of power, but you came out of it with a great position of power. And the pure power to say to him, ‘You’re leaving now,’ is fantastic,” he says. “Of all the details in that story, the one that stayed with me the most is that you saw the reflection on your little television set on the bedside table in the knife. And what that told me was you are on, you are in the on position. You were seeing every single detail and acting on it.”
Just like ignoring your intuition, Gavin says the way women are conditioned to be nice all the time can lead them into dangerous situations. “The fact is that men, at core, are afraid that women will laugh at them. And women, at core, are afraid that men will kill them.”
This conditioning and fear, Gavin says, leads many women to try to be nice to people whose very presence makes them fearful and uncomfortable. They often believe that being mean increases risk, he says, when, in fact, the opposite is true.
“It’s when you’re nice that you open up and give information, that you engage with
someone you don’t want to talk to,” he says. “I have not heard of one case in my entire career where someone was raped or murdered because they weren’t nice. In other words, that’s not the thing that motivates rape and murder. But I’ve heard of many, many cases where someone was victimized because they were open to the continued conversation with someone they didn’t feel good about talking to.”
In my own book, How to Spot a Dangerous Man, I talk about cultural conditioning and how women feel they should be polite and at least go out with a man once. If you’re saying yes to a psychopath, once is all he needs.
Women also have HORRID and NONEXISTENT breakup skills. What in the world is more important than having good breakup skills? You are likely to date a dozen men in your lifetime and not likely to marry but one of them. What are you gonna do with the rest of them?
In this culture, with all the books on how to attract men, very little is written about how to break up. Women spend more time on a Glamour Shots picture of themselves for a dating site than learning how strong boundaries can protect them. A woman who is attracted to the bad boys doesn’t need the book, “How to Attract a Man”—she’s already doing it. But how can she get rid of the predator she DID attract? (See my book, Women Who Love Psychopaths.)
Women who buy our books, do phone counseling, come to 1:1’s and retreats, all have a primary motive: “Help me to never do this again.” While you definitely need insight about your own Super Traits that have positioned you in the line of fire with a psychopath, you also need most the ability to reconnect with your internal safety signal. Everything in the world we can teach you will not keep you safe if you ignore your body. Our cognitive information cannot save you the way your body can. That’s the bottom line. This is something you have to do for yourself.
This issue, of real fear vs. mere anxiety, is of utmost importance. It has really struck me that we may have missed something in our discussion about PTSD and its relationship to fight or flight reactions. Gavin helps us to see that fear happens in the moment—it’s an entire body sensation—the flash of fear followed by the intense adrenaline and fight or flight. The intensity of the body’s reactions usually COMPELS people into fight or flight.
With PTSD, I see how we have lumped more minor reactive reactions, like PTSD-induced fight or flight, with the real in-the-moment reactions of fear. I see them as different now. If the woman is THAT afraid of him and compelled by real fear as opposed to worry, (“He might harm me in the future, but he isn’t mad right now and not going to hurt me this second.”), she wouldn’t be with him because her animalistic reaction would be to flee.
Real fear IN THE MOMENT demands action. Our own ability to tolerate what he is doing suggests it’s not TRUE survival fear. This is the difference between animalistic/survival fear and our common-day PTSD reactionary fear.
Sometimes our body has reactions to evil or pathology. Normal psychology should ALWAYS have a negative reaction to abnormal psychology. So your first meeting with him should have produced SOMETHING in you. It may not have been the true fear reaction that COMPELLED you to run away, but you may have gotten other kinds of thoughts or bodily reactions to be in the presence of significant abnormality and sometimes, pure evil.
Listen to your body. It is smarter than your brain.
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