Gavin de Becker (security specialist, primarily for governments, corporations, and public figures such as Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, Madonna, Cher, etc.) wrote The Gift of Fear because he realized that many women do not trust their gut feelings and say no enough. Instead, many women let niceness and politeness dictate their behavior, which can lead to disastrous consequences.
The Gift of Fear helped me understand why I need to be aware and observant when a stranger approaches me especially if I’m in a remote, or unpopulated area.
I highly recommend reading the book, but if you are short on time please keep in mind the following 7 signals and 7 ways to defend yourself. This may help you avoid becoming a victim especially when you are alone in a remote, or unpopulated area and a stranger approaches you. Below are some excerpts from The Gift of Fear.
1. FORCE TEAMING
Gavin De Becker: The detectable signal of force teaming is the projection of a shared purpose or experience where none exists: “Both of us;” “how are we going to handle this?;” “now we’ve done it,” etc.
Gavin De Becker: Force teaming is an effective way to establish premature trust because a we’re-in-the-same-boat attitude is hard to rebuff without feeling rude. Sharing a predicament, like being stuck in a stalled elevator or arriving simultaneously at a just-closed store will understandably move people around social boundaries. But forced teaming is intentional and directed, and it’s one of the most sophisticated manipulations.
Your defense is to make a clear refusal to accept the concept of partnership: “I did not ask for your help and I do not want it.”
2. CHARM AND NICENESS
Gavin De Becker: “If you consciously tell yourself, “This person is trying to charm me” as opposed to, “This person is charming,” you’ll be able to see around it. Most times, when you see what’s behind the charm, it won’t be sinister, but other times you’ll be glad you looked.
Gavin De Becker: Niceness does not equal goodness. Niceness is a decision, a strategy of social interaction. Unsolicited niceness often has a discoverable motive. People seeking to control others almost always present the image of a nice person in the beginning.”
Your defense is that you should explicitly rebuff unwanted approaches, even if it is difficult to do. Say “I’m not interested.”
3. TOO MANY DETAILS
Gavin De Becker: When people are telling the truth, they don’t feel doubted, so they don’t feel the need for additional support in the form of details. When people lie, however, even if what they say sounds credible to you, it doesn’t sound credible to them, so they keep talking. Each detail may be only a small tack the attacker throws on the road, but together they can stop a truck. Every type of con relies upon distracting us from the obvious.
Your defense when approached by a stranger, no matter how engaging they might be, is that you should always keep in mind that the stranger approached you. The more details and information they share, the warier you should be.
Gavin De Becker: The person labels you in some slightly critical way, hoping you’ll feel compelled to prove that their opinion is not accurate. “You’re probably too snobbish to talk to the likes of me,” Person A might say to Person B, and Person B will cast off the mantle of “snob” by talking to Person A.
Your defense is silence, acting as if the words weren’t even spoken.
Gavin De Becker: A traditional loan shark lends one amount but cruelly collects much more. Likewise, the predatory criminal offers assistance but is always calculating the debt.
Gavin De Becker: A stranger insists on helping you to put you in their debt so that it will be harder for you to say no to them. Your defense is to remember that the stranger approached you and that you didn’t ask for any sort of help. The person may turn out to be just a kindly stranger, but it’s always beneficial to stay alert.
6. UNSOLICITED PROMISE
Gavin De Becker: The unsolicited promise is one of the most reliable signals of someone trying to take advantage of you. Because it’s nearly always of questionable motive. Promises are used to convince us of an intention, but they are not guarantees. They are the very hollowest instruments of speech, showing nothing more than the speaker’s desire to convince you of something.
Your defense is when the stranger says “I promise,” you remind yourself that you should be highly wary of trusting a stranger, especially when by the stranger saying “I promise,” the stranger is giving you a signal to not trust them.
7. DISCOUNTING THE WORD NO
Gavin De Becker: Declining to hear “no” is a signal that someone is either seeking control or refusing to relinquish it. With strangers, even those with the best intentions, never, ever relent on the issue of “no,” because it sets the stage for more efforts to control. If you let someone talk you out of the word “no,” you might as well wear a sign that reads, “You’re in charge.”
Gavin De Becker: The worst response when someone fails to accept “no” is to give ever-weakening refusals and then give in. Another common response that serves the criminal is to negotiate (“I really appreciate your offer, but let me try to do it on my own first”). Negotiations are about possibilities, and providing access to someone who makes you apprehensive is not a possibility you want to keep on the agenda. I encourage people to remember that “no” is a complete sentence.
Your defense is that No is a complete sentence. And that if the stranger rejects your No, you should be on high alert immediately and walk away from the stranger towards a crowded place.
My Overall Thoughts on The Gift of Fear: I’m glad I read this book because I’ve ignored pretty much all of the 7 Signals before because I did not want to be rude to strangers who insisted on helping me. Now I realize truly nice strangers would ask if I needed help and not insist I need help.
My favorite quote from the book: “There’s a lesson in real-life stalking cases that young women can benefit from learning: persistence only proves persistence—it does not prove love. The fact that a romantic pursuer is relentless doesn’t mean you are special—it means he is troubled.”