Charm is a Verb – The Gift of Fear

Crocodile Tears

One of my favorite books on personal safety is “The Gift of Fear.” All of my friends own a copy of “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin DeBecker (Little, Brown & Company, 1997).  It’s my gift of choice instead of a bottle of wine or flowers, or whatever else people usually give to friends or acquaintances. Sometimes I pair it with a set of grip strengtheners or some other fun gadget that might actually improve their safety.

Gavin DeBecker does an excellent job in describing the tactics that predators use to get physically and emotionally close to their targets.

A human predator uses his target as a resource. Predatory violence is planned. The predator is goal oriented and purposeful. He acts intentionally. Usually, the only emotion that he feels is exhilaration and “contemptuous delight.” See Helfgott B. Jacqueline, Criminal Behavior (Sage Publications, Inc. 2008)

Generally, human predators use two distinct methods to get close to their targets. The first one, a blitz attack, is the sudden, brutal ambush on a target that is unaware of the predator’s physical closeness or intentions.

The second tactic is the use of charm and persuasion to approach, isolate,  and then attack the target.  Becker lists seven strategies, often employed in combination, that should raise your red flags:

(1) He uses “forced teaming.” He uses the term “we”” when you really have nothing in common with him, no shared history, no past, no basis for being a team.

(2) He gives you “too many details” in an initial or early conversation – details that may distract you so that you forget that he’s a stranger and that you have no basis for trusting him.

(3) He uses  “loan sharking.” He does something for you that you did not ask for and maybe didn’t want. But now you may feel that you “owe him” for his “kindness.”

(4) He uses “charm.” Whenever you feel that someone is charming, rephrase and tell yourself, “Charm is a verb. He is charming me. What does he want from me?”  The verb “charm” also means to captivate, hypnotize, mesmerize, or enchant, but with black magic. Think about what snakes do to mice.  Or what crocodiles do with their tears.

(5) He uses “type casting.”  He type-casts you, challenging you to do something that you don’t want to do.  By complying, you can avoid being the  unappealing “type.” For example, you are probably “too stuck up” to have a beer in my camper with me.

(6) He gives you “unsolicited promises.” I promise we’ll have one beer and then we’ll go right back to the party.  Think of these promises as your alerts.

(7) Refusing to take “no” for an answer.  He disregards your “no’s. ” Does he not understand two-letter words? Or does he want to control you?

DeBecker’s stories and examples explain why you should think of fear as a gift. The book affirms the importance of situational awareness and the value of trusting your gut reactions. Re-empower your instincts and, always, think of “charm” as a verb.


4 Comments on "Charm is a Verb – The Gift of Fear"

  1. Nadia Beiser says:

    DeBecker does a wonderful job describing in clear and concise terms the specific methods used by violent predators. We all can benefit from learning to recognize these unmistakable signals of malicious intent. Also, we can and should share that knowledge – frequently, and in each context of our daily lives when such warning behavior could be observed.
    My favorite message from DeBecker in his book “The Gift of Fear” is even more empowering than gaining the ability to recognize the seemingly benign behaviors which reliably indicate violent intent. DeBecker asserts we all have the subconscious ability to assess our environments and compare them – in milliseconds – to similar situations previously experienced. Our realization of those differences manefests as a feeling of unease, of discomfort, even of dread, for no apparent rational reason. Each of us is fully capable of an almost automatic ability to observe and evaluate differences in our environment which are very reliable predictions of future harm. We all share the ability to be extraordinarily aware of the present – without conscious attention; this is “the gift of fear”. I join Decker in urging you to believe and heed your own self awareness: if it feels wrong – it IS! Believe yourself, don’t waste precious time and opportunities for self-defense through self-doubt! When you “feel” something is “wrong”… it IS! Do NOT hesitate, ACT.
    YOU can save yourSELF, simply by trusting your own ability to evaluate imminent danger, and not ignoring your own powerful – albeit sub-conscious- self-defense system.
    Be Here, NOW…!
    Be aware, live in the present – that is truly a gift we MUST give ourselves!

  2. Well said, Nadia.
    Many women practice basic self-survival skills, such as locking the door at night or keeping personal information private, but when it comes to their own primal survival skills, they lack confidence. Most of the time, the gut reactions and general observations we make about people turn out to be very indicative of their personality and future behavior. For some reason, this is especially true with strangers. So when it comes to personal safety, women should value their own comfort and feelings over the socially ingrained urge to be polite.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Andi.
    You are right. Trust your gut reaction and make your personal safety your first priority.
    Many women have been socialized since their early childhood to be “polite”, “helpful”, “nice”, “courteous”, and to be “a lady.” They have been conditioned not to make a “scene” and to avoid embarrassing themselves by “overreacting.” This socialization can be dangerous when a women is confronted with a predator. It’s so important to overcome this ingrained conditioning and to learn to trust your instincts about people and situations.

  4. This is well written Brigitte and many of the points are easy to understand and relate to. To think about how many human predators are out there doing what they do without any interruption. Good thing that you post this!

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