The Gift of Fear: Non-fiction that can save your life

Posted November 18, 2015 by Cristina (Girl in the Pages) in Features, Guy in the Pages / 7 Comments

Copy of Copy of Don't Be-1

Since graduating from college, I don’t read nearly as much nonfiction as I used to. While the break from monotonous texts in exchange for all of the fiction I want has been great, it also means I’ve been missing out on critical, thought provoking reads that I was often exposed to in college. Max is a recent college graduate in psychology and for his birthday earlier this year asked me to gift him with a non-fiction book that he had read excerpts from in his upper level psychology classes: The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker. This text is a fascinating look at how our gut instincts about people and situations are often more intuitive then we give them credit for, and that by paying more attention to those things that cause of fear can help us avoid violent and dangerous situations.

Every day during our train commute Max would read a portion of the book (as he’s one of those people genetically blessed to be able to read aboard a moving vehicle and not get motion sickness) and share with me what the chapter he was reading covered. It was crazy how I found myself relating to the scenarios that the author, who is a leading expert on violent behavior, would create in his book to demonstrate how our gut instincts can often alert us to potentially unsafe situations. I asked Max to summarize the top five lessons he took away from The Gift of Fear that can help readers stay safer and create more awareness:

These are in no particular order. All are equally important. I can’t say enough praise about this book. Anyone who wants to increase their likelihood of safety should read this book.

1) Probably most importantly, VIOLENCE IS ALMOST ALWAYS PREDICTABLE.

  • When De Becker goes into things like office shooters, school shooters, and assassins (people who murder celebrities), he always notes that there are observable (usually painfully obvious) indicators of future violent behavior.
  • Random acts of violence? Exceedingly rare. De Becker notes that the phrases “Who could have known” and others used by the media are absurd lies used to sensationalize and nothing more.

2) True fear is not draining, it is energizing.

  • De Becker notes that fear is actually a temporary state nature has designed to remove you from peril, NOT chronic worry about what may happen.
  • Indeed, he argues that worry is actually the enemy of perception as it keeps you focused internally instead of external signals that would warn of true danger.


  • Do not push them down or try to explain them away. If you feel like someone is shady and feel it strongly they probably are. Do not take the chance.
  • It is safer to obey a wrong survival signal than it is to explain away a right one. If you have a “gut feeling” that something is wrong. Trust it and do what it tells you.

4) Worry, anxiety, and other chronic “fear” based states of mind are not true fear, De Becker argues.

  • They are actually generally reflective of other states of being. He gives an example of a woman working a job in a mental institution for criminally insane individuals who was great on the job but had a petrifying anxiety of her walk home from the facility. This “fear” was actually reflective of her hatred of LA and her need to change jobs.
  • De Becker argues that when you feel anxiety or worry about something, you need to take stock and see what it could be reflecting within yourself. At best you come to a resolution and do not feel worried. At worst, you have done some self-reflection, which is always a good thing.

5) The correct response to stalking? No response.

  • De Becker says that you should NEVER engage again with someone stalking you again. If you are in a situation where someone is incessantly calling even if you answer to tell them to stop calling you are still answering and talking.
  • In fact, he argues that each interaction buys you at least six weeks of the person continuing to contact you.
  • Take other action dependent on the situation. Do not get a different phone number, but rather get a second line and keep the messages. Give the new one only to people you need to talk to (and want to) and do not publish it anywhere.

Have you ever thought of fear as a positive rather than a negative? Have you ever been in a situation where nothing more than a gut feeling turned out to be completely right? Have you found any non-fiction texts that really changed the way you looked at the world or gave you tips that led to a better quality of living? What sort of non-fiction books do you find yourself drawn to, if any? Let us know in the comments!

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7 responses to “The Gift of Fear: Non-fiction that can save your life

  1. Oh wow, The Gift of Fear sounds like it has some great insights based on this post! I actually agree about trusting my instincts. Whether or not it turns out to be the actual truth of the situation, I generally react pretty fast when I feel like something shady or scary or bad is about to go down. I trust my gut in those instances, and I definitely think it’s helped keep me safe!

    Alexa S. recently posted: {Bookish} Style Files: Plaid Adventures
  2. Wow. So interesting! I have always thought of fear as a good thing. It keeps us safe. It’s interesting to see in children. My son has always had a healthy amount of fear – keeping him from jumping off things that are too high and from running into the road. Some kids don’t have that. I could do without his fear of the dark, but even that is natural I think since the dark may contain some unknown dangers. I’d be more curious about the signs of predictable violence. I may need to check out this book at some point. Great post!

    Kate @ Mom's Radius recently posted: Inside Out Book Tag
    • Thank you for your kind words! De Becker does indeed note that kids have a very strong sense of their fear but as we grow into adults we get better at rationalizing our true fear away. Still from my courses in developmental psychology I can see how it can be tough to let your child know not to fear everything, but to listen to themselves when it counts the most! Definitely check it out if you get the chance!

  3. This sounds like such a fascinating book! I do think fear is a positive thing when it doesn’t go overboard. I need to remember that point about worry since I tend to get anxious about things. The non-fiction books I’ve read lately are mostly biographies, but I’d definitely put this book on my list to check out one day. Great post, Cristina!

  4. I’ve always been drawn to history books which doesn’t come as much of a surprise since I have a degree in the subject. There are just so many non-fiction books out there assessing the past and telling people’s stories. I find them fascinating and love to delve deeper into it. Occasionally I will pick up biographies too. The one that stands out most in my mind is G. Willow Wilson’s The Butterfly Mosque.

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