How Reading "The Gift Of Fear" Changed My Life

Glenna Gill

The first time I read “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker, I was 25 years old and deathly afraid of the world.

Watching the news on TV didn’t help. Every day, I saw stories of rape, murder, kidnapping, and other things too horrible to comprehend. Although I locked my door at night and always checked it again before bed, I still worried about a break-in by somebody intent on doing me harm. It seemed there was no shortage of evil people out there who got what they wanted by taking it no matter who got hurt. The mere thought made me feel unsafe all the time.

I’d pass by strangers on the street, and my anxiety level would escalate. What if I accidentally smiled at a mass murderer? What if I ran into a creep who wanted to assault me because I said “good morning” to him? The world was a dangerous place, and I had to be careful every second of every day, especially as a young woman. It was an exhausting way to live, but I knew no other way.

I picked up “The Gift of Fear” on a whim at a used bookstore. I hadn’t even finished the first chapter before I realized the words Gavin de Becker wrote would change my life forever. The story he told of a young woman trusting her instincts and surviving an assault was so powerful it stuck with me even to this day. A stranger entered the woman's apartment with the pretense of helping her carry groceries, and he likely would have killed her if she hadn’t followed her gut instincts and escaped to get help.

“The Gift of Fear” is a book with a specific message — trust your instincts! This is the way I live now, and it’s never steered me wrong.

Everyone has been in situations where something seems “off.” Maybe it’s your surroundings or the person you’re talking with, but your gut tells you there is danger ahead. Animals have the same instincts and use them to survive in the wild. As humans, we often shrug them off because we don’t want to seem silly. Maybe you’re a woman waiting for an elevator when a strange man walks up and stands next to you. You’re getting a weird vibe from this guy. Something doesn’t seem right, but when the elevator comes you get inside with him, anyway, where you're encased in steel and trapped together. You might think walking away and waiting for the next elevator would be rude, but it may save your life.

Paying attention to red flags is vitally important in keeping us safe. The hair on the back of your neck might stand up when you meet somebody for the first time. You might have a queasy feeling in your stomach around them. They haven’t said or done anything you can put your finger on, but your instincts are screaming to get away from that person.

People ignore red flags all the time. I did the same thing when I met my ex-husband. We met on a dating website and arranged to get together in person. When I picked him up for our first date, he lived in a trailer that was nearly pitch black inside with an eviction notice in the window. I ignored it all and accepted when he invited me in. Years later, after a decade of abuse and a nasty divorce, I still wonder what would have happened if I’d followed my gut signaling me to put the car in reverse and drive away. It would have been the right thing to do, but I worried about hurting his feelings. He might think I was insulting him if I refused his invitation.

Many of us are people-pleasers like I used to be. We want to make other people happy, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of our own well-being. It can sometimes be uncomfortable to say no to people or excuse ourselves from sketchy situations, but for our own safety, we have to learn to do this! Your instincts will never be wrong, just like when a gazelle senses a lion hunting nearby. Following those feelings is crucial to survival.

The book also gives good information about being safe in the workplace and what to do if you’re in an abusive relationship. There’s even information on how to keep your children safe in public and on the internet. I had an incident with my son Shawn, who was about five years old. I’d taken him and his older brother to a county fair. We were in line for tickets, and suddenly I turned around and Shawn had disappeared. I panicked and shouted his name, grabbing his brother’s hand and navigating my way back to the end of the line. That’s where I found my little boy, who was standing next to a woman with a stroller and kids of her own.

When Shawn got lost, he did exactly what I’d been drilling into his head from the book ever since he was old enough to listen. He looked for a mom with kids.

“The Gift of Fear” taught me that somebody who looks like a security officer or even a woman standing alone was not the best choice when a child needs help. The safest place to be was with a mother, and the only way to confirm that was if she had kids with her. Shayne knew exactly where to look for help because of that book and the advice inside it, and nothing could be more priceless.

I’m not scared of the world any more thanks to Gavin de Becker. I don’t worry nearly as much as I once did because I’m aware of my danger signs. I’ve learned I can be kind to people without letting them cross the personal boundaries I’ve set for myself. I can say no when a situation doesn’t feel right. None of it would have been possible without “The Gift of Fear.” Reading it should be mandatory for everybody.

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I write about lifestyle issues, including such topics as parenting, mental illness, family, substance abuse, marriage/divorce, and inspiration. My hope is that these stories will help people suffering from similar issues by reading about other's experiences.

West Palm Beach, FL

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