Fear sucks, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. It’s a powerful motivator that can keep us alive. It motivates us to wear our seatbelts and avoid certain parts of town late at night.
Fear management expert Tony Blauer says how you learn to cope with fear could be the most important thing you do, both in your personal and professional roles. He has the theory we actually already know what to do in many real-life situations, but we let fear hold us back. In life, and in self-defense training it’s possible to over think. When that happens, fear is bad.
Many times, though, fear is helpful. Let’s look at that a little closer.
3 Ways Fear is Good
Humankind doesn’t run from dinosaurs anymore, but fear is still helpful for these reasons:
- Fear makes you pay attention to something that’s about to happen. You might be about to have a critical meeting with company stakeholders that results in your professional success or failure. Or you might be getting on a motorcycle for the first time. Either way, you need to pay attention.
- Fear means opportunity. If a gunman walks into your church and you’ve been training with Freedom Defense Training and ETKM on how to deal with the situation, you have an opportunity to save lives. If you take a risk in spite of fear to reach your goals, you have the opportunity for success.
- You get stronger when you overcome fear. Think of when you were a child and you crept toward that dark closet and turned on the light. The first time it was terrifying, but every time you faced that fear it loosened its hold. Fear happens. You can’t control whether or not scary things jump at you, but you can train your body and mind how to react.
How to Know When Someone Wants to Harm You
Let’s talk for a minute about another way fear is good. Sometimes your heart starts to pound and the hair rises on the back of your neck and it seems irrational. We’ve trained ourselves to ignore the feeling, now we need to start paying more attention.
The same signals are often present whether you’re talking about a rapist or murderer or someone who wants to take advantage of you for other reasons. Whether the threat is physical or psychological, something inside us often whispers they’re up to no good.
Gavin De Becker wrote extensively on intuition in his book The Gift of Fear, another must-read. Most of the time people who mean you harm don’t look like thugs and announce their intent. De Becker explains some of the ways they tip themselves off.
Forced teaming is when a person tries to create trust by indicating you’re in a thing together. They use the word “we” to make you think they identify with you and are on your side. A co-worker who doesn’t want to get busted might say, “Now look at what we’ve done,” when you had nothing to do with it. A stranger approaching a lone woman tips her off when he says, “Why don’t we get these groceries into the trunk.”
Most people realize they aren’t part of the “we.” An objection skitters across their mind and they squash it, thinking they’re overreacting, that the response would be rude. They leave the door open and bad things often step through.
Charm is another danger sign, because when people turn it on, they’re being artificial in an attempt to manipulate. De Becker says, “We must learn and teach our children that niceness does not equal goodness…people seeking to control others almost always present the image of a nice person in the beginning…unsolicited niceness often has a discoverable motive.”
There are people who are kind because there is goodness in their heart, but when people turn on the charm, ask what they want. It could be your job, your car keys, your virtue or your life. Train yourself to look for the difference between kindness and charm. One is a character trait, the other is a verb.
Charm covers for when someone ignores your no. When you ask someone to leave, tell them you’re not interested or say they shouldn’t call again and they do, that’s a red flag. No matter how charming their insistence seems, letting them in isn’t a good idea.
De Becker says this might be the most significant signal. “’No’ is a word that must never be negotiated, because the person who chooses not to hear it is trying to control you,” he says. Even when strangers or acquaintances have good intentions, they are ignoring your preferences and seeking to control and impose their will.
Watch for people who give too many details. Aunt Millie might just like to talk, but when a stranger approaches you with way more information than you asked for, he or she is nervous or trying to distract you. When people have an ulterior motive or are telling a lie, what they’re saying sounds suspicious to them, so they keep trying to make it better.
Typecasting is when someone gives a slight insult to get you to engage. “You’re probably not willing to talk to someone who looks like me,” says the stranger in the parking lot. You want to prove them wrong, so you give them more time than you otherwise would.
Loan sharking happens when a stranger or associate tries to place you in their debt. When a man buys a woman a drink, there’s an expectation she will reciprocate with her attention. A criminal might point out your headlight isn’t working and expect you to respond with trust out of a feeling of obligation.
Unsolicited promises are a sign the speaker is trying to convince you. “Just one more thing and I’ll let you go, I promise,” you might hear from the telemarketer, the con man or the rapist. When given a promise you didn’t ask for, let that trigger an alert in your brain. You were hesitant about giving trust before, what comes next is very important.
Start paying attention to those small signals that send fissions of fear up your spine. Train your mind not to freeze, but to take action under stress. Fear is a good thing if it motivates you to get out of a difficult situation or protect yourself from those who mean you harm. Facing fear is an opportunity for growth.
At East Texas Krav Maga, we help students face their fears every day. Get in touch to find out more.