The Gift of Fear

She didn’t tell me his name.

She didn’t tell me what he did for a living, or where he came from.

She tried not to talk about him much at all, which evoked mild curiosity but didn’t alarm me, even though I’d always known her prior boyfriends by no less than name, occupation, hobbies and demeanor.

It was only when my dear friend fell silent for weeks after dating the new guy that I started to feel a niggling sense of worry.

A gregarious, affable extrovert, she’d always been one to text dozens of times a day, and reply instantly to virtually any text message. I often felt guilty for replying so slowly to her texts; it can take me days or even weeks to reply to a single message.

When she failed to reply to several text messages over a few-week period, I started to worry. I texted her: I get nervous when you fall silent.

She wrote back that she’d moved several hours north of our hometown. When I read him her text message, my fiancee, Anthony, said, “She’s moving the wrong direction! She should be moving down here with us.” I said she’d probably moved with her boyfriend, versus moving just for fun, but relayed his message to her. She confirmed that she’d moved with her boyfriend, whose name I still didn’t know.

I thought, abusers try to isolate their partners. I promptly squashed the thought as the byproduct of an overactive imagination. She hadn’t said anything was wrong, apart from a mild case of moving blues.

My mama and me

Most my mom’s cuts and bruises weren’t from accidents, which impacts my relationship assessments

A few weeks later, my friend called and told me her boyfriend had assaulted her. She was shocked and shaken, but had quickly arranged alternative lodging for herself.

“You should leave,” I told her. “I think it’s dangerous for you to stay. You can come stay with us for a little.” I coordinated parts of her departure with her, but worried she wouldn’t leave. It’s often much easier to continue enduring known hardship than embrace the idea of enduring unknown, unquantifiable hardships. Indeed, the human imagination for possible woes is endless, so that the unknown can end up seeming much more threatening than painful situations we’ve already shown ourselves we can survive.

When my friend called me a couple of days later and said she’d probably overreacted, I stressed that I didn’t feel she had. Still, she was determined to stay and prove she was strong enough to make a home in her new locale, with or without her boyfriend.

I sighed. I prayed. And I hoped to God she’d call me if anything else happened.

A week and a half ago, I felt a rare hankering to read non fiction. “What was that book El recommended me? And another guy called a life changer?” I loaded Goodreads to scan my to-be-read shelf for the book. “The Gift of Fear. Right,” I murmured to myself. “I’ll give that a shot.”

I downloaded it expecting to read it a chapter at a time as time permitted. I was instead instantly captivated by the author’s clear, articulate description of indicators violence may be imminent. Gavin de Becker‘s career is violence avoidance, which involves finding commonalities in violent incidents and, understanding their clear and almost universally repeated warning signals, helping clients avoid falling prey to violence.

He quickly identified and described predatorial behaviors that have unnerved me for some time, but which nervousness I’ve long suppressed as irrational, unreasonable or silly. (More on that in my Goodreads review.)

Most importantly, he dedicated a huge section of the book to identifying warnings of partner abuse. He stressed that partner abuse related homicide is the most easily averted, if people are willing to read and respond to its indicators.

I was chilled to read the signs, but glad to have the benefit of an expert’s insight.

It’s by understanding a possibility of a threat we can work to prevent it.

I read the book in a day and a half.

Then I bought de Becker's other books.

Then I bought de Becker’s other books.

The day after I finished reading The Gift of Fear, my dear friend called me. She’d been attacked again. She’d fought back, but she was nervous.

“You should be,” I said. Unlike when we first spoke weeks earlier, my sense of warning signs wasn’t muddy or ambiguous. I didn’t feel like I was potentially making false accusations about her boyfriend by suggesting she was unsafe. “Listen, I just finished reading an amazing book that talks about warning signs of violence.” I told her about the author, and how he immediately puts the kibosh on the idea that most violence is unpredictable or without warning. I explained he’d devoted a huge portion of his book specifically to partner abuse to help reduce horrifying domestic abuse homicide rates. I asked if I could read her a list of risk signals the author had compiled just for situations like this. “If several of these apply to your situation, you’re likely at risk.”

She agreed, and I read through the whole list (paperback pp. 183-184), beginning:

  1. The woman has intuitive feelings that she is at risk.
  2. At the inception of the relationship, the man accelerated the pace, prematurely placing on the agenda such things as commitment, living together, and marriage.
  3. He resolves conflict with intimidation, bullying, and violence.

“Oh, my God,” she breathed after a several-second pause after I’d finished reading the list. “He’s done at least 25 of those things. At least.” She mentioned he’d even come at her with a gun. She said it almost as if an afterthought, but I was terrified on her behalf. I responded with an emotional entreaty.

“Leave. Please leave.” Since I don’t know much about the specifics of doing so safely, I looked up the local domestic violence hotline and urged her to contact them. She spoke briefly to a volunteer there, then arranged a meeting for the next morning.

As we said our good nights to each other via text message, I prayed she would be safe overnight . . . and then, that she would leave.

Uncertain what the future would hold, she cleaned out her apartment, quickly got her affairs in order, and left.

Four days later, she reached Southern California. She spent a night with a friend before showing up at my house. My son, Li’l D, was beyond excited to see his auntie. She read him some stories and assured him she’d be there when he awakened. In the morning, he wanted nothing to do with me. He wanted only his auntie.

After Li’l D was off to preschool, she updated her resume. She sent out more than a dozen resumes and had arranged her first interview within an hour.

Two days later, she rocked that interview; her job offer came only a couple of hours later.

Walking to the store a few minutes later, we shared our elation at how quickly tides can turn when we flow with them. “Just eight days ago,” we mused, “all seemed hopeless. And now, barely more than a week later, it’s sunshine, friends and a new job.”

Sunshine & strength

Sunshine & strength

There’s no telling for sure what might have happened if she’d stayed up north. Was bloodshed inevitable? There is no telling. Thanks to the clear, compelling guidance in The Gift of Fear, a whole set of terrifying could-have-beens became much-less-likely-to-bes.

Will everyone who considers leaving know they have a safe place to go, or find a job immediately? No. But the truth is, it’s only by leaving an abusive, violent situation that a person–usually a woman–will be better able to take her life to the natural end of its years, and to explore all the good that might yet be, if she can even haltingly accept that the certainty of abuse is not better than uncertainty that includes limitless hopeful possibilities.

If you or someone you know is experiencing partner abuse, or you even suspect it, please, please make use of these resources:

* National Domestic Violence Hotline: http://www.thehotline.org/or 800-799-SAFE
* Gavin de Becker’s risk assessment page: https://www.mosaicmethod.com/

You could save a life, or even–if children are involved–many lives.

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  1. May 2, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    I read through this faster than anything I have ever read because I was worried something had happened to your friend! You saved her life! Everyone should be so lucky to have you on their side. I am happy that she left I am elated that she is starting a new happy life down south around you and Lil’D. And I am overjoyed that she is safe now thanks to you and the book that El recommended to you!

    • May 2, 2013 at 8:29 pm

      I am so glad El recommended that book! Other books have had a profound impact on me, but this one was life-changing. Period, and for the better, as you can see. What’s funny is that it’s fifteen years old but in no way dated. I suspect the same will hold true even when it’s a hundred years old. I’m grateful the book exists, and for all the people who have found paths to safety because of it.

      p.s. You should know Dark Moon thinks of you often. ♥

      • May 3, 2013 at 12:11 pm

        ♡♥♡♥ I sent Dark Moon an email awhile back wondering where she had gone off to because I think of her ALL the time and get rather excited when I see new blog posts!!

  2. May 2, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    It’s crazy how “close to home” abuse can be. You really saved your friend – you empowered her to leave. I wish her the best of luck. So important to share this type of story!

    • May 2, 2013 at 8:34 pm

      I got to talking to my youngest sister a few days ago. She mentioned that she’d spent a portion of her inheritance having wells built in areas lacking clean water. “Just think, there are people finally drinking clean water thanks to Mom!” Needless to say, there was some sniffling on my part.

      It was with that in mind that I asked my friend if she minded me writing something about this. Doing so felt to me like an homage to my own mom; from my friend’s perspective, the possibility her story might give someone incentive to leave or support a friend leaving was a powerful thing. I’m glad she was OK with it, but most of all glad she is safe and sound here, already flourishing in her new life. It is a blessing.

  3. May 2, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    Simply fabulous post, Deb. Once again, I been reminded of your amazing heart! Your friend is blessed to have you and Anthony in her life, and I (along with all your other readers) are blessed to have you here! Miss you!

    • May 2, 2013 at 8:36 pm

      This has been a powerful reminder what an amazing man I’m marrying. The fact he not only was OK with her coming here but actively advocated for it, even if it ended up being for several (landlord-approved) weeks? Lots of extra warm fuzzies for him right now. Miss you, too, but think of you often. Talk soon? xo

  4. May 2, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    Bravo, Deb! Good to hear that your friend is okay. I run across women all the time who tell me that they have been abused or otherwise mistreated by men (and some men who tell me similar) [people confess things to me *shrugs*]. It saddens me, and I wish I could find a way to help.

    My first instinct is to pick up a ball bat and go coward hunting, but I know that won’t solve anything. That sort of ignorance, hatred, and lack of control is what CAUSES the problem in the first place! It’s like people who become angry after, say, a school shooting or some other tragic event. It is natural to get angry, but do they not see that anger is very dangerous and is often what caused the problem in the first place. That’s like attempting to put out a fire by tossing napalm on it!

    I believe that there is good in people, and we should appeal to that, but we should also be aware of the dark side. The Gift of Fear sounds like a great way to look at the dark side and know it, to gain insight into the signs. I still haven’t gotten a chance to read a copy (thanks for dropping me a line about it!), but I will, especially in light of this post.

    • May 2, 2013 at 8:43 pm

      I wish I could find a way to help
      Oh, how I understand that sentiment. It feels like there are so many times where nothing can be done, not effectively, that I’m currently profoundly grateful to see that sometimes change can happen. I’m keen to see what else is to come, but based on the first few weeks, I think it will be great. I hope someone else is inspired by this to believe that good things can happen when we dare to leap.

      I continue to think you of all my friends (if I may be so presumptious) will appreciate this book on many levels. Your final paragraph confirms that. One of my favorite things about the book is how subtly yet constantly he reminds the reader of the importance of choosing to see. Pretending it’s not there doesn’t change that it is; it just makes you more equipped to respond to it and, sometimes even to strive harder to make sure there’s more light to offset the darkness.

  5. May 2, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    I’m so glad that your friend had someone like you in her life. I cringe to think what could have happened had she stayed in that scary situation. I wish her the best of luck and much happiness!

    • May 2, 2013 at 8:46 pm

      I was so, so freakin’ glad to get the text that she was on the road! It was hard not to worry until then, having seen so many people go back. And now, to have her here, ready for her new job and working on finding her new place . . . I am equally full of wonder and tears to be able to witness this transformation, and for how a book helped me turn my ineffective “I’m a little nervous” message into something more clear, fact-based and powerful. Let me know if you want to borrow my hard copy book! It’s amazing. (Its author is actually an Angeleno–go, L.A.!)

  6. May 3, 2013 at 3:12 am

    I love you. I love this post. You recommended this book to me on and I immediately bought it and am reading it now, this and El’s new book are getting my highest attention. I don’t know which is choking me up more. I wish I had had this book 40 years ago.

    • E.L. Farris
      May 3, 2013 at 5:30 am

      Thanks Val! I revised it even more and am now pitching agents. It’s time! Lots of love to you both.

    • May 11, 2013 at 6:33 am

      I wish (so much!) I could send it back in time as well. (I will be distributing it liberally today!) I’m glad it’s here now and hopeful who might yet find it . . . and that my dear friend is reading it right now. ♥

  7. May 3, 2013 at 5:24 am

    I’m sending this to my someone right now. She needs to know it is a pattern of his. She didn’t do anything wrong. I’ve read this book. I think it should be required reading for high school aged girls.

    • May 11, 2013 at 6:38 am

      I hope it has an impact. It is so sad and frustrating to stand on the outside and see clearly what should and should not be, but not be able to help someone else believe it. I’m rooting for you and your friend.

      And hear, hear to required reading. Even if most students dismissed it, the direct and indirect benefits from those who took it to heart would be profound.

  8. E.L. Farris
    May 3, 2013 at 5:25 am

    I just love this. Good, good stuff.

    • May 11, 2013 at 6:42 am

      This book was the single best recommendation I have ever gotten, with some lessons extending even beyond violence situations. Thanks, lady.

  9. May 3, 2013 at 9:52 am

    You’re a good friend! Thank goodness she got out!

    • May 11, 2013 at 6:45 am

      I am so, so glad for that, even a week post-writing! Even when her car stalled yesterday, she was in high spirits and handled it well: “I am still in a much better place than I was two weeks ago!” Thank goodness for that. ♥

  10. May 3, 2013 at 10:26 am

    Great post, Deb–thanks. It will have a ripple affect, I’m sure.

  11. May 3, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    Such an important topic. I wish all women could respect themselves enough to know when a man doesn’t, and to not allow themselves to become victims.

    • May 11, 2013 at 6:51 am

      Likewise. I lime how the author breaks it down. He says he would donate something like all proceeds of the book if a high school would teach a class teaching young women how to say unequivocal no (even if others then accuse then of being bitchy, or not “warm” enough) and young men how to hear and respect those words instead of hearing them as the beginning of negotiations. I would donate the books for that class, honestly, but short of that will buy copies and recommend the book as often as possible.

  12. May 3, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    It’s been a while. Honest…on this Friday afternoon I was about to e-mail you, then I saw MIYC and I went to your post immediately. Apparently, you have been up to a lot of good. Hugs to you and all your family.

    • May 16, 2013 at 9:23 pm

      Hugs to you, my friend. It was so amazing to meet you last weekend. I hope we get another chance before too long. ♥

  13. Heather Null
    May 3, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    I read this book years ago and the lessons from it still stick with me. I think all women (and men too, but especially women) should read this when they are still in their teens. Truly excellent and, as in the case of your friend, potentially life-saving.

    • May 16, 2013 at 9:25 pm

      I absolutely agree. If there were a way to make this required reading for teens, the benefits would be both profound and positive. Imagine a world in which people know how to say and hear “no,” and to recognize warning cues. I’ve sent copies to a few friends, but man, I wish I had the funds to donate this book to every school library everywhere.

  14. May 3, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    Deb this is such an important topic and you covered it beautifully. Your friend is lucky to have you in her corner, as I’m sure she knows. This book sounds like an important read for many of us. So amazing how this behavior can be dissected clinically.

    • May 16, 2013 at 9:27 pm

      It is amazing, isn’t it? Before I read the book, I figured there was something to the creeped out feeling I got around some people. It never occurred to me it might be for quantifiable reasons. I’m so glad there are folks out there making it quantifiable, and sharing that knowledge. The more people have that knowledge, the fewer not-really-so-unpredictable deaths we will have to mourn.

      • May 18, 2013 at 3:52 pm

        agree! Thank you for helping get the word out there!

  15. May 6, 2013 at 10:35 am

    I am SO GLAD this story had a happy ending. I almost cried thinking that at the end you were going to say something about how you’re still trying to get her to leave and that you’re frustrated with her stubbornness. I hate that feeling of wanting to help but being so, so limited (my own mother picked giant losers again and again). Well done, well done.

    • May 16, 2013 at 9:29 pm

      Oh, gosh, do I know that feeling! I’ve witnessed several other instances where I’ve wished I could forcibly remove a friend from an abusive situation, but have had to find ways to give them my love even when they keep going back. I’m grateful this case was not like that. I hope more stories will continue as has my friend’s. She thrives more by the day, and it is beautiful to witness. ♥

  16. May 6, 2013 at 10:45 am

    It’s such a frightening thing to think about what could have been. At least, luckily in this situation the outcome was such a positive one. That you read the book, that she admitted the warning signs and was able to leave and really is on a better path. This is such an important topic and I agree with all the other commentators you handled it wonderfully.

    • February 13, 2014 at 6:42 am

      Very, very belatedly, thank you! She has flourished since moving down here, and I’m grateful for that in light of what could have been.

      And Li’l D? Well, he’s grateful, too. The way he hollers and runs laps when she shows up is a reminder how good “now” is. 🙂

  17. May 7, 2013 at 11:48 am

    Deb, Your friend is lucky to have you in her life. Lots of good wishes for you and your friend!

  18. May 7, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    Sadly, domestic violence – or as I prefer, beating the crap out of your significant other for no good reason – is much like the cautionary environmental tale of the boiled frog. The situation often gets worse in increments too tiny for the person in the situation to fully appreciate. It takes the outside observer to see that the comfortable bath water has started to boil.
    As Radar used to say on MASH, “Ya done good.”

    • February 13, 2014 at 6:46 am

      The situation often gets worse in increments too tiny for the person in the situation to fully appreciate.

      So perfectly put! Honestly, she and I were in like situations at the time, sitting in water getting a little more hot by the moment but not seeing how much hotter it had gotten. She was able to articulate the similarities in our positions, and both of us benefited from seeing that lots of incremental change for the worse can lead to a very, very bad situation. The good news is, we also both learned about stepping out of that . . . and how much better things can be as a result.

      It’s been months since I wrote this post, but man. Revisiting now gives me an amazing opportunity to see just how good this life is now.

  19. May 8, 2013 at 8:57 am

    Thank you for sharing this powerful and hopeful story. You are exactly right—the unknown can seem scarier than the known—certainly your support helped to empower your friend so she could make the needed changes.

    • February 13, 2014 at 6:52 am

      It’s so funny to look back on all of this through the lens of what actually unfolded since. It really is so, so much better, a better that could not have been realized by continuing with the known painful.

  20. May 20, 2013 at 5:16 am

    Yours is a truly courageous soul, my friend.

  21. June 6, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Your writing takes my breath away always. This story nearly leveled me. Thank you for sharing something we all need to know more about. I’ll add the book to my list right now. I wish your friend only good things.

  22. July 10, 2013 at 7:08 am

    Wow, that is intense. I am so glad you were able to help your friend, and that she was receptive. I’ve added the book to my Goodreads list.

    • February 13, 2014 at 7:06 am

      As it happened, she’s helped me a lot since she moved down here. There’s so much good that has come from her leaving.

  23. maurnas
    February 11, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    I stayed up all night reading the Gift of Fear in one sitting. I couldn’t put it down. I was in my own abusive relationship, but I stayed. Then I read ‘Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft. Another book I think every woman should read. It inspired me to leave. And it inspired me to stay gone. I plan to read it every year for the rest of my life. I am glad your friend got out and is safe now. You are a great friend. This story gave me chills.

    • February 13, 2014 at 6:51 am

      I plan to read it every year for the rest of my life.
      That’s exactly how I feel about these books! I’m rereading Protecting the Gift now, and highlighting the passages I’ll want to find quickly. In some ways, that’s the entire book, but there are pieces that encapsulate de Becker’s wisdom especially succinctly, and I want to be able to point to those. More than that, of course? I want to remember.

      I want to thank you so much for this comment, by the way. It prompted me to realize I could give away some de Becker books here. That’s what I’m doing today. Even if I don’t get three takers? Well, I will be glad if folks use this as an opportunity to check his books out from their libraries! I still can’t believe how much practical life wisdom can be fit into a single book, equally informative and compellingly written.

  24. February 17, 2015 at 9:20 am

    Yay! I love a happy ending. This is a wonderful and insightful post. I will be checking out the book. 🙂

  1. May 23, 2013 at 9:04 pm
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  6. December 7, 2013 at 2:30 pm
  7. December 30, 2013 at 3:26 am
  8. February 13, 2014 at 5:50 am
  9. July 26, 2014 at 9:53 pm
  10. October 1, 2014 at 8:40 pm
  11. December 7, 2014 at 7:48 pm
  12. February 2, 2015 at 5:21 am
  13. February 17, 2015 at 7:00 am
  14. March 3, 2015 at 9:05 pm
  15. March 13, 2015 at 9:05 pm
  16. May 1, 2015 at 2:05 am
  17. August 24, 2015 at 7:41 pm
  18. December 5, 2015 at 9:28 pm
  19. January 22, 2017 at 7:00 am
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