Do you really think you can spot someone who means you harm? Most of us cannot, for various reasons. By the time you do figure it out, a would-be attacker is already several steps ahead of you… Gavin de Becker and Rory Miller are widely regarded as thought leaders when it comes to understanding the emotional and psychological nature of violence; how to prevent it, and how to react to it. While there is some overlap in the highly useful information they provide, they also have very unique perspectives and guidance on how to prevent violence, what to do if you find yourself in real danger, and how to deal with the aftermath of an attack. In this article I highlight their individual contributions to this knowledge base and share some of the most important points I have taken away from their writings, lectures and publications.
Gavin de Becker grew up seeing violence first hand in his own home. His mother committed suicide when he was 16 years old and he moved in with a Beverly Hills High School classmate, Miguel Ferrer (the son of actor José Ferrer and singer Rosemary Clooney). The family later hired de Becker as a road manager, a job which positioned to him to do the same for other famous Hollywood types. In 1978, he established the consulting firm, Gavin de Becker and Associates.
” The way I broke down the individual elements of violence as a child became the way the most sophisticated artificial intuition systems predict violence today. My ghosts had become my teachers. “ ─ words from Gavin de Becker, as penned in his book: The Gift of Fear
Fast forward to today … Gavin de Becker is the most well-known celebrity security expert and consultant to famous people (one of his most current clients is Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos). Over the years, de Becker developed a system to determine the seriousness of threats to his clients. This system evolved into a methodology he calls “the MOSAIC threat assessment system.” MOSAIC has been adopted by various law enforcement and military agencies.
” Intuition is always right in at least two important ways: It is always in response to something. It always has your best interest at heart. ”
─ Gavin de Becker
Fear is involuntary. Real fear is hardwired into us to protect us and is therefore a positive thing. Worry is manufactured fear. It is a negative influence on us because it can be a constant distraction toward things that are not real threats and, according to de Becker, “[worry] delays and discourages constructive action”.
Gut instinct (intuition) is your immediate understanding of “something”. There’s no need to think it over or get another opinion; you just know. Intuition is as a feeling within your body that only you experience. This feeling is highly personal – no one else can tell you if you’re in touch with your gut instinct or not. You, alone, make that call. Because of this, trusting your intuition can be described as the act of trusting yourself.
Ever have a creepy feeling, like when your hair stands on end but you aren’t sure why? THAT is intuition… We may not consciously detect what’s going on around us or know for certain what specific danger is lurking close by, but subconsciously we are detecting a threat (real or not is to be determined). The word intuition is derived from the Latin root word tueor, which represents the ideas of awareness, being on guard, and protecting. In his writings and presentations, Gavin de Becker recounts multiple true stories about how someone “trusted their gut” and saved themselves (or another person) from harm. In other cases, not trusting their gut allowed them (or someone else) to be harmed. As stated by another author, Ed Hinman: “Intuition is the gift of knowing without knowing why”.
The term satellites, as used by Gavin refers to seemingly unrelated tangents a person intuitively includes in their descriptions of troublesome events. These details distract them from real dangers and may even be benign observations that are the true root of our concerns. For instance, de Becker recounts a story about woman he counseled who was dealing with daily “fear”. She lived in Los Angeles, CA and described experiencing great fear when parking her car at night. She repeatedly described LA as “dangerous” and had to get from her car to her home late at night in the dark due to her work schedule. With further counseling, she realized that deep down, she actually did not want to be in LA nor did she like the job she felt trapped her there.
Most attacks are not impulsive or opportunistic. Someone who uses physical violence will also capitalize on the element of surprise (and other factors) to increase the chances they are successful in getting whatever it is they want. Becoming familiar with when, where and how real attacks occur, anyone can be prepared to recognize, prevent, and deal with danger if it ever happens. However, there is a fine line between paranoia and purposeful awareness.
According to the empirical literature, children who have experienced abuse and neglect are at increased risk for a number of problematic developmental, health, and mental health outcomes, including: learning problems (e.g., problems with inattention and deficits in executive functions), problems relating to peers (e.g., peer rejection), internalizing symptoms (e.g., depression, anxiety), externalizing symptoms (e.g., oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, aggression), and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As adults, these children continue to show increased risk for psychiatric disorders, substance use, serious medical illnesses, and lower economic productivity and are more likely to commit violent acts against others. Source: Institute of Medicine & National Research Council. (2014). New Directions in Child Abuse and Neglect Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Be wary of people who do not respect the word “no”. Those who intend to do harm will press an issue and attempt to overcome the niceties most of us demonstrate toward others. Violent offenders often use kindness or grand gestures to try to gain the trust of a victim and capitalize on politeness extended to them. In your weakest moment, they will pounce.
Gavin de Becker refers to pre-incident indicators (PINS). These are things about which an aware person takes note. By noticing these events and behaviors that often precede violence, an individual can better predict an event before it occurs and can take the necessary precautions and actions to stay safe. When PINs are observed, caution must be taken to consider the context of the warning signs and a determination must be made as to whether a true threat assessment is needed. “PINS” include:
When you tell someone you don’t want their help, make it explicitly clear; be as direct as possible. If your intuition tells you something is awry, do not worry with being polite. Say what you mean and be firm. As de Becker often says: “I encourage people to remember that ‘no'” is a complete sentence.”
There is something those of us who are parents can do to contribute to a society of “good citizens” with respect to these issues. Do your part in raising children in such a way that your kids (especially boys, once they grow and become men) truly understand the word “no”. Teach your daughters (who will one day become grown women) that it’s all right to explicitly reject another person’s insistence and advances, especially men. By doing so, we can raise men who will respond (appropriately) to the word “no”, and women who are clear in stating the word and are confident in using the word.
Rory Miller is a 17 year veteran of a metropolitan correctional system, including ten as a sergeant, with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office in Portland Oregon. His assignments included booking, maximum security, disciplinary and administrative segregation, and working in mental health units. In 2008, Miller left the U.S. to spend over a year in Iraq with the Department of Justice International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program program as a civilian adviser to the Iraqi Corrections System.
” It’s better to avoid than to run; better to run than to de-escalate; better to de-escalate than to fight; better to fight than to die. “ ─ words from Rory Miller, as penned in his book: Meditations on Violence
Miller has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology (which informs his understanding of violence and how to teach others about it), was a judo and fencing athlete in college, and is a black belt in traditional Japanese jujutsu. He has designed and taught courses on the topics of confrontational simulations, uncontrolled environments, crisis communications with the mentally ill; Community Emergency Response Team operations and planning, defensive tactics, and use of force.
” First you read your opponent, eventually you start to write them. “
─ Rory Miller
In social violence who the victim is is important to the threat, in predatory violence it is not. Social violence- fighting for territory, for ideas, for status- the threat fights against someone he acknowledges as a person. Most people ‘dehumanize’ the enemy with epithets, jokes and insults. One example of social violence Rory describes is the so-called “monkey dance”. We’ve all seen it, maybe on the playground, in a bar, or just somewhere out in public. The classic image is that of two guys squaring off, chests pushed out, wild-eyed, hurling insults at one another… you get the point. The primary reason for this type of violence is to establish social dominance. There are many reasons for doing so, including feeling threatened, establishing territory, etc. Regardless, this is one of the two basic types of violence described by Miller.
The second type of violence is more concerning. A predator does not have to dehumanize because he never really saw the victim as a person anyway, only as a resource. A predator is defined as someone who has developed the ability or made the choice to ignore your humanity. The social predator may actually be afraid and is resorting to violence out of fear (fueled by a dash of anger). The predator, however, is more frightening because they are typically more calculated, devious, and willing to do far worse things to you than a social predator.
The two different types of predators are: Resource Predators, and Process Predators. Most threats are Resource Predators who want something from their victim. According to Miller, “Process Predators are a completely different class of threat. They target individuals for the sake of the hunt, often becoming violent murderers, rapists, and sociopaths. Process predators consider themselves to be the top of the food chain, often completely ignoring the humanity of those around them as they pursue their desires. They are the true wolves stalking the flock.” With a Resource Predator, you provide them with the resource the want from you the situation is usually resolved. According to Miller, “…these predators identify targets based on opportunity, often acts on a whim, and may or may not become violent toward their target.”
Rory Miller describes three skills for avoiding an attack: avoidance, escape and evasion, and de-escalation.
Avoidance. Knowing how predators target their individuals (briefly described above) can aid anyone in not becoming a target. The simplest way to avoid them is to avoid where you know (or where it is likely) for a predator to be. The list of areas Miller provides includes: bars, shopping malls, department stores, and gun-free zones. When you do go to these places you should be aware and prepared to act (not paranoid, aware).
Escape & Evasion. If you do see a threat, Rory recommends you do several things: size them up, look for their hands, scan them for weapons, be aware of your surroundings (e.g., are there others nearby) and use your peripheral vision, and free up your hands so you are ready to act if needed. In addition, you should be aware of (and ready to utilize) exits, crowds, and physical structures that can be used as cover and concealment.
De-escalation. This is the riskiest and least-successful method of avoiding an attack. De-escalation will put you in close proximity to the threat. If you get to this point, you also must know effective techniques for interacting with a threat. Common techniques include: calming yourself before interacting with the threat, make yourself as non-threatening as possible, try to make a personal connection (what is their name), listen to what they have to say. There are other techniques that can be effective, however, you should become aware of and practice using them as part of your self-defense training. De-escalation is not the same as submission. It is a planned and thoughtful approach to trying to resolve the situation. When it does not work, your only options are: submit, fight, or run.