The Gift of Fear

By Yvonne Ventresca

You know that uncomfortable feeling you get sometimes, like when an overly friendly stranger offers help you don’t want? Or the sense that you shouldn’t get into an elevator with someone, even though you can’t explain why?

This fear can be a asset because our subconscious picks up on details that alert us to danger. One of my favorite nonfiction books is The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence by Gavin de Becker.  He provides many stories of survivors who, looking back, realized it was their intuition that alerted them to a dangerous situation. Intuition, he says, is “the journey from A to Z without stopping at any other letter along the way. It is knowing without knowing why.”

Yet we often try to downplay our fear. What if we’re wrong about the danger? We don’t want to look silly or seem alarmist. We don’t want to possibly insult a stranger by not getting in the elevator. We don’t want to see rude.

But if our intuition is telling us otherwise, de Becker argues that rudeness is the last thing we should be worried about. Being afraid can save us from harm.

De Becker says, “No animal in the wild, suddenly overcome with fear, would spend any of its mental energy thinking, ‘It’s probably nothing.’ Yet we chide ourselves for even momentarily giving validity to the feeling that someone is behind us on a seemingly empty street, or that someone’s unusual behavior might be sinister. Instead of being grateful to such a powerful internal resource, grateful for the self-care, instead of entertaining the possibility that our minds might actually be working for us and not just playing tricks on us, we rush to ridicule the impulse. We, in contrast to every other creature in nature, choose not to explore -- and even to ignore – survival signals.”

Have you ever experienced helpful intuition? Have you ever acted on a fear and been grateful for it?


  1. That sounds like a really interesting book! I tend to ignore my fear signals, mainly because I don't really trust them. I've always struggled with anxiety, so I have trouble distinguishing between valid fears and those I might be making up. And I do really struggle with the "Is this rude?" issue. Does it matter if a total stranger thinks I'm being rude? Not really, but my first impulse is to make sure they don't think I'm being rude...silly, right?

  2. This is a very interesting post. Courtney, I was just about to write the same thing! Because of my anxiety, it's hard to know whether to trust my instincts. It's very frustrating.

  3. One thing I like about the book is that for some of the situations (like being approached by a dangerous stranger) he describes several strategies they use. So if you can identify what the person is doing, it's less about anxiety and more about spotting the manipulation (if that makse sense). It becomes more factual and less about perception.

  4. It isn't often you can say a book changed your life. This book (The Gift of Fear) changed my life. It taught me how to trust my intuition. Such a great book!


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