The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker is a stark contrast to most of the books I have reviewed here. A friend asked if she should read it, or if it would make her anxiety worse. When I first started into the book, I didn’t think I would write a post about it. Simply put, the beginning of the book is a bit dark. However, I found quite a bit of value toward the end, and I think this book could help women, so here we are.

Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with or endorsed by the publisher or author, and am receiving no compensation for writing this article.

The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker

Gavin de Becker is a security specialist. His troubled childhood taught him about instincts and predicting violence, which he has used in his career working for various celebrities and developing systems and guides to evaluate threats that are used by The Supreme Court of the United States, The United States Congress, and The United States Secret Service.

The Gift of Fear starts by telling the story of a victim, the “interview” process her attacker used to select her as a victim, and the intuition signals that saved her life. Fear is an intuition signal, a message that can alert us to danger. (Different than “worry,” which is an inauthentic “fear” that we manufacture in our minds.) Using fear as a cue to check for danger is trusting our intuition. 

The Gift of Fear Survival Signals

The author outlines some of the psychological manipulations that can help identify a potential threat. The book goes into more detail, but I’ll briefly list them here to raise your awareness.

Forced Teaming

Using the word “we” to put you in the “same boat” and create unearned trust. It creates a fictitious shared experience or purpose when there is none. Defense: clearly refuse any concept of partnership.


This is not a personality trait. It is almost always a tool used with motive. Think of it as a verb.

Including too many details: 

When someone is lying, they feel the need to keep talking to support their story. Con artists use this to distract us from context and make us forget about obvious facts. Defense: focus on the context of the situation.

Type casting

Applying a label (as a slight insult) to the victim to manipulate them into the desired action.  “You’re too [negative adjective] to [action predator wants you to do].” or “There’s such a thing as being too proud.”

Loan Sharking

Offering assistance to place the victim in his debt. Defense: remember that you didn’t ask for help, and he approached you.

Unsolicited Promise

The predator can tell you aren’t convinced, so he uses a promise to convince you of an intention. Defense: Use the promise to raise awareness of your doubts, and evaluate why you may have a good reason to not trust that person.

Discounting the word “No”

Refusing to hear “no” is a manipulation/control tactic. If you mean “no,” don’t waiver or relent, especially with strangers. Defense: become dramatically MORE firm in your answer. “I said NO!”

Fear vs. Worry

The author compares the difference between fear and worry to the difference between pain and suffering. Pain and fear are both signals to let you know that something needs your attention. Worry and suffering are destructive. The book gives 3 goals when it comes to fear and worry:

  • When you feel fear, listen.
  • When you don’t feel fear, don’t manufacture it. (Worry is a choice.)
  • If you find yourself creating worry, explore and discover why you are doing it. (Worry is likely serving you in some way that may not be productive.)


The word “anxiety” comes from a root that means “to choke.” Anxiety is usually caused by uncertainty. (Ie. not being confident in your predictions.) Improving your predictions will decrease your uncertainty and, in effect, reduce your anxiety.

The Gift of Fear

I found this book informative. The part about distinguishing between real fear (the warning signal) and worry (the destructive, unauthentic, manufactured fear) was particularly insightful. Living in a state of constant worry numbs us to the valuable warning of real fear. I tend to be prone to anxiety and worrying, so this book was particularly eye-opening for me. If you can get past the dark part at the beginning, I think you’ll find The Gift of Fear an interesting read.

Looking for another great book? Check out Girl, Wash Your Face.

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