When Confronted by the Bully, the Mugger, the Rapist, the Carjacker Or Anyone Else Who Sees You as Prey, Your Safely May Come Down to Brain-Oneupsmanship

Read this morning that increasing numbers of women are keeping a Beretta in the glove box or the nightstand. Or packing a concealed weapon. Learning how to shoot them, too.

I can appreciate the sentiment. The world feels less safe than it used to. But most of the time, when life and limb are suddenly imperiled by those who would treat us violently or otherwise see us as victims, I believe that—all things considered—there’s a better all-around weapon: our brain.

How to Be Safe in an Unsafe World, published in the late 1990s, is, in fact, a great guidebook for using our thinking organ expressly for the purpose of thwarting those who see us as prey and put us in their crosshairs, perhaps with predatory stares or hostile words or, worse, rape attempts, street attacks or car-jackings.

I still take this self-defense-minded work off the shelves periodically and refresh myself on its insights and tactics. Knock on wood, I’ve only needed to use its approaches all these years with panhandlers who seemed potentially dangerous and an overly obnoxious salesperson or two. But merely having a familiarity with them offers an extra degree of confidence when I’m faced with or surrounded by unsettling strangers or strangeness.

The authors of How to Be Safe are Harold Bloomfield, M.D., and Robert Cooper, Ph.D. Both are psychologists, which is probably why the word “brain” keeps coming up page after page. And why the authors would prefer to see you and me outthink, outwit and outmaneuver those intent on abusing or attacking us rather than outshoot them.

It’s not just your own brain that is at issue here. These personal safety experts have plenty to say about what’s happening in the brains of those doing the accosting, too. In fact, their central purpose is in equipping you to utilize what’s happening in the brain of your aggressor to your own best advantage.

To begin with, your would-be aggressor’s brain is trying to decide if you will make easy prey. They are looking for someone likely to be submissive. A researcher, Dr. Betty Grayson, has discovered what aggressors most often look for: someone who takes exaggerated strides, long or short; walks whole-footedly (instead of toe to heel) like they are walking on eggshells; moves the arm and leg on each side in concert instead of the normal left-leg/right arm and vice versa; moves their upper bodies at cross purposes to their lower bodies so that their two halves seem disconnected; and move as through their arm and leg movements are coming from outside their bodies, not from within.

Next, the aggressor’s brain is looking to activate a magnet-like psychological tie called a holding mechanism. When this clicks in, your brain is, in effect, captured; its attention has been directed toward those approaching you. Full-blown, this holding mechanism will freeze your brain so that it concludes that it has no choice but to be a victim—captured prey.

Helping your brain realized that a holding mechanism trap may be unfolding and showing it how to take diversionary action is Bloomfield’s and Cooper’s No. 1 safety technique. They’ve even reduced it to a formula so that a brain under duress or attack stands the best chance of remembering what to do. I can’t begin to explain in a short space what all is going on, but I can repeat the formula and offer a compelling brain-science-backed example into why they have boiled their anti-aggression strategies down to this:

A. Split-second PAUSE
B. Focused Emotional Energy
C. TWO+ Responses:
• Use two or more de-escalating phrases
• Take two or more unexpected physical actions

Look for a moment at why they recommend using two or more responses “within a half second.” It is because such a response puts your aggressor’s brain in instant sensory overload. If while his brain is working on your first sudden, unexpected word or motion, you follow immediately with another sudden, unexpected word or movement, it makes it nearly impossible for your aggressor to follow through on his intent to “capture” you as prey. This presents you with your best chance to de-escalate the situation or escape, or so these authors contend.

How to Be Safe in an Unsafe World provides numerous “how to do it” tips and even complete scenarios for using the above formula for personal safety. Like when to yell (probably at the moment of confrontation is best). How to yell (suddenly and forcefully except when you are already at the point of a gun, when yelling might cause the aggressor to pull the trigger in surprise). And what to yell (a wordless, full-blown war cry like “RAAAHH!” or “KEYAIEE!” is recommended by some experts or simply “Fire!” but not “Help!” since evidence has shown that the brains of more bystanders will turn away from “Help” than, say, “Fire!”).

None of this guarantees the outcome, of course. But it likely will improve your chances of escaping serious harm. Percentage-wise, it truly pays to be the brain on top in these kinds of circumstances. Bloomfield and Cooper point out that 85 percent of the people who are ordered into a car at gunpoint or knifepoint by a hijacker are killed, not released unharmed if they’ll just follow orders, as is typically the aggressor’s promise.

In such circumstances and many others, brain-oneupsmanship may be your one and only chance.

The book can be ordered here: How to Be Safe in an Unsafe World: The Only Guide to Inner Peace and Outer Security

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