If you’re the victim of a violent attack, you can know how to defend yourself and still end up seriously hurt — because you couldn’t execute what you know in the heat of the moment.
Most Americans live in civilized, developed areas, which we would like to believe are safe and peaceful and where no harm will befall us.
Your home and your job may feel like "safe havens," places of comfort and security. You may also feel safe at your local schools, parks, restaurants and shopping centers.
However, nothing could be further from the truth. Safety is nothing but an illusion. Civilization lulls us into a false sense of security because predators can seem so few and far between.
Our prehistoric ancestors lived in constant fear of wild animals, disease and rival clans who wanted to kill and even eat them. They were defenseless against man-eaters like bear-sized hyenas, dire wolves, saber-toothed tigers, 40-foot-long crocodiles, and massive eagles with 4-inch claws and 9-inch beaks.
Thanks to evolution, our ancestors developed instints that helped them survive. Instincts that transformed them from prey to predator. These instincts have been honed since the beginning of time. Today, they are still ingrained in our DNA.
|Visualizing a potential threat situation can help you protect yourself should it come to pass.|
One of the most obvious signs of those instincts is called "the fight-or-flight response." This response is your body’s way of processing fear and warning you of danger.
It describes the natural, unstoppable psychological and physiological changes that you experience when you’re simply startled or confronted with mortal danger. It tells you to be afraid.
Your brain and body are hard-wired for fear to enhance your chances of survival.
So let’s talk about what parts of the brain are responsible for fear and for recognizing danger.
Fear is triggered by some stimulus, say a guy with a black hood over his face confronts you with a gun and throws you on the floor. In your head, you know that he is planning to harm you.
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The "fear" alarm has been triggered. So the part of the brain known as the amygdala picks up this stimuli, processes these signals and triggers autonomic responses, causing increased heart rate, increased breathing, pupil dilation, auditory exclusion, tunnel vision and shutting off of non-essential body functions.
In response to this involuntary reaction, you freeze, unable to move. You are paralyzed by fear and cannot take action to thwart the assault. Your rational thought depends upon a part of the brain known as the pre-frontal cortex.
But your pre-frontal cortex can be short-circuited when fear unleashes a flood of hormones, such as adrenaline, epinephrine and cortisol. So you shut down involuntarily just as effectively as if someone had switched a light switch off.
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I am a consultant on kidnap-and-ransom situations. I am an expert in preparing people to deal with active shooters. I have seen firsthand how extreme fear of death can paralyze a man or woman, rendering him or her inert and unable to respond.
So I can tell you that when people are shooting at you, threatening you with a knife, or mugging you, the only thing that bridges the gap between freezing and taking action is training.
And so we make it our business to train our staff and other security professionals under extreme pressure to prepare for combat so that they have an orienting response to get them moving when danger strikes.
But what about the ordinary person, say an Average Joe or Jane who’s walking from work to his or her car parked in a garage? What if they are being assaulted?
They don’t have any training or orienting response, so how do they train and prepare for this? How do they override that fear response so they can fight back and survive the attack?
Most of us are not professional mercenaries and we don’t have combat training or experience. But there is a way you can learn and train to extinguish fear and replace it with an ability to respond faster and more appropriately to danger. It is called "Visualization."
Visualization is when you use mental imagery to picture yourself experiencing events such as a mugging or an attack by a shooter. It’s almost like daydreaming, but much more intense. In order to train with visualization, you must first state the purpose of your visualization.
For this column, we will visualize a sexual assault.
A determination of what "picture" or "movie" you will be visualizing is the first decision you will make. The decision of what imagery to use is totally dependent on you, and stated the purpose of the exercise.
Next, proceed by running a mental movie of yourself in the situation over and over again. Visualize everything, the sights, feelings, emotions, and your actions that you would take to thwart the attack or escape.
Now I know you’re probably thinking, "Jeff, this is ridiculous. I can’t stop an assault by imagining it and then imagining what I would do in that situation." Logically this makes no sense. However, there have been numerous studies on visualization and how it can improve your abilities in various situations.
What is interesting to note is that professional athletes, elite military units and law enforcement agencies have been using visualization techniques for years with hugely successful results, which is why I bring it up. It’s just another tool you can use in your fight against violence.
I am by no means telling you that the only training you need is the visualization of say a 6-foot-3, 250-pound man who is trying to rape you. No, training your situational awareness will be your primary defensive tool in your arsenal to combat violence. However, as vigilant as you may be, there are times when that will not be enough to prevent or deter the attacker.
For times such as these, you will need to be physically prepared to engage the attacker. And so physical types of training such as firearms, knife-defense and hand-to-hand combat are also very important if you are going to survive and get home to your family safely.
But you can’t use your self-defense training if you freeze like a deer in headlights. And visualization can help you snap out of it and take action! Even if it just means screaming for help and running away.
Until next time, stay alert, check your six, put your back against the wall and stay safe!