The Cornered Cat

“The difference between fear and panic is knowing what to do. If you have a reliable, effective solution then fear is an asset. You know what to do and fear just makes you do it faster. On the other hand, if you don’t know what to do — or don’t trust what you know — then you will freeze …because you have no clear goal or way to get there. Fear helps, panic hinders.” — Marc MacYoung

One of the odd things about fear is that ignoring it can make it grow stronger. It can become this giant, amorphous thing that haunts the back of your mind, growing ever larger as you ignore the shadows in which it hides.

You start out by being afraid of some specific thing — the chance of being attacked and raped by a stranger, for example. You don’t want to think in detail about that, because it certainly isn’t a pleasant thought. Because you don’t want to think about it, you surely never study the Uniform Crime Reports to learn that stranger rapes are the rarest type of rape, and you never discover that most of these attacks are committed against women who make high-risk lifestyle choices. Because you avoid thinking about this unpleasant subject, you tune out information about specific things you could do to reduce your already-small risk of experiencing this unlikely type of attack. So that quiet little spot in the back of your mind, unexamined, grows into this huge black hole in which all strangers — or maybe even all men — become dangerous aliens who must be avoided whenever possible.

So how does one set about reducing this oversized black hole of fear back to its proper proportions?

Listen to Your Fear

The first step is simply to face your fear and acknowledge it for what it is. This may not be as easy as it sounds on paper, not simply because fear is an unwelcome sensation, but also because while the emotion is easy to identify, figuring out exactly what prompted the emotion might not be so simple.

If you have trouble sleeping in an otherwise-empty house, for example, you might lie awake listening to unfamiliar noises, jumping every time the branches outside your bedroom window creak in the wind, and tensing up with every miniscule settling sound the house makes as it cools down as the night wears on. You’re not actually scared of these noises, because you’re an adult and you know that noises don’t hurt people. But the noises frighten you all the same. They make you tense. How could this be?

A little analysis might help you realize that the noises themselves aren’t the thing you fear. Instead, they simply awaken your fear and get your imagination going. What you are actually afraid of is some danger that these unknown noises could represent. So now it is time for a little introspection: might you fear that someone in the house with you? Or that someone is trying to break in? That is one possible explanation.

So it isn’t enough to look for the thing that triggered your fear. You need to take it a step further, and figure out in what way the thing that triggers your fear represents an actual threat which could harm you.

Educate Yourself

The next step is to educate yourself about the possible threat, and find ways to reduce your risk of being harmed by it. Those eerie, creaky noises can’t harm you, but a home invasion might. So now it is time to do some research. How can you reduce the likelihood of a home invasion happening to you, or reduce your risk of getting harmed if it does?

Take a closer look at the things you fear. Sometimes, they’re not so scary after all.

On an immediate level, this could be as basic as learning that many home intruders simply walk in through an unlocked door, or climb in through an open window in the summertime. To reduce your risk of this type of home invasion, all you will need to do is make sure the doors are all locked and the windows shut before you go to bed.

But if you’ve already locked the doors and closed the windows, and the noises still bother you, there’s a chance your subconscious mind is telling you that you haven’t done enough. You may need to dig deeper, and do a little more research into how these events take place, how often they occur in your neighborhood, and who is most at risk from them. Your local law-enforcement office probably has brochures discussing preventive measures you can take to make your home more secure; the tips will probably include installing deadbolts and peep holes, beefing up your exterior doors and doorframes, planting prickly bushes underneath windows, and may also discuss methods of securely locking windows while maintaining your ability to get out of the house quickly in case of fire.

If you fear violent crime, you may want to learn about the five stages of violent crime. It takes time to build up to violence, even though it often seems to the victim as if the crime “came out of nowhere.” Criminals have goals they are reaching for, and certain steps they must take before they can reach those goals. Once you know what those steps are, you will be in a much better place to counter the steps and thus avoid violence.

When you know what a criminal needs to accomplish in order to attack you, you have a better idea of when and where to be alert, and more important, what you are looking for when you are alert. You also know when you may breathe a sigh of relief because you are temporarily able to relax your vigilance. In this, knowledge is your friend. And knowledge begins by facing your original fear nose-on.

Take Action

It is not enough to know that locked doors are a good thing. You actually have to get up off the couch and lock the door. If your research shows that homes with exterior lights and a pet dog are least likely to get invaded, you install the exterior lights and then go shopping for a dog you can live with.

Perhaps you decided that you would be safer if you owned a gun, so you have purchased a gun for self-protection. Does buying a gun keep you safe? No. Owning a gun, or even carrying a gun with you wherever you go, will not keep you safe by itself. The back of your mind knows this; that is one reason why psychoactive dreams and daytime reveries are common among new gun owners. The gun is a uniquely useful tool, but it cannot act on its own to protect you. That is why most experienced handgun carriers will tell you that your real safety comes from within, from your own knowledge and skill and the willingness to fight if need be.

Because safety comes from within, simply purchasing a gun will probably not quiet your fears for long. But making the internal determination that you will fight back if you must, and then getting the skills and training you need in order to do so effectively, will very likely lay your fears to rest.

Let It Go

The final step, as incongruous as it sounds, is to get on with your life. Once you have set your safety measures in place — whatever those safety measures might be, whether they are passive measures like better locks or active measures such as a lifestyle of paying attention and being alert — it is time to let go of your fear and focus your mind on more positive thoughts.

A lifestyle of awareness is not about fear, by the way. It’s about life, and living life to the fullest. It’s about paying attention to the world around you, walking through life with your eyes wide open and your senses fully extended, seeing the details that other people miss. It’s about smelling the roses, cherishing the daffodils, and never accidentally stepping on the bee that’s hiding in the clover.

As Tim Schmidt, president of USCCA, says, “The whole idea of proper preparedness and a healthy, second-nature sense of awareness is to allow your mind to think about the important things in life.” Fear doesn’t have to run your life and in fact it should not run your life. It is simply a welcome ally in the quest to live safely, secure in the knowledge that you are able to protect yourself.