“When you aren’t skilled and confident, you get scared and you over react.” — Greg Ellifritz
My take: In context, Greg was talking to law enforcement officers, but this applies to ordinary people just as much as it does to anyone else.
If you want to reduce the risk of overreacting in a sketchy situation, it pays to get enough training that you are truly confident in your ability to handle whatever comes your way.
Developing your confidence may include working with the firearm until it’s pretty much just another tool you use, like a kitchen knife or the steering wheel of your car. It means getting to the point where you can think only about the things happening in front of you and around you instead of having to concentrate on how to hold the gun and make it work. A big part of personal confidence is knowing — not hoping, but truly knowing — that you are able to effectively use whatever tools you have on hand.
This type of confidence also means having a realistic understanding of what you yourself are able to do without the firearm. For those inclined to say, “Nothing! That’s why I carry a gun,” I’d like to point out that many fully-grown humans think twice before even reaching toward an angry cat that weighs less than a loaf of bread. No matter who you are, you do have some physical abilities — and if you don’t think you have any at all, you are incorrect and at a higher risk of being that person who overreacts.
And it’s not just physical skills. How confident are you in your ability to talk to people without offending them? To calm someone who’s angry or to safely, effectively end a conversation with someone who appears to be building up toward violence? To get away from a creep without escalating … anything … that’s going on in his or her head? That’s a huge and important skill set. It can be learned, but most people never even realize it’s something we can study and get better at.
Developing this type of confidence includes learning enough about violent crime and how it develops that you become realistically confident in your ability to recognize the danger signs early enough to walk away from most developing situations.
It also means becoming realistically confident in your ability to recognize a situation that isn’t headed that direction. Maybe learning to recognize, for example, when an encounter with a panhandler is just a normal and everyday encounter with a panhandler. A person who is confident and aware should be able to deal with a panhandler without getting all OMG DANGER LOOK OUT BIG ADRENALIN DUMP HERE!!!-ish about what’s really a very everyday and commonplace situation.
Does this mean there’s never any physical danger from panhandlers? Nope. It simply means that once you know what a normal interaction looks like, and know how to deal with that very normal interaction with confident skill, you’re a lot better prepared to deal with the abnormal because you will recognize the signs that something abnormal is going on.
Key point: To a person who doesn’t have a confident knowledge of what normal looks like and how to deal with it, everything is abnormal and therefore scary.
Obviously, we aren’t just talking about panhandlers, here. That’s just one illustration of the principle: learning the signs of impending danger and knowing how to deal with them tends to reduce unnecessary fear and therefore also reduces the risk of a fear-based overreaction.
Ask any dog trainer and they will tell you that “fear biting” is a thing. And while we don’t usually leave teeth marks on our prey, humans do it too. But we don’t have to.