The Cornered Cat
Wigging Out

One of the fascinating things about my job is that I often end up listening to 9-1-1 audio recordings while trying to understand what happened during a criminal event. It isn’t always pleasant or easy listening, but this kind of work needs to be done in order to help others learn how to stay safe. 1

Over and over again, I’m struck by how people sound on these tapes. Always frightened. Sometimes frantic. Sometimes garbled, sometimes angry, sometimes shrill. And every once in awhile, you hear a calmly terrified voice that grabs you by the heart and won’t let go.

How does a person get to the point where they can calmly and clearly call for emergency services, when there’s every chance that their emotions are screaming at them just as loudly as some of the injured parties? How does a person learn to behave rationally even when they feel nearly overwhelmed by strong emotions? How can a person learn to make smart choices in the face of fear?


If you’re the kind of person who sometimes lets your emotions get the better of you (who isn’t?), practice acknowledging your emotions without letting them take charge of what you do.

  • If you’re afraid of spiders, be the person who regularly sweeps the cobwebs out of the garage or attic.
  • If heights bother you, regularly get the ladder out and clean the gutters.
  • If you’re scared of big dogs, volunteer at the local humane society and force yourself to work with them.
  • If needles wig you out, give blood as often as you can.

Do what it takes to become the kind of person who can keep your rational behavior independent of your emotional reactions.

These little things help build a habit of doing what needs to be done no matter how you feel about it — and that, in turn, makes you safer and more likely to be in conscious control of your actions when trouble strikes.


  1. As I’ve said before (see the post titled The Life-Affirming Lessons of Self Defense): To me, the only thing worse than going through a horrible life event would be going through a horrible life event that nobody learned anything from. There’s nothing I can do to make a violent crime not have happened, but I rejoice that through my work I can help others learn how to survive similar events.

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