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Safety as a Psychology Lesson

Beth Warford

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Psychology.thumb.png.04d0999742035484f72bb418454f182e.png“Mom! Get over here and look at all the police cars at Ryan’s house! I wonder what he did to get in that much trouble!”

Ryan’s father was shot at first, but he managed to escape and ran outside leaving the family behind.  I listened to my best friend describe how his Mom begged for her life and she was still shot in the head. Ryan hid in his closet and his little sister slept in her bed with the door open and was unharmed. The murderer went on that night to kill his wife and two other people. He happened to be a junior high school teacher and had children of his own. This all happened in a small town in ND.

I was eight years old, and Ryan was my best friend that lived in the house across the street. I still remember seeing the bullet holes in the glass and walking through the house as he explained the story.

My family didn’t talk about the murder much other than it was a tragedy. I was just beginning to learn about death on a different level, but I knew I would never see Ryan’s mom again. This began the uncomfortable feeling of being afraid for my own safety and I didn’t feel safe in my own home anymore. We’ll all agree this isn’t a desirable step in any child’s development.

Years later, I saw how my extreme fear paralyzed me for a long time. I started to have violent nightmares and started sleep walking often. I was afraid to be left home alone; and even when I was a teenager I would hide in my closet until my parents returned home. It was rather embarrassing and extremely boring to go with my parents to Pinochle parties at the age of 14 because I didn’t want to be left home alone.

When I first started dating John, who is now my husband, he couldn’t believe the fear and anxiety I had. He felt compelled to help me face my fears by empowering myself. He had a very different childhood experience than I did and it showed. He didn’t witness any murder scenes and being a boy probably helped. Growing into more of an alpha male type didn’t hurt his confidence in securing his own safety either. What’s ironic is that these differences between us were mostly due to chance and circumstance.

After careful consideration, John suggested I buy a Glock 19 and took me out to shoot the gun over and over until I was comfortable and confident. We both got our Concealed Carry permits and I got some relief from fear for the first time in over 12 years.

Fast forward to the present: analysis of fear, predators, psychopaths, and the conquering of them all has become my mission. I am no longer hiding from my fears; I am using my past experiences to fuel my passion for teaching many women and men about fear, psychopaths, and how to use that knowledge to inspire the development of one’s personal safety skills.

Fear is a biochemical, powerful, and primitive emotion that alerts us to the presence of danger. The biochemical reaction is evolutionary and is our body’s automatic response and is crucial to survive. This is known as the “fight or flight” response and prepares our body to fight or run away. Fear is critical for your safety because it alerts you to taking action, whether you know it or not. An example would be fear putting your body into hyper drive as a car is speeding toward you so you can get out of the way.

You have a powerful tool inside of you called instincts and I feel it is the best tool for survival. Our ancestors used them and that is why we are here today. Gavin De Becker is the author of The Gift of Fear and he teaches how our own intuition can protect us from violence. This book is simply brilliant and will teach many lessons on your “sixth sense”.

The emotional response to fear is highly personalized and this is usually a perceived fear, but our bodies are not in immediate danger. This is the type of fear that I developed and many others have and it can be debilitating to leading a healthy life.

When I was a young child, it didn’t take long to realize that evil people existed in the world. My parents and teachers often talked about violence, but they didn’t teach the real world skills necessary for safety. That’s like teaching you to look at the math problem without teaching you how to figure out the answer!

That was 32 years ago and I don’t think many talked about self-defense, but I feel like the schools and universities are still failing us on this subject. If we are taught anything about safety needs, it is often a brief section in Psychology classes.

We learned in Psychology about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the base of the pyramid being Physiological Needs followed by Safety Needs as the next level up. The summit is Self-Actualization, what we all strive to achieve. Maslow postulated that you can not leave a lower level of the pyramid and achieve the next without that psychological need being met.

It makes sense. You’re not going to be concerned about your safety if you don’t have water to survive and you will never get to your best potential if you’re concerned about more important things, like your safety and security.  According to Maslow, as people satisfy their most basic physical and emotional needs first, they become more and more concerned with their higher needs. We need to feel safe in order to make it to the higher levels (love and belonging, self-esteem, self-actualization) if we don’t have the basic needs to survive physically or the security to allow us to progress higher.

Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D., is the Senior Fellow of The Child Trauma Academy (www.ChildTrauma.org) in Houston and he talks a lot about a child needing to feel safe and secure in order to begin building skills. He concluded that the lack of safety literally changes brain development in children. This is very significant! We all get this intuitively: our desire to feel safe is a basic human need.

I feel, in light of today’s economic situation and world events, it is important to pay more attention to Abraham Maslow’s ideas more than ever before. Look at the areas of the worst conflict, and apply Maslow’s Pyramid to the social situations there. You’ll see the conflicts in a whole new light.

For a more psychological explanation of the need for safety and self-defense we look to the famous psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud, who taught us that human instincts could be divided into two categories: “Those which seek to preserve and unite, and those which seek to destroy and kill.” The classic “good versus evil” after all. You may be a “preserve and unite” kind of person, but don’t forget the “seek to destroy and kill” lurking out there.

Did the schools you attended offer Self-Defense 101 or Predators 210? Did they teach you that in order to take advantage of your diploma (and be a life long learner?) you’d need to stay safe and survive? My schools didn’t, nor did they teach me how to grow my own food or start a fire without matches either (which is entirely another issue!).

I am on a mission to teach and empower people to take responsibility for their own safety, whether you are an 8th grader or an “older than average” student. I suggest you find such a teacher to fill that need.

Whether you know it or not, missing the skills to protect yourself causes levels of fear and anxiety that can paralyze you, keeping you from living the life of your dreams, and, if chronic enough, a stress that can affect your physical health as well.

Why are so many Americans fearful and anxious about their safety? Maybe it’s because us civilized Americans have a murder rate that is ten times that of any other Western nation. Perhaps it is because our citizens kill women and children with an alarming frequency. There is a real culture of violence, rage and hate in this country and no one, and I mean no one, is immune or untouched by it, no matter how tight you snuggle under the blanket of denial.

I could talk all day about statistics on violence that may or may not scare you, but the truth is that your safety lies in your hands. You cannot rely on the US government or police department to protect you at all times. Just this week I stayed at a friend’s house that was at least 20 minutes away from the nearest police station. Think the bad guys know that? I don’t care if you have a “protected by an alarm system” sticker on your door, the bad guys can do very basic math and know that 20 minutes is plenty of time to do many tragic things. Don’t kid yourself into a false sense of security; it may be the worst miscalculation of your life. You are responsible for your safety and as I’ve said before; YOU ARE THE FIRST RESPONDER.

Some experts claim that only one in one hundred people ever make it to the top of Maslow’s pyramid. Maybe you could have higher self-esteem or an increased sense of self-actualization if you didn’t have that anxiety all day about someone harming you. Heck, it would be a good start, wouldn’t it? You will continue to stress if you run from your self-inflicting fears and not address them, thus decreasing your ability to grow into your fullest potential.

A more positive conclusion can be had, of course. Build some confidence and fight back against the evil. Be the change you want to see in the world. Be the one who wants to preserve and unite and fight for those who can’t protect themselves. Learn a skill and be happier. Be your own well-trained, highly skilled security guard.

What is in store for your life if you really addressed Maslow’s needs and were honest about them? I am 40 years old and feel like I’ve fulfilled all of Maslow’s needs, but am still advancing and improving upon my progress in each area the more I learn. You can too, of course, and that’s my hope for your future. Start with getting an Advanced Degree in “How to Kick a Bad Guy’s Ass” and you’re well on the way to the top!



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