Gavin De Becker’s The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect us From Violence


The February Non-Fiction Mumsnet Feminist book club was Gavin De Becker’s The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect us from Violence. It isn’t an explicitly feminist text [and, obviously, not written by a woman] but I was so incensed by the absolute misogynistic twaddle being peddled as “romance” in Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife that I think the following information can not be stressed enough:

(T)here are many reliable pre-incident indicators associated with spousal violence and murder. They won’t all be present in every case, but if a situation has several of these signals, there is reason for concern:

1) The woman has intuitive feelings that she is at risk.

2) At the inception of the relationship, the man accelerated the pace, prematurely placing on the agenda such things as commitment, living together, and marriage.

3) He resolves conflict with intimidation, bullying, and violence.

4) He is verbally abusive.


5) He uses threats and intimidation as instruments of control or abuse. This includes threats to harm physically, to defame, to embarrass, to restrict freedom, to disclose secrets, to cut off support, to abandon, and to commit suicide.

6) He breaks or strikes things in anger. He uses symbolic violence (tearing a wedding photo, marring a face in a photo, etc.).

7) He has battered in prior relationships.

8) He uses alcohol or drugs with adverse affects (memory loss, hostility, cruelty).

9) He cites alcohol or drugs as an excuse or explanation for hostile or violent conduct (“That was the booze talking, not me; I got so drunk I was crazy”).

10) His history includes police encounters for behavioral offenses (threats, stalking, assault, battery).

11) There has been more than one incident of violent behavior (including vandalism, breaking things, throwing things).

12) He uses money to control the activities, purchases, and behavior of his wife/ partner.

13) He becomes jealous of anyone or anything that takes her time away from the relationship; he keeps her on a “tight leash,” requires her to account for her time.

14) He refuses to accept rejection.

15) He expects the relationship to go on forever, perhaps using phrases like “together for life,” “always,” “no matter what.”

16) He projects extreme emotions onto others (hate, love, jealousy, commitment) even when there is no evidence that would lead a reasonable person to perceive them.

17) He minimizes incidents of abuse.

18) He spends a disproportionate amount of time talking about his wife/ partner and derives much of his identity fiom being her husband, lover, etc.

19) He tries to enlist his wife’s friends or relatives in a campaign to keep or recover the relationship.

20) He has inappropriately surveilled or followed his wife/ partner.

21) He believes others are out to get him. He believes that those around his wife/partner dislike him and encourage her to leave.

22) He resists change and is described as inflexible, unwilling to compromise.

23) He identifies with or compares himself to violent people in films, news stories, fiction, or history He characterizes the violence of others as justified.

24) He suffers mood swings or is sullen, angry, or depressed.

25) He consistently blames others for problems of his own making; he refuses to take responsibility for the results of his actions.

26) He refers to weapons as instruments of power, control, or revenge.

27) Weapons are a substantial part of his persona; he has a gun or he talks about, jokes about, reads about, or collects weapons.

28) He uses “male privilege” as a justification for his conduct (treats her like a servant, makes all the big decisions, acts like the “master of the house”).

29) He experienced or witnessed violence as a child.

30) His wife/partner fears he will injure or kill her. She has discussed this with others or has made plans to be carried out in the event of her death (e.g., designating someone to care for children).

De Becker’s book is not without criticism particularly in its use of “choice” discourse in discussing intimate partner violence [IPV]. There are two clearly competing and conflicting theories: one in which women need to trust their instincts to prevent being victims and one in which women are being held responsible for being victims. He’s quite honest about his abusive father and I wonder how much of the second theory is [unconscious] unresolved anger at his own mother for not “protecting” him even though he [consciously] understands the pathology of IPV. However, the psychological IPV in The Paris Wife is so constant and insidious that the idea that it can be “romantic” is dangerous, destructive and the reason that Mumsnet has such a well-used Relationships board.