Fear makes you survive,it’s a very useful feeling that makes you activate the survival mechanisms but you need to learn to know it and manage it.
“If you can keep calm when everyone around you loses your head… maybe you didn’t quite understand the situation… or you know exactly what to do”
Fear when it comes to self-defense and survival is a sensitive and fundamental issue, perhaps the central theme par excellence on how to survive violence and how to prepare to deal with it.
Anyone who has had the misfortune to be attacked knows very well that preparation cannot be exclusively technical.
All of us planning to find ourselves in a dramatic situation, we try to come up with a “battle plan” made up of hypotheses, and “things to do in case…”
Many people fill gyms, self-defense courses and shooting ranges, training movements and reflexes, things to do and not to do, say or not say, techniques on techniques to use when they meet an attacker but training for technically is necessary but not enough , especially when you realize that one of the things you have to learn to control is your emotional reaction to fear.
Those who have experienced up close bad adventures,the real ones, have surely experienced terror and its disruptive power:
paralysis, the inability to react and decide.
What you need to know is your psychology.
As you will have read if you follow this blog it is very important to know the psychology of the aggressor, but it is even more important to know the psychology of the attacker, you understand well I’m talking about you.
The need to understand and predict your reactions to danger therefore becomes even more important than any technical or psychological knowledge of others.
The problem is serious and also difficult to solve but let us understand it better.
Surely you have heard directly or indirectly of advanced practitioners of traditional martial arts or other martial disciplines, beaten to death by street boys without any technical background.
These little boys, regardless of the reasons for the brawl, were simply hardened, inective and used to strike first.
Yes! you got it right to attack first without worrying about anything.
The famous Rocky Mountain Combat Application Training (RMCAT) experiment
In this regard, an interesting experiment was carried out by the Americans of Rocky Mountain Combat Application Training (R.M.C.A.T.).
They have shown that the “simple” knowledge of martial art, however complete and advanced, does not have significant chances of survival when the opponent is a true street fighter.
The authors of the experiment first proceeded by summoning a group of elites in some way representative of various martial arts: karate, tae-kwon-do, boxing, Thai boxing, Kung Fu, Jujutsu, Kickboxing, etc.
Each of these experts, he was put alone in the presence of a real prison surplus, a real street beater, equipped with a special padded suit that can protect the whole body, including head.
The instructions given to each participant were not to attack, as long as the energetic, which produced itself in hostile behavior and heavy insults, had not in turn attacked.
In the event of an attack, it was clearly possible to react with all forces and with any technique.
The results were disconcerting.
- At every opportunity, the street bandit, after heavily insulting the subject, had attacked suddenly having the upper hand on the unfortunate.
- In very few cases the subject, or a martial arts expert, had managed to react promptly and effectively.
- Reactions, when they were there, were broken down, awkward and still unable to stop the fury of the attack.
All those who have taken the beatings, regardless of their technical level, have experienced the so-called adrenaline-pumping shock of emotional stress, a sudden violence without the slightest detention.
Faced with the threatening, self-confident behaviour of a real thug, and despite the “controlled” context of the experiment, those involved were afraid enough to find themselves in difficulty to react:
- some, while sensing the imminence of the attack, hesitated that moment that allowed the assailant to strike first and get the better of
- or others, realizing that they were on the verge of being hit, were undecided and confused about what technique to use, among the many known, giving the opponent time to attack
- or others have found time to react, but in a clumsy, rigid and ineffective way, without being able to stop the fury of the energumeno
- still others were simply paralyzed and unable to react, while he put a hand in his face and slammed them to the ground
Why all this?
Because excellent athletes in the fighting arts, capable of extraordinary performances in their respective gyms, gave such a disappointing test??.
Quite simply because, although technically trained, they did not know their reactions to the fear of violent and uncontrolled aggression and were not trained to deal with them.
It is true that the experiment had limitations and I have talked about this in several articles such as that of not being able to react until you were touched by the aggressor but it still remains a disconcerting result.
Those who want to learn to defend themselves usually resort to one of these solutions:
- Attends a martial arts or self-defense course
- It weapon (knives, spray cans, iron fists, gun, various trinkets…)
- All these things together, and others, for the most convinced
Many martial arts students, especially after their first apprenticeship, acquire a sense of safety that is completely ephemeral (and very dangerous) about their ability to defend themselves in a real-world setting.
They believe they can deal with robbers and rapists, that they can survive a bad, pain-hardened beater, that they can take a knife or a gun out of their hands to a jerk who stands there and get disarmed, etc.
In some cases, strong of this sicumera, they abandon precautions that vice versa would still be very useful, getting into worse trouble.
The chronicle often gives us examples of veterans from such experiences. Plagues, sore and demoralized, but fortunately still alive but also unfortunately some victims.
Those who can tell their experience, report on the anguish “from awakening”, with tones ranging from disbelief to bitterness, with statements like “what I have learned is of no use…” or “I will never be able to defend myself…” but it is not so but it takes a long and complicated path, because there is no magic wand but it is a process and I often talk about this thing and that is why often maybe I write articles that may seem demoralizing, but in some cases you need to be disillusioned, because it saves your life.
In this regard, many responsibilities are the instructors of the various combat courses, who either do not realize what they teach, or know it and continue to do so for speculation, but in the end this approach is very serious and dangerous.
A typical example is that there is a real possibility of disarming a man armed with a knife without being sliced by putting him in a non-existent and imaginative context, this does not mean that disarmament does not exist and that you do not have to study but you can not base the knife defense thinking to disarm, no it works so, it is as if your strategy at tennis is to pull the smash , that “hit” you have to know how to pull perfectly and make point if the opportunity happens, but it should not be sought, disarmament is not the approach to have in front of a knife.
But, regardless of the technical aspect of what is taught, which in some cases is also valid, what is lacking in the almost generality of cases is adequate psychological preparation, especially with regard to the emotional picture of the student.
It’s one thing to train in the safe and friendly environment of the gym, one thing it’s to deal with a beater who wants to smash your head or a rapist, maybe armed and/or backed by a group of thugs like him.
Those who trained to fight and took them with a holy reason, perhaps from people who had never set foot in the gym, conclude that what they learned “does not work” (which is sometimes true) or that they themselves did not work (which is almost always true).
In this does not center the martial art but the training methods, this is the most complex part to develop for a martial arts instructor.
What happened to their more experienced colleagues in the experiment described in the introduction happened to them: not knowing their reactions in a context of severe emotional stress made them unsettled and rendered ineffective.
- What is the point of having the best battle plan, the best combat technique, the best knowledge of the enemy, if then at the moment of truth we find ourselves paralyzed and stuttering?
- And what makes us so rigid, clumsy, hesitant, just at the moment when we should be lucid, ready and responsive?
- What is it then, that thing that after months if not years of training in the gym, makes us forget right in the moment of need what we have to do in front of an opponent?
That’s why, especially when talking about self-defense, you have to talk about processes and those who sell magic wands should be kicked in the ass! Speculation in this area is really one of the most petty things you can do to a person.
Those who have gone through it know all too well:
it is the primary emotion
with all its effects on the body and mind.
In life, everyone is afraid sooner or later.
Who doesn’t remember questions at school or university exams?
There were some capable of stuttering and having dramatic memory gaps, despite having spent days and nights studying.
On the other hand, even if everyone was afraid, not everyone was afraid in the same way.
In order for fear to manifest itself, in fact, it is necessary for me to perceive a threat, and a threat, for it to be perceived as such, requires a subjective interpretation, mediated by experience and my personal characteristics.
So there are people literally terrified at the dentist, while others sit with relative tranquility on the palace ledge.
Otherwise brave people are panicked in the presence of insects or animals (personally sympathetic to me) such as mice, snakes, spiders.
Not everyone, then, lives the same fears with the same intensity: in the face of a real danger, for example being surrounded by a fire, some will be panicked, others will manage to maintain an ounce of coldness (strange, given the circumstances!).
Some people, even without living in particularly dangerous contexts, seem “inhabited” by fear: the question of the next day, losing their job, the recruitment interview, the driving test, the diseases, even leaving the house.
For these people every reason is good to experience insecurity and stress. We speak in this case of
, that is, a particular type of fear where the component of the threat, is replaced by that of the
of danger implemented by the person himself.
These are those subjects who “live in the future”, creating in their imaginary life (made of things that have yet to happen, days that have yet to come, people who have yet to meet), dangerous, frustrating and unmanageable situations, where the inevitable failure colors everything of anguish and concern.
People of this kind, needless to say, actively strive to worsen the quality of their lives by creating the conditions of a systematic and increasingly extensive
isolation and flight
of real life, until they can no longer leave the house.
Whether it’s motivated fears or not, whether you’re able to dominate them or not, an assessment that we all have in common when it comes to talking about them: fear is an unpleasant and persistent sensation, which does not leave us even when the danger has ceased, indeed it can persist for minutes and hours, depriving us of sleep and serenity.
After all, it is the genetic “program” that Mother Nature has given us to survive: in the face of danger only an intense, persistent and unpleasant sensation can push us to move away quickly and without thinking about it.
Fear also plays a positive role, as it is the right stimulus to avoid getting into trouble and to continue living.
In nature, but also in our orderly “civil society”, no man or animal could survive without fear.
Imagine what would happen to a mouse if he didn’t feel scared seeing a cat.
A man who wasn’t afraid of heights might be enticed to take a walk on the ledge on the 30th floor of a skyscraper.
After all, he describes himself as “unconscious” not a courageous person, but a person who does not feel fear for underestimating the risk.
And there’s no shortage of examples with YouTube where you see videos of people taking unnecessary risks.
Fear is your life insurance.
Fear is an important incentive for survival, attentive people listen to their instincts, avoiding getting into situations that could cost you dearly, or devoting the right attention to a context that requires it (going to an isolated ATM at night, or crossing an underpass, is a “context that requires attention”).
One of the physical effects of fear, by the way, is the increase in responsiveness and muscle strength under the powerful influence ofadrenaline.
It’s what’s called the “explosive force.”
This also allows people who are not particularly well-off, to escape faster than Carl Lewis or beat him as hard as Mike Tyson, if circumstances dictate.
But when does fear become an enemy working from within to destroy you?
In two cases:
- when it wears you down for too long and repeated exposure to the threat
- when it turns into panic
One of the known examples of the first case is that of American soldiers who have long stood on the front line in Iraq.
Many of those who did not suffer injuries in the fighting, however, developed
(P.T.S.D.) that accompanied them on their return home.
Being exposed to the daily threat of attacks and snipers has led to lasting alterations in their personality and emotional sphere, which can sometimes tragically jeopardize their reintegration into civilian life.
Among these veterans, there are no shortage of cases of suicide, episodes of uncontrolled violence, or the use of drugs.
Such behaviors are certainly attributable to the lasting alterations in the emotional sphere determined cumulatively by the daily trauma.
But by remaining in the “city”, similar disturbances can also be observed in certain occupational categories particularly exposed to danger, such as policemen, jewellers, tobacconists, the latter perhaps recovering from numerous armed robberies.
Or always in the everyday closest to us, we can come across cases of protracted violence against wives and children in situations of family or social degradation.
A protracted fear like this, in addition to damaging the psychological sphere, also has a destructive impact on the body, determining, on the distance, a myriad of physical disorders and actual diseases.
Panic and terror are the ultimate manifestation of fear.
These are emotions that occur when the intensity of the threat is perceived beyond the human possibility of coping with it.
There can be no panic if there is a slight capacity for decision and panic, in fact, is the negation of agency and reason.
It is simply the victim who, in the face of danger, no longer knows what to do and sees every pattern jump.
Deprived of any self-control, those who experience panic, react with paralysis, with disorderly escape or in a completely blind and random way.
This is unfortunately the case of certain massacres in cinemas or nightclubs, where as a result of a fire, the disorderly escape of those present has resulted in more victims being overwhelmed and trampled than the fire itself.
In these cases, some have sought a hypothetical salvation by throwing themselves out of the windows, but from suicidal heights, others in the blind escape, they have hunted themselves in traps, getting stuck in rooms with no way out or elevators.
Panic and terror are sensations so devastating that they themselves are a cause for fear and terror: it is the fear of fear,a paradoxical phenomenon that constitutes a key to reading the widespread phenomenon of panic attacks.
Those who suffer from this disorder, seem to experience terror and panic without a specific cause: there is nothing burning, nothing that collapses (at least in a material sense), no external threat, yet the person who is the victim experiences an authentic terror, mostly of dying suddenly, and after experiencing the first attack, lives in fear that another will come to him (which , clearly, it is sufficient and necessary condition for this to happen for real!).
In summary, for fear to become panic, three conditions are needed:
1 – The Threat, Real Or Perceived, Must Be Upper To Ability of Endurance Individual. Not everyone has the same threshold of adaptation in the face of danger. Some then perceive as dangerous situations that are only minimally so, such as coming into contact with insects or with snakes not necessarily poisonous.
The percezione subjective perception component of danger is fundamental, so much so that there are relatively indifferent people in the face of real dangers who are literally terrified, for example, in the presence of thunder and thunderstorm.
2 – Of Front To Threat, the person Must perceiving Single Helpless And Free of Schemes of Action: The “don’t know That Fish Take“.
Loss of control in the situation of danger represents the most distressing and devastating experience, along with the physiological sensation of fear itself. In these conditions, it creates a situation of “mental emptiness” (oh my God! that I do??!!) that most often leads to paralysis or unconventional and ineffective reactions.
3 – The Framework Psychological, Cognitive, Emotional And Physiological Individual Must Be In Some Way Prepared.
It is well known that not everyone reacts in the same way: some are terrified at the idea of stinging with a pin, others face undaunted long and painful medical care.
The cultural component, combined with previous experiences, can actually shape the person by making him more or less vulnerable.
Even notoriously “fearful” people can, through particular life experiences, harden and become open and determined individuals.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, living in a “civil society” has made us more vulnerable because they are unprepared.
It is rare for someone to actually have to fight for their physical survival, and when they find themselves doing so, they must discount all the inability to make do with themselves.
In addition to this, not everyone has a physiologically identical reaction: some jump excessively at the first sudden noise, others, following a scare, take hours to recover.
This is also determined by the functioning of the individual endocrine system, which can favour from person to person responses of different intensity.
Let us not forget the psychophysical conditions of the moment.
States of weakness, fatigue, depression, disease, can significantly alter individual resistance to fear, significantly increasing the chances of falling victims of panic.
Under the effect of panic the person in fear experiences a number of precise perceptual, motor and cognitive symptoms:
Under the effect of adrenaline, the pupils dilate to let in more light, the musculature around the eyes contracts to improve the focus on the threat.
There’s a book I recommend you read about this phenomenon, by Dave Grossman titled On Killing.
As a result, you have the loss of peripheral vision, with all the risks that this entails during an assault.
Imagine (as is often the case) that the attacker is not alone and his accomplices try to encircle you. Without peripheral vision it will be more difficult to avoid it.
The veterans of the attacks, remember the tunnel effect as the feeling of seeing the scene as through binoculars or at least with the eye of a camera with a close frame.
Each frame of the sequence seemed to be close-up.
So the robbery victim remembers the hole in the barrel of the gun being esplanted as if it were huge, almost the flying of a cannon.
A woman assaulted by a rapist, remembers the hands trying to grab her as “the biggest hands ever seen”, when in fact the man, then captured, was of medium build and with very normal hands.
This “foreground effect” characteristic of the tunnel effect, has the consequence that the people attacked tend to perceive their attacker much bigger and more threatening than it actually is.
It is evident that this further worsens the perception of danger and makes the person even more at risk of panicking.
Decreased auditory perception
One of the “subprograms” of the archaic brain is the elimination of any unnecessary function at that time.
Among these “unnecessary” functions is auditory perception, which Mother Nature did not consider useful for the purpose of immediate survival.
Mother Nature has done us a very bad service, maybe she did not know what can happen during an assault: what is in front of you maybe threatens you, but the actual attack could prevent from an accomplice who takes you behind .
It’s hard to notice in time, if the tunnel effect inhibits your peripheral vision and at the same time you don’t feel…
Those who have passed, remember those moments in an atmosphere of mingled sounds, of voices that come from afar. Or as if the whole scene were taking place underwater, with the sounds muffled and bubbling.
Decreased pain sensitivity
Mother Nature deprived us of the feeling of pain in those terrible moments.
It is a common experience to procure small and large wounds without realizing it, which would open an infinite chapter on the subjectivity of the perception of pain.
There is no shortage of examples in the field of brawls and assaults.
It happened that people involved in scuffle and beatings realized that they had a knife stuck in their side only when they returned home.
An important implication of this phenomenon is the choice of self-defense techniques.
Some think that a painful technique for the opponent, such as a kick to the tibia, can block an attacker.
Actually it is not so, especially if our attacker is soaked in adrenaline and/or drugs.
You can give him as many punches and kicks as you like, but that won’t go down, and he’ll keep attacking you, unless you hit a vital or “incapacitating” spot.
Translated into practice: “oh my God! What do I do??!!.”
As in the case of auditory perception, Mother Nature thought well that cognitive functions were also a “useless” thing to immediate survival.
Among the cognitive functions to be affected, there are primarily memory and reasoning ability.
As in the case of questions at school, in these cases it is not uncommon to find yourself completely dry of arguments and solutions: people usually with the joke ready, find it difficult to spit verb in front of that “interview” that the aggressor often does, before moving on to the facts. It is therefore unebried by the initiative of others.
The implications of this side effect of fear are devastating, especially for those who have trained in martial arts fighting techniques and are facing real aggression.
Too often, in fact, the training imparted with these disciplines, consists of complicated and stereotypical motor sequences, completely unsuitable to cope with the dynamic and unpredictable reality of the road: put your left foot forward – bend the knee well – shifts the weight of the body on the front leg – right fist near the side – elbow well back – etc., etc.
Those who have trained in this way risk, at the moment of truth, to find themselves in a panic wondering how to put the left foot, the right foot, the arm forward, the arm behind, etc.
As he asks these questions, and fatally tries to decide unnecessarily, the other puts his hand in his face and slams him to the ground.
Misperception of time
The time and distances seem to stretch out of proportion, so there are people chased by their attackers who remember running for miles, when the whole chase lasted a few tens of meters.
Often the survivors of brawls and assaults recall the crucial stages of the drama that involved them as a slow-motion sequence.
They describe the entire sequence of events as if it had lasted minutes or hours, when the whole thing lasted a few seconds.
Loss of “end” mobility
Another blow for those who train in combat techniques comes from this unwanted effect, which causes muscle stiffness and inability to perform “fine” movements.
Unfortunately, in many martial arts the training focuses on complex techniques, which require a good deal of balance and motor coordination.
Particularly those techniques based on the use of kicks, but not only those.
Sockets, projections, joint levers, require a high dose of timing, motor coordination and, I would add, an opponent unwilling to react.
Experience shows that none of this works: those who find themselves reacting in a “technical” way, according to the teachings received, risk producing clumsy, rigid and unnatural movements.
The only techniques that can be used in a self-defense context are direct and “gross”.
From first-hand experience, I have seen that at the time of truth, even great martial arts experts abandon their technical schemes and “fight” like everyone else without technique, because to use the technique under severe stress means that you have trained very much but very well.
If they want to get away with it, of course, the technique is canceled if you have not trained the input and output responses correctly.
Perception beyond the body
The tunnel effect, the decrease in auditory perception, the misperception of time, are not the only perceptual disorders related to fear.
The perception beyond the body, causes some to remember the experience of aggression as something unreal, almost as if the event were happening to another.
Sometimes they perceive facts and people as if they were at different distances from the real ones, as if they were floating apart from their bodies, observing the succession of events.
Mnemonic capacity disorders
In addition to the altered perception of time and mental blockage, in cases of more severe shock it is not uncommon to see cases of amnesia related to individual sequences or the entire episode that involved the victim.
Even when such amnesia is not reached, it is very common for the person not to remember the exact sequence of events, creating and creating subsequent problems with the law.
The policeman, or the magistrate, may not believe your version of events by attributing to you the intent to distort the truth.
You yourselves may consider any witnesses in bad faith.
Even from a strictly physiological point of view it is possible to observe a series of manifestations that are difficult to conceal.
Knowledge of these signs is of paramount importance, as not even our attacker is immune to them.
Knowing how to recognize them, means being able to notice in time the imminence of an attack and be able to prepare an effective reaction:
Sometimes this symptom can be revealed by the need to swallow, or by wetting your lips with your tongue
Choked and tense voice
Changes in the tone of the voice, in terms of timbre and rhythm, are another revealing element of the emotional charge of us and our opponent.
Beware of the sudden slowdowns of the speech: if a potential attacker is “interviewing us”, a sudden lowering of the voice, a stop, a use of monosyllables, must put you on immediate alert and make you foreshado sing a sudden attack.
As already mentioned with regard to the tunnel effect, adrenaline causes pupil dilation, in order to bring in more light and see better.
In the case of particularly violent shocks, the reaction even appears exaggerated, with arched eyebrows and all the facial mimicry altered in the expression of the fright.
In any case, the presence of dilated pupils is an unsoundible sign, able to reveal tension and fear.
Rapid eye movements
This signal is also related to the tunneling effect and loss of peripheral vision.
In the absence of the latter, a potential attacker can reveal his hostile intentions with a rapid movement to the left and right of the gaze.
The purpose is of course to control the surrounding environment, looking for any witnesses, policemen or impediments of any kind.
Goose skin – pallor – cold sweating
Even the symptoms of the “cutaneous” type can not be kept hidden: the face of a person under the effect of fear, can appear pale, soaked with sweat, the ears, on the contrary, can be reddened, due to the increased blood flow.
A decrease in body temperature is often observed, hence the feeling of cold and chills.
Tremors – muscle stiffness
Adrenaline puts all skeletal musculature under tension, in order to favor attack/escape reactions.
This can leak to the outside with a stiff posture, or with tremors especially in the hands.
Facial mimicry can also be altered by tension, with the classic expression “pulled” of the features.
It is not uncommon for the person under stress to develop uncontrollable nerve tics, in the form of grimaces or facial tremors.
Short, frequent or impaired breathing
The breath accelerates, to accommodate the increased need for oxygen and the increased heart throw.
From the outside, it is possible to notice the fear of a person because his breathing tends to be short and “high”, that is, with the upper part of the chest, which rises and drops visibly.
In some cases, on the contrary, the breath seems to “scramble”, almost in an attempt to “not breathe”: it is a reaction associated with paralysis, “dead pretendings”.
Tachycardia and arrhythmias
Under the effect of adrenaline, the heartbeat accelerates causing the increase in blood pressure that can be noticed outside with redness of the most vascularized areas, especially the lobes of the ears.
It is not uncommon to notice the acceleration of the heart if the gaze rests on the neck, where you can notice the pulsation of the most superficial arteries.
Under the action of the sympathetic nervous system, it is not uncommon for cardiac arrhythmias to occur, in the form of extrasistles, the so-called “heart dives”.
Subjective responses to fear
Not everyone responds in the same way to fear.
Some are devastated, taking months or years to overcome a sufficiently intense or protracted shock.
Others are luckier and manage to heal their physical and mental scars, perhaps managing to draw some lessons from them.
While the psychophysical manifestations that all of us humans share in the face of fear, everyone responds differently in terms of intensity and duration.
In this, the physiological characteristics of each individual play a very important role.
In some people, in fact, the release of adrenaline and other stress hormones, happens in a more intense and lasting way.
These people, following a sufficiently intense scare, can experience the symptoms of adrenaline for hours or days, losing sleep, developing mood disorders and getting us healthy.
Some after an accident at work, they can no longer resume their activity, with all the consequences in terms of additional stress and anxiety.
Others, having suffered assaults or robberies, seem to relive their drama indefinitely, prolonging beyond the necessary their discomfort.
On the other hand, it is known that there are people who, despite having experienced similar experiences, manage to reabsorb the psychophysical damage in a reasonable time or at least more proportionate to the stress suffered.
Still others react with relative coldness to the most dramatic moments, only to collapse to things done.
I remember a person who suffered an armed robbery, managing to maintain an admirable calm in those moments.
This calm contributed not a little to the success of the story, which featured subjects probably altered by drugs and therefore extremely dangerous.
At the end of the robbery, when the robbers had vanished, the person in question simply collapsed, as if the legs were jelly, in the impossibility of holding firm knees for the tremor.
In addition to the psychophysical aspect of fear, there is the equally important chapter of the possible reactions of attack or flight put in place by our “archaic brain”.
In the face of danger, some flee (if they can), some remain paralyzed, others react more or less inconspibly.
Those who experience paralysis are the ones who suffer the most psychological damage.
The inability to react is often experienced in a frustrating way, especially by males, who relive those moments are attributed demerits that they do not have.
They often call themselves cowards, cowards, rabbits, who have more.
The fear of finding oneseres in similar situations, and of experiencing the humiliation of paralysis again, the embarrassment of “doing it under” can lead to attitudes of cancelling exits at certain times, or attending certain places, capable of limiting the quality of social life.
No one explained to them that the reaction of paralysis is a natural response and cannot be eliminated in certain panic conditions.
Moreover, even those who find the strength and the presence of spirit to react, it is not necessarily that they pass better.
Reacting in a wrong way, rigidly, inconsultantly, ineffectively, can cost very dearly and lead to even greater damage, in the face of an aggressor who owns the initiative and control of the situation.
It is undeniable that in the face of a situation of physical risk, people are divided into two major categories:
- those who tend to respond to a “passive” response, at risk of paralysis,
- and those that tend to be aggressive, that react without thinking.
Returning to self-defence training methods, it is clear that the training/training programme should be significantly diversified, depending on whether the learner belongs to one of these categories.
People who tend to react aggressively, at least in theory, would benefit, as the job should be to improve their way of reacting in a technical sense and emotional control.
People tend to be less reactive, on the other hand, require longer work because their “passivity” usually has deep origins, often cultural in the shape (think of the archetype of the woman-mother-madonna and the negative halo that society attributes to the woman who “knows how to beat”), and can be eliminated with a long exercise of mental re-conditioning or reprogramming.
To do this, provided that the average instructor is capable of doing so, it is first necessary to make a diagnosis (or self-diagnosis) of each person’s reaction abilities.
Of course, a help to understand how you react to danger, comes from previous experience.
Anyone who has been assaulted or in an accident remembers very well how he reacted and reasonably one can expect things to go in a similar way next time.
But what about those who want to prepare and do not know about their actual chances and abilities?
In the face of the violence of others, therefore, every person must first deal with himself and know his own reactions in the face of danger.
Preparing to overcome one’s emotional and psychological limits is not a simple thing, but it is not impossible, provided you find someone willing and able to do so.
How do you prepare?
Preparation to defend against fear is not made of magical recipes.
There are usually two possible ways:
- drugs and
- experience in the field.
Drugs are a powerful aid to overcome inhibitions and fears. So much so that the first to use it are the criminals, when they have to prepare for their businesses.
Needless to say, this makes them even more dangerous, aggressive, pain-insensitive and ready to strike.
This is not nice, especially since this form of doping cannot be used by potential victims who want to defend themselves.
“Normal” people, in fact, can not pack for life, to be ready for an eventuality that we do not know if and when it will happen…
Drugs (legalized or not), on the other hand, are poisons that destroy the body and mind and for this reason are absolutely to be avoided.
The use of drugs by criminals, by the way, very often concerns those non-professional criminals who, for this very reason, are not hardened enough to cope with their own fear.
And here we come to the weight that has personal experience in the ability to dominate one’s emotions.
Experience and knowledge, then.
Knowledge of fear, understood as a natural and universal physiological phenomenon, alone represents an element capable of improving the response of the individual when he has to deal with it.
Very often, in fact, it is precisely the failure to recognize the symptoms of fear that creates the premises of failure.
People in danger often lose their mastery of themselves, they remain at the mercy of the tunnel effect, their muscle stiffness, the inability to hear, when the simple recognition of these physiological effects is a useful tool to attenuate them significantly in times of need.
Myself, I have experienced situations of real danger almost expecting me to “enter the scene” of each of these symptoms, like a script seen and reviewed.
So I was surprised to think “here’s the tunnel effect…” and then “here I feel less…” and then “here’s the knees shaking…”
This lucid recognition of known and already proven symptoms, has resulted in an instant decrease in their intensity:
I immediately perceived the scene in a broader and rich detail, I began to understand what was going on all around me and not only what I had in front of me, I felt more master of my body and my reactions, in short, I put myself in the best condition to get away with it, that is to be able to use all the strength of the adrenaline charge to get me out of trouble.
The mere knowledge and acceptance of fear, therefore, is an element of great help to cope effectively with it.
Previous experience plays a key role in this.
In practice, having been afraid several times in one’s life, allows, if you have been able to positively process the experience, to achieve a certain degree of habituation, a kind of “vaccination” from fear itself.
This is why cops and thugs (so much to list two “risk jobs”) seem to react to fear differently from ordinary people: they have gone through a process of strengthening that has made them less sensitive to “Effects” of fear itself, but it has certainly not eliminated it!
Addiction to fear, understood as a reduction in individual sensitivity to this phenomenon, is only possible as a result of exposure to fear itself.
For example, if you are terrified of the great heights and are placed on the ledge of a skyscraper, the panic will probably take hold of you to the point of dropping you below.
But if you get used to it, little by little, maybe looking out for a reasonable time on the first floor of the building, then doing the same thing going up to the next floors, in time (days or weeks) you could look out from the hundredth floor without experiencing negative emotions, indeed, enjoying the view.
This is what psychotherapists call “gradual or controlled exposure.”
If you are afraid of something, instead of avoiding it, face it in small doses, in quantities and contexts that are bearable for you.
When that context doesn’t scare you anymore, level up to deal with more challenging and dangerous situations.
Keep it up, until you feel confident and masters of your reactions.
In fact, it is the path that we all follow when we must, willingly or unwillingly, overcome a fear that would otherwise prevent us from doing something.
When we learn to drive, we win the anxiety and difficulties related to driving and traffic, first with the help of an instructor, then driving briefly on known routes, then venturing onto the highway.
In the end we all drive (and we all know how dangerous this is actually almost without any need.
The street thug often begins his career as a kid, perhaps experiencing a myriad of difficult situations in his infamous neighborhood, and giving himself to small “marachelles”.
Over time, it easily shifts to greater actions, to the point of actual crimes.
Even in this house as you see it is a process where you see the final result but it is a real path that gives rise to the skills and cunning that over time has refined.
The same goes for gradual exposure to fear.
Yes, but what fear?
If we think about it, the problem comes not so much from exposure to a generic fear, but from exposure to a particular type of fear, linked to a particular situation.
So, the thug who faces an armed robbery without blinking an eye could panic if he was in the dentist’s antechamber. He learned to handle that feeling of fear because he’s already done it.
All those who practice extreme sports, such as base jumping or skydiving, have to somehow come to terms with the blocking effect of fear and come to terms with it but every time they repeat the gesture you do not eliminate fear but you manage it until you cancel it out what is lost as in some cases and that is precisely where accidents often happen just when certain gestures are underestimated.
However, it is by no means certain that those who face with relative tranquility a throw from 4000 meters or from a bridge tied with a harness, can maintain the same mastery of nerves in front of a gun esplanade also because it is a totally different context.
When we introduced the issue of panic, in fact, we said that one of the conditions for mental blockage to occur is to perceive yourself without adequate reaction patterns in the face of a specific situation.
If you don’t know what to do you will block yourself!
In other words, I can do very well in situations of real danger, but then find myself disoriented and unable to act for the sink pipe that breaks and floods me house.
In the case of greater fears, therefore, the chances of managing them at best would seem to be related to the fact that you have already successfully faced similar situations once or more.
What about those who have experienced paralysis and defeat, or those who, even if they have not had such experiences, would like to prepare to do so?
The only possible path is to train in a context as close to the real as possible and to develop the right reaction automations to cope with the dreaded situation.
The idea of enrolling in a martial arts course or (better) self-defense would not be wrong.
First of all, you would have to go and look around for the courses that are best suited for your purpose, also in terms of the method of teaching, but I already tell you that most are not structured in order to really deal with situations of aggression.
The ideal would be to find a place where you give the “real” barrels, so make a real sparring with real shots carried with power (actually, however realistic such a workout, is not much compared to a real beating).
Is it worth taking the risk of getting hurt in the gym to learn not to get hurt outside?
The answer actually you already know: do you want or do not want to be prepared, if it happens to defend me?
Unfortunately, I do not believe that we can learn to defend ourselves against violence without getting even a small bruise.
Some instructors who claim to teach this subject in a way that is too “guaranteed” of the safety of the pupils, give too bland and therefore ineffective training in the face of the blind and irrepressible violence of a strong and inactive aggressor.
On the other hand, it must be said, training aimed at muscles and reactivity, would be ineffective without a parallel development of the psychological characteristics of the student.
It’s not an easy job.
Meanwhile, it is a “person” work made even more difficult by the fact that the lessons are usually carried out in groups and it is not easy to devote to the individual all the attention they need.
The instructor, therefore, should be able to grasp the strengths and weaknesses of each, and customize the training according to the specific needs of the individual students.
Teaching a girl to overcome her fear and strike without hesitation and inhibitions is not the same thing as with a suburban boy soaked in testosterone.
With the latter, as an instructor, I should work a lot on the technical level and on his ability to dominate himself and his impulsiveness.
With the girl, however, I should work first on her psychological reactivity, dissolving all the emotional, educational and cultural ties that inhibit her aggression.
I do not hesitate to define this work as psychotherapeutic, as its goal is to mature the personality of the student, consolidating his psychophysical structure and dissolving his insecurities.
It’s not an easy job and it’s not a short job.
Above all, it is not possible to standardize the duration of a self-defence course, which by its nature and purpose should be as short as possible, but in reality it cannot be short.
Not everyone has the same personal, physical, psychological and cultural characteristics.
For some people, realizing their limitations and working to improve themselves may take longer than others, and this complicates things.
To have more control over fear, on the other hand, there are also practical tips that can be given to everyone and that constitute a useful tool in any situation of danger.
In the chapter dedicated to psychophysical reactions to fear, we talked about the many effects of adrenaline on the body.
Among these effects, we pay attention to the type of breath that is observed in those who are afraid: it is not a natural breath, as it is altered by endocrine and neurological changes.
Typically, two opposite types of breathing are observed:
- Accelerated or frantic
Under the effect of intense stress, the body mobilizes all oxygen reserves to cope with the need to fight or escape.
The heart accelerates and invigorates pulses, blood pressure rises, lungs in turn accelerate to compensate for the increased oxygen requirement.
From the outside you can see precisely the wheezing, highlighted by the movements of the upper chest.
From the physiological point of view, breathing of this type, sufficiently protracted, can lead to phenomena of hyperventilation, which are accompanied by dizziness, a sense of suffocation, and in extreme cases to fainting, due to the altered acid-base balance of the organism (in fact, respiratory alkalosis).
- Interrupted or irregular
On the contrary, some people facing danger tend to hold their breath.
The reason always lies in the primordial reactions (the so-called “archaic brain”) that Mother Nature has given us to face the dangers.
While wheezing is functional to the reaction of fighting or escaping, holding your breath is related to the other innate reaction in humans and animals: that of pretending dead or staying hidden and still.
Again, physiological reactions to apnea of this type, aggravated by the increased need for stress-related oxygen, can lead to fainting or excessive muscle stiffness.
These two modes of breathing, perhaps functional for Paleolithic man, are inadequate nowadays, as they negatively affect the ability of self-control and coordination, worsening, among other things, the overall performance of our body.
Such breathing modes are at least partly involuntary, as they are determined by adrenaline, which in turn, strongly stimulates the activity of the Sympathetic Nervous System.
Yet, breathing, in addition to being the obligatory way to restore our oxygen reserves, is also a very important means of regulating our nervous system.
In other words, if it is true that the nervous system can alter our breathing, making it wheezing or irregular, it is equally true that if we consciously strive to breathe in a certain way, we can influence our nervous system by forcing it to “calm down”, regaining control and psychophysical performance.
What I’m going to describe is a method that the military uses and I have personally tested in several situations of danger or severe stress.
Imagine having to run to the ground (with a 20kg backpack on your shoulders), dive to the ground and target a target at 50/60 meters.
Impossible: he wielded the rifle, his wheezing for the run, the frantic heartbeat, the tremor of his arms for the effort and the adrenaline in the body, made the barrel vibrate conspicuously and the aim became too imprecise.
There is a trick capable, with a little exercise, of calming heart, muscles and mind almost instantly.
“Breathe with your belly!” .
Therefore, avoid those big chest breaths, typical of those who are afraid or those who have made great efforts.
Concentrate your breath in your abdomen, straining to inhale deeply, as if you want to push your stomach down.
At this stage, the chest practically must not move.
After inhaling, take a break of two to three seconds and exhale slowly, but continuously, taking care that the exhalation lasts at least twice the inhalation.
As the air comes out, if circumstances allow, close your eyes for a moment, but without tightening them.
Try to visualize your eyelids like the screen of a cinema and imagine projecting on top of an image that gives you serenity and security: the face of your girlfriend, your children playing, or a landscape, who knows…
If you can’t close your eyes for even a moment, and in an upcoming combat situation it probably is, it “accompanies” the air that comes out with a positive thought “it’s all right”, or “I’m calm”.
Make sure that by mentally pronouncing this short sentence, words last as long as all the exhalation.
Complete the exhalation with a short break and you are ready to inhale again.
If done in the right way, and with the right exercise, with one or two inhalations, you can achieve a reasonable degree of psychophysical relaxation.
It is a quick and effective anti-stress and panic method, so suitable to be used in those short and heated moments before a fight.
Deep diaphony breathing is a general regulation factor very studied for its importance.
It is a type of breathing that people have, from the beginning, in conditions of non-alarm, serenity, well-being, and which often lose as a result of physiological and emotional alterations.
When this breathing is restored, the frequency of the heartbeat drops, sometimes greatly.
In this regard it can be noted that the effects of a drastic lowering of the heart rate are produced not only in the case of people with long experience behind, but also after not many practical tests.
In addition to lowering the heart rate, a decrease in sweating is often observed, and a rise in peripheral temperature.
This seems to show that through diaphonic breathing it is possible to make changes from a sympathetic state (prevalence of the action of the sympathetic nervous system, then reactive tension) to a state with vagotonic prevalence (prevalence of the action of the parasympathetic nervous system, then relaxation).
This easing effect is observable both directly (through ECG for example), and through the sensations of softening, tranquility, well-being, which sees the subject literally change and smooth the features of the face, stop the movements of agitation, dissolve tensions and rigidity.
The figure above shows the progress of an entire respiratory cycle, in the case of deep diaphony breathing.
Important are the durations of the pause after the inhalation, very short, and the one after exhalation, much longer.
In fact, in the first there is a growth towards sympatheticness and in the second there is a lowering towards vagotonia.
It is therefore clear that if the timing of the breaks were reversed (as happens in a chest and restrained breathing), there would be a continuous growth of sympathetic stimulation.
And in fact this type of breathing is adopted naturally by people, when they have to respond to a situation of acute stress: endure pain, face a danger, achieve concentration and vigilance, and so on.
The breathing technique I have described is accompanied by an additional element capable of regulating the activity of our body.
This element is simply thought.
When I accompany the exhalation with a positive thought (“I’m calm”, “it’s all right”, “I have control”), I actually power and support the ability of my breath to relax the body.
If you are connected to some pressure and heart rate measurement tool you can do the following experiment: imagine before you are on the beach sunbathing, then imagine running.
Now check the path of the machines.
You’ll see that from the moment you went from one thought to another, the pressure and heart rate tracks have moved up, as if you’ve run for real.
The same experiment you can do yourself if you imagine arguing with someone, if only you will notice, you will surprise yourself with clenched fists and short breath, like who is going to shoot.
It’s what ordinary people call self-suggestion.
It is a phenomenon very well known to cognitive-behavioral psychology, which bases on this large part of its therapies of emotional disorders.
One of these disorders, and one of the most widespread, is that of panic attacks.
People who suffer from this disorder, experience an intense and devastating fear sometimes without an apparent external cause.
Suddenly they are afraid, as if they should die at any moment, experiencing all the adrenaline rush and anguish that this entails.
Since then, anxiety and suffering have grown uncontrollably, literally devastating the unfortunate.
But what triggers all this?
Of course the explanation is complex, but most of the time, the spark that fires to the dust is a simple thought: “I’m sick, I’m going to die!”.
This initial thought (“I’m sick…”), perhaps due to peppers eaten at dinner, chains another negative thought (“I have something serious, I’m going to die”), which causes the reflected physiological reaction (adrenaline, heart rate, short and interrupted breathing, chest pains, dizziness).
These “physical” symptoms give definitive confirmation that the fear was well founded, triggering further negative thoughts (“Fuck! I’m really sick, I need help…”), the fact that there are no doctors nearby, that the nearest hospital is light years away, leads to real despair (“Oh my God! What am I going to do?… I’m going to die on the street…”).
Obviously while these freewheeling thoughts invade the mind, the body is shaken and upset by a torrent of adrenaline with all the symptoms we’ve already talked about.
The panic attack will cease, sooner or later, but only because of the victim’s physical exhaustion, or because some pitiful doctor who intervened at the scene, will have administered a robust dose of anxiolytics.
All this because (among other reasons) the victim could not recognize the “normal” physical symptoms of fear (attributing them instead to the imminent heart attack, stroke or whatever) and simply sigh at the right time:
“I’m fine… I’m calm…”.
In fact, panic attacks require more complex treatment, but the rule of controlling one’s psychophysical state with proper “thought hygiene” remains more valid than ever for everyone.
What about those who find themselves involved in an assault?
Those who are unprepared for this eventuality, experience all the terrible symptoms of the panic attack, supported, of course, both by the immanent reality, as well as by the unbearable thoughts that run through the victim’s mind: “they will kill me…”, “they will tear me apart…”
Look at the knife-wielding terrorist attacks that are filling the headlines.
The first step in regaining control of the situation is to take back control of oneself.
In truth, panic is uncontrollable as panic is the negation of any control of the situation. A bit like life and death: both cannot coexist in the same person.
Either there’s a moon or there’s the other moon.
When the panic has taken hold of you, it’s done. There are no appeals or reasoning to make. Your mind no longer works and it won’t work until this demon decides to leave you.
There’s only one way to defeat panic, and it’s to do something before
fear turns to panic. After it will be too late.
In the chapter on the typical modes of aggression, I explained to you that attacks usually do not occur out of thin air, but follow a repetitive script, which characterizes each type of attacker.
We also said that attack by an attacker, becomes less likely if the designated victim adopts the right degree of attention to the context, which allows her to adopt the appropriate escape/exit tactics or deterrence.
Fear, like violence and like all the evils of the world, can be more easily addressed at an early stage, when they are still confrontable.
If you wait too long, and too much in our case can mean a matter of seconds, it will no longer be possible to stop violence or panic.
If you have developed the right sensitivity to the context in which you live, it will not be difficult for you to grasp the danger when it is still at a relatively safe distance for you.
Now is the time to do something. Now or never and if you can get away, do it. All the time.
If you can’t escape, you have to deal with the situation: we’ve talked a lot about how it’s often possible to handle a dangerous encounter with de-escalation and deterrence techniques.
In other cases we will have to choose whether to defend ourselves or to suffer the initiative of the other.
But before all this, come to terms with yourself: recognize your fear and the arrival of all its physical symptoms, endure them and act despite their presence.
But first of all, breathe.
Learn to recognize the effect of fear on your breath and act consciously in the opposite direction: breathe slowly, with your abdomen, and exhale slowly, taking a small pause before breathing again.
As you do this, take care to lucidly drive away the thoughts of danger or death that are in your mind: “I’m in trouble…”, “here ends badly…”
Replace them with positive thoughts like “I’m calm…”, “it’s all right…”, “I’ll get away with it…”
Believe it or not, the content of your thinking influences your body, your psyche, blocking the uncontrolled rise of fear and avoiding panic.
Keep breathing slowly, and if you can, keep thinking positively even when your potential attacker talks to you, approaches you, and you study each other.
Your mind will be more shiny, your body less rigid and the reflections ready to shoot if necessary.
Most likely, if the other is going to attack you, he will realize that he has in front of a capable, attentive, self-possessed person.
Fearing a reaction, he will begin to worry, and presumably give up the action.
The typical attacker of our day, he almost always looks for a victim and not a fight.
Assertive behavior, especially at the body language level, is certainly an effective deterrent.
Listen to your fear and act!