The Gift of Fear

It never fails. I’m walking through the store and something tells me: buy that. You need that. Now I’m not talking about a bag of candy kisses or that Alexander McQueen embroidered leather moto jacket I’ve had my eye on. I’m talking about something I use regularly and there’s a good chance I need to replenish. Like toilet paper.

Standing in the market, staring at the squeezably soft Charmin mega roll, debating with myself whether I really need to purchase toilet paper or not. I think there’s another roll under the sink. Didn’t I just buy some two weeks ago? It’s not rocket science and the purchase is probably not going to break the bank. I mean what’s the worst that can happen? I step around a few rolls till they can fit in the TP holder? It’s better than the alternative, which, honestly, happens more often than I want to admit. It never fails - when I snub my inner shopper, I suffer.

Rejecting that internal wisdom has put me in some problematic predicaments. From the inconvenient to the downright dangerous, ignoring my gut instinct never works well.

Years ago, I read this awesome book called the Gift of Fear: Surviving Signals That Protect Us from Violence, by Gavin de Becker. Why I chose to read it at that time I have no idea. Maybe it was my gut leading the way and I followed, for once. But anyway, this little book talked about how important it is to listen to our inner voice, that gut instinct, as it is more in touch with what is actually happening than we are. Imagine that?

De Becker explores various settings where violence may be found—the home, school, the workplace, dating—and describes what he calls pre-incident indicators (PINS). When properly identified, these PINS can help us avoid violence. For example, he states, “A date won't take "no" for an answer. The new nanny gives a mother an uneasy feeling. A stranger in a deserted parking lot offers unsolicited help. The threat of violence surrounds us every day. But we can protect ourselves, by learning to trust—and act on—our gut instincts.”

Describe an instance when your instincts gave you information. Did you listen? What followed?

When we walk through our day we are not always paying attention. Maybe we’re daydreaming about how great it’s going to be at the upcoming concert or distracted by the emotions of a recent squabble with our friend. Maybe we are just feeling fine and no need to be on guard. But the point is, we aren’t always as aware of what is happening around us as we can be.

This is where our gut comes in.

“Notice how you feel when you are with someone who is really happy. Now notice how you feel when you are around someone who is angry. What are your physical and mental responses or reactions to each situation? What are the differences? Can you see how your gut offers you advice and protection in the face of conflict? Do you ever feel like something is “not right,” but you can’t quite put a finger on it? Well, learn to trust that!” (Taking Flight For Girls Going Places, page 19)

Our inner gut is always there for us. It is constantly picking up on various, random cues which we may disregard, ignore, or just simply not see. It is like our own personal detective keeping tabs on our world, rarely missing a beat.

So why would we not employ it? Why would we not honor its gift of added protection and awareness?

In the teen safety book Taking Flight For Girls Going Places, the first basic principle of safety is: “Always trust your instincts or gut. If you feel like something is wrong, it probably is. Pay attention to that feeling!” (page 18)

It’s number one. In protecting yourself, trusting your instinct may be the most valuable tool you have.

Your instincts are a gift. In relating with people, the importance of trusting your gut instincts cannot be stressed enough. This doesn’t mean that people are generally bad and you need to be on guard. It’s great to be open to others, because you never know who will cross your path. However, when you are present in the moment and in touch with your instincts, you are in touch with important information you just may need in the face of a threat or danger.” (TFFGGP, page 19)

So, stay connected to your inner Self. Listen to what messages you are getting from your internal wisdom. Honor your feelings, especially those that send up red flags that something is off.

Oh, and buy the toilet paper.


Kathy Greene Lahey, LMSW, AC, is the author of Taking Flight For Girls Going Places, a preventive tool to help independence-bound girls stay safe, confident, and empowered. Check out the weekly safety blog for girls and monthly “for the moms” on

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