Preventative Defense: Understanding Pre-Incident Behaviors
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Preventative Defense: Understanding And Avoiding Pre-Incident Indicators

If you have time, just exit out of this and go read "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin De Becker instead.

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arm wrapped


Gavin De Becker, in his phenomenal book "The Gift of Fear," terms "P.I.N.S.," signals he calls “pre-incident indicators."

One of the major themes in his book circulates the idea of trusting your instincts; instincts which can and will help you avoid dangerous situations and people.

The ability to identify and understand someone's intent through a basic understanding of P.I.N.S., will better equip you with the confidence and ability to spot the difference of honest and dishonest intentions.

The following P.I.N.S. listed are indicators to be aware of:

1. Charm

An odd one to start off with, sure. And yes, anyone who talks to me on a regular basis knows I like to describe people as "a little too nice," but this isn't an implication of paranoia; it's the understanding of a stranger's social role when approaching you.

To preface this: while I'm not saying to be wary of anyone charming, there is a level of charm that is exhibited within unwarranted and oppressive politeness/helpfulness that is an overstep.

In his book, De Becker uses a story of a woman being approached by a man after she had dropped some groceries in her apartment's stairwell. When recounting the story, she quickly identified the immediate discomfort she had felt. But, as she continued, she admitted to feeling guilty for automatically assuming the worst, because the approaching man was just so nice.

She described him as charming, young, handsome, and polite, and admitted to stifling her discomfort caused by him, due to the fact that he seemed genuine, and she felt guilty for assuming that might not be true.

De Becker notes charm as an "overrated ability" that is "not an inherent feature of personality," but "almost always a directed instrument which has motive."

A common statement made after unfortunately turned violent encounters is "they seemed so nice."

And while telling people to rebuff unwarranted and unwanted approaches is easier said than done, it's something that needs to be done, nonetheless.

2. Forced Teaming

The eventual assailant had begun convincing this woman to let him help her through “forced teaming," which is the process of someone insisting that they have something common with/are in the same situation as you, when they don't or aren't.

The man in the story used phrases along the lines of "we don't want to leave a hungry cat up there," and "we better hurry before this milk ruins" to accomplish this.

This is a form of mental manipulation, in attempt to identify yourself as an equal in the mind of another.

"Forced teaming is an effective way to establish premature trust because a 'we're in the same boat' attitude is one that is hard to rebuff without feeling rude. Sharing a predicament, like being stuck in a stalled elevator or arriving simultaneously at a just-closed store, will understandably move people around social boundaries. But forced teaming is not about coincidence; it is intentional and directed, and it is one of the most sophisticated manipulations." - Gavin De Becker

Common examples of this that you might encounter would include abnormal requests for help, such as with asking for a ride, or insisting you've shared an experience. This us-against-the-world mentality is one to take note of.

3. Offering Too Many Details

Ah, being personable.

There is a psychological phenomenon deemed the “mere-exposure effect" that insists that the more you can identify with someone, or feel like your know them, the more likely you are to trust and/or like them. It backs the idea that the exposure to feeling some sort of personal connection to people, caused by simple associations, causes you to interpret their behavior subjectively.

In this story, the man in question threw in many unnecessary details to the conversation, rattling on about his experience forgetting to feed a friend's cat, and comparing leaving the apartment door open to being something "old women in movies" would deem appropriate.

He had mumbled about how he was always late, following the statement with: “broken watch, not my fault."

"When people are telling the truth, they don't feel doubted, so they don't feel the need for additional support in the form of details. When people lie, however, even if what they say sounds credible to you, it doesn't sound credible to them, so they keep talking." - Gavin De Becker

4. Typecasting

Typecasting is defined as: "when a man labels a women in some slightly critical way, hoping she'll feel compelled to prove his opinion is not accurate."

In the story, the man informed the woman that "there was a such thing as being too proud."

This can be seen commonly in day-to-day through implications of "you're probably too good to leave with me," or "you don't look like the type who can live a little."

5. Loan Sharking

"He wanted to be allowed to help you because that would place you in his debt, and the fact that you owe a person something makes it hard to ask him to leave you alone."

Criminal predators prove to be overly willing to offer one amount of assistance, but demand so much more.

"But he has something in common with the predatory criminal who imposes his counterfeit charity into someone's life: motive. There is no spiritually minded movement dedicated to lightening the burden of American women by carrying their groceries. At its best, loan sharking is a strategy on a par with asking a woman, "Do you come here often?" At its worst, it exploits a victim's sense of obligation and fairness." - Gavin De Becker

6. The Unsolicited Promise

After the man had been declined entrance to the woman’s apartment, he had said: "I'll just put this stuff down and go. I promise."

This is one of the most obvious indicators of questionable motives: making promises that should never have to be made in the first place.

Why would he have to promise he would leave? Was he implying that he originally wasn't planning to?

7. Discounting The Word "No."

Something commonly discussed in any self-defense class/seminar/clinic I've personally ever attended or worked is the overshadowing reassurance that you can tell people "no."

This is a common thread that follows conversations I have with friends about bothersome or questionable people.

The question of "did you tell them no?" is usually followed with, "Well, I didn't want to be rude," or "I didn't know what to say."


Normal people, when told "no" or to "back off," are typically apologetic, and will proceed to do so. When people aren't criminals, even if they're a jerk, they'll usually relent— perhaps begrudgingly, but they will.

The ability and confidence to say "no" and not feel guilty about it, is arguably the most important and useful preventative measure to master, playing the role of the gateway to combatting pre-incident behaviors.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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