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Why Is Everybody Always Picking On Me?

Short Circuiting the Victim Selection Process

By Randy LaHaie

Michele was uncomfortable when alone in public and questioned her ability to protect herself. She was tired of being the brunt of lewd remarks, unwanted advances and harassment. She was constantly singled out and bothered by panhandlers and drunken Casanova's at the bar. She decided to do something about it.

About a year ago, Michele enrolled in a self-defense class at a local community center. She was committed to put an end to people taking advantage of her. She wanted to learn to defend herself and resolve her fears and worries once and for all.

Michele enjoyed what she was learning. She began reading about self-defense and learned more about victimization and what to do about it. She became more interested in her fitness and practiced what she learned in self-defense class. She even hung up a boxer's heavy bag from the rafters in her basement and pounded on it to "burn off the stress" of a hard day at the office. She was feeling more confident and in control over her life.

On a cold November night, Michele was walking alone to her car at the end of the late shift at her job as a hospital receptionist. Usually, she timed her departure to walk with the other employees but tonight she was too tired to wait and just wanted to get home.

Unbeknownst to her, a predator was lurking in the shadows hunting for an unwitting victim. He spotted Michele walking in the distance. She spotted him too. She had trained herself to be aware of her surroundings and noticed him advancing toward her.

A surge of adrenaline coursed through her. Her knees grew weak and her heart pounded as she fought off the urge to panic. She began to assess her situation and formulate a plan of action. She looked directly at the shadowy figure making it obvious that she was aware of his presence. Walking briskly and deliberately, she continued toward her car well aware that she was being followed.

Do you know what happened next? Nothing! For whatever reason, the predator aborted his plan and renewed his search for someone else; someone who would be easier to catch off guard and control. Exactly why he chose not to finish what he started remains a mystery to Michele.

You were probably hoping for a more dramatic climax to the story weren't you? If this was a Hollywood movie, Michele would have been attacked and, with an impressive blur of martial wizardry, she would have transformed her assailant into a crumpled, crotch-holding heap on the sidewalk. Sorry, not this time.

The "Preparation Equals Prevention Theory"

The more prepared you are to deal with a crisis, the less likely you will have to. Preparation equals prevention. People are drawn to self-defense training for varied and personal reasons. Often it's because they've been bullied, harassed or victimized in the past. Sometimes they haven't been but are concerned about the possibility. People need to feel safe. It is a fundamental human need and necessary for mental health. Many psychologists consider the threat of interpersonal violence to be a "universal human phobia."

Proper self-defense training builds skill, fitness and self-confidence. Students soon become more comfortable with the idea of standing up to their harassers, whether they be a school yard or workplace bully, a drunk at the bar or a panhandler demanding money. They become more aware themselves, their surrounds and their options to deal with volatile situations. They become more indignant that someone would consider them and easy target.

Often, as in Michele's case, the incidents that formerly plagued them just stop. Why is this?

Victim Selection Criteria

Psychologists have known for years that human predators select their prey based on signals given off by their potential victims. In a matter of seconds, the predator acquires a sense of who is and isn't a suitable target. For every victim that is attacked, many more are past over. What are the criteria that predators use to select their victims? I'll tell you.

What does a predator look for?

Like a wild animal, the human predator wants an easy conquest. He does not want his job to be any more difficult or hazardous than it has to be. He will seek out those he perceives as weak, submissive and unlikely to fight back. He doesn't want resistance and he certainly doesn't want to be injured himself. A sign of strength or defiance, whether blatant or implied, is often sufficient to cause him to abandon the predatory process and look for a more "cooperative" victim.

If they can help it, bullies don't pick fights with people who will pound them into the pavement! They won't select people who will confront and challenge their behavior. Rapists, muggers, abusers and bullies look for someone they can dominate and control.

Note: Some self-defense programs advocate ALWAYS adopting a defiant and challenging response in a confrontation. Don't accept simplistic solutions to complex problems. The world doesn't work that way.

What may dissuade one assailant may infuriate another. A defiant response may create a situation where the assailant feels obligated to carry out his threat or "lose face." People will fight to save face even if think they'll lose!

As you will learn in subsequent articles, we need to develop a range of skills and apply the most appropriate one for the circumstances encountered.

The Grayson/Stein Study

In 1984 two researchers, Betty Grayson and Morris I. Stein, conducted a study to determine the selection criteria applied by predators when selecting their victims. They videotaped several pedestrians on a busy New York City sidewalk without their knowledge.

They later showed the tape to convicts who were incarcerated for violent offenses (rape, murder, robbery, etc.) They instructed them to identify people on the tape who would make easy or desirable victims. The results were interesting.

Within seven seconds, the participants made their selections. What baffled researchers was the consistency of the people that were selected as victims. The criteria were not readily apparent. Some small, slightly built women were passed over. Some large men were selected. The selection was not dependant on race, age, size or gender.

Even the convicts didn't know exactly why they selected as they did. Some people just looked like easy targets. It appears that much of the predator/prey selection process is unconscious from the perspective of both predator and the potential victim.

Video Analysis

Still at a loss of specific selection criteria, the researches had a more thorough analysis of the movement and body language of the people on the videotape. Here is an overview of the results:

1.      Stride:

People selected as victims had an exaggerated stride: either abnormally short or long. They dragged, shuffled or lifted their feet unnaturally as they walked. Non-victims, on the other hand, tended to have a smooth, natural gate. They stepped in a heel-to-toe fashion.

2.      Rate:

Victims tend to walk at a different rate than non-victims. Usually, they walk slower than the flow of pedestrian traffic. Their movement lacks a sense of deliberateness or purpose. However, an unnaturally rapid pace can project nervousness or fear.

3.      Fluidity:

Researchers noted awkwardness in a victim's body movement. Jerkiness, raising and lowering one's center of gravity or wavering from side to side as they moved became apparent in the victims analyzed. This was contrasted with smoother, more coordinated movement of the non-victims.

4.      Wholeness:

Victims lacked "wholeness" in their body movement. They swung their arms as if they were detached and independent from the rest of their body. Non-victims moved their body from their "center" as a coordinated whole implying strength, balance and confidence.

5.      Posture and Gaze:

A slumped posture is indicative of weakness or submissiveness. A downward gaze implies preoccupation and being unaware of one's surroundings. Also, someone reluctant to establish eye contact can be perceived as submissive. These traits imply an ideal target for a predator.

In his book, "The Danger From Strangers," author James D. Brewer quotes one of the researchers who conducted the above mentioned study, "Grayson is convinced that when people understand how to move confidently they can, ‘be taught how to walk that way and substantially reduce their risk of assault'"

How does this apply to Prevention Theory?

If you read between the lines of this research, the "Preparation Equals Prevention Theory" makes more sense. The traits described above indicate varying degrees of balance, coordination and awareness. They imply a person's perceived vigilance and potential to fight.

Self-defense study and training develops the qualities of movement that discourage victim selection and project a "don't mess with me" demeanor. This explains why a person who had formerly been bullied or victimized takes up the study of self-defense and the incidents that originally plagued him or her stop.

Unlike Professor Grayson, I doubt that the solution to reducing one's victim potential is as simple as taking "walking lessons." Also, contrary to what many self-defense instructors suggest, you cannot simply "pretend" or "fake" confidence and expect to ward off predatory selection.

I doubt that a deliberate attempt to modify the way you walk, move and swing your arms (even if you could do so) would bring about the desired results. Imagine an awkward, out of shape person trying to consciously correct flawed body movements associated to being awkward and out of shape. You can't fake coordination. You can't fake balance. You can't fake strength or endurance. However, each of these qualities can be developed through the study of self-defense and can dramatically reduce the risk of assault.

So What? How Can I Use This Information?

Much of the predator/prey selection process is subconscious. I believe that it is an evolutionary quality of the subconscious mind that we inherited from our ancestors. It would have been necessary for survival to select a prey that would not turn around and bite your head off! Those who lacked this quality would have undoubtedly been eliminated from the gene pool.

It is unlikely that you can consciously and consistently control non-verbal signals that you project. However, this is not to say that you cannot impact those signals in a powerful and positive way. Here is what you can do.

·         Develop Your Awareness Skills

The predator is looking for a victim who is unaware, preoccupied and easy to ambush. By becoming more aware of your surroundings, you not only increase the odds of detecting a potential predator, but you project an image of vigilance. This, in itself, can terminate the selection process.*

*For more information on awareness see, "The Nuts and Bolts of Awareness."

·         Get Into Shape

Your level of fitness impacts your ability to defend yourself. First, if you are attacked your ability to successfully escape or fight off the attacker is dramatically impacted by your physical condition. Secondly, a strong, well-toned body will manifest the quality of movement of a non-victim. Finally, fitness impacts your personality in a positive way. The increased self-esteem, confidence and emotional resilience that result from being in good physical condition are non-victim qualities that predators want to avoid.

·         Enroll in a Self-defense Course

There are no superior martial arts, only superior martial artists. Don't get hung up on picking "the best" style or program. I am a strong advocate of self-defense and martial arts training (either at a club or through self-study) to reduce your risk of assault. For reasons I've mentioned, self-defense training reduces the likelihood of having to defend yourself. Learn all you can about confrontational situations and develop tools to deal with them. Incorporate regular practice such as boxing glove drills for example* or learn how to punch and kick a boxer's heavy bag. Have fun with it.

See the article: "Reach Out and Punch Someone!"

Knowledge is Power:

Knowledge reduces fear and builds confidence. Confidence is a non-victim quality. Read books and articles about self-defense. Do what you can to clarify your "mental maps" of how confrontations happen, how to avoid them, and how to respond if you can't. The most dangerous attitude in a confrontation is the, "It will never happen to me Syndrome." The fact that you are reading this article already puts you well ahead in the "non-victim game."

Work On Yourself From the Inside Out.

I narrowed the content of this article to the more "straight forward" aspects of reducing your victim potential. There are many other aspects associated to personality and psychology that impact your victim potential and your ability to deal effectively with a confrontation. I will discuss these qualities, and how to develop them, in future articles. In the meantime, do what you can to increase your self-esteem, mental toughness, motivation etc.

Conclusion

Your potential of becoming a victim is influenced, in large part, to the unconscious signals you project to an assailant. Predators, whether deliberately or intuitively, form an opinion about you and how easy you will be to dominate and control. They are looking for a weak, submissive and unaware target that won't (or can't) fight back.

You can control the non-verbal signals you project by investing time in the study and practice of self-defense. Your projected body language will take care of itself. You can't fake it.  You must earn it. This is not as difficult as you might think. If you really want to prevent or dramatically reduce the probability of becoming a victim, prepare yourself. Preparation equals prevention!

Good luck and Stay Safe.

Randy LaHaie

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Randy LaHaie has been studying and teaching reality-based self-defense methods for over 35 years. As a life-long martial artist, retired police officer and personal safety consultant, Randy has trained thousands of law enforcement officers, high risk professionals and private citizens.For more extensive and current self-defense advice and resources be sure to visit his blog "The Toughen Up Self-Defense Blog." by clicking here:

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Copyright © 2011 by Randy LaHiae, Protective Strategies. All rights Reserved.