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Trust your instincts

Listen to your gut

Have you ever entered an empty house and just known you were not alone? I have.

It happened about ten years ago when I was hunting for investment properties in Dayton. I had gone to school to get my real estate license so I’d have access to the MLS and could save on half the commission for anything we bought.

So, I was alone at a small house on an appointment I’d set up with the owner, who assured me the place would be empty. But the minute I opened the door, I felt like someone was there.

I have no idea why. All was quiet. I saw no movement. No one had answered the doorbell or come running when I opened the door and announced my presence. Still, the feeling lingered.

A minute later I got the scare of my life when a large bird squawked from his cage under a sheet. “Oh, that was it. I was sensing the bird.” Still, the feeling lingered.

I went through the messy little house inspecting the overstuffed living room, cluttered dining room with a table too big for its eat-in area, and the first bedroom and bathroom.

When I opened the last bedroom door and stepped inside, a young woman sat up in bed with a sharp intake of breath. Oh my God! I must have scared the living hell out of her, but my own heart was racing too as I shut the door, quickly yelled out why I was there, and left the house.

I’ve always wondered how I knew someone was there. I’m still not sure, but now I have some ideas.

I’m reading a book called The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker—which I highly recommend, especially for women and girls, and writers who want to better understand violent behavior and victim’s reactions—and while he talks about recognizing behavioral signals of those who would do you harm, or situations where you might be in danger, his main message is: Trust your instincts!

We often discount that gut feeling or intuition—especially men, apparently—because we think it’s not grounded in logic. How can it possibly be accurate in a modern world?

But De Becker argues that our unconscious brain processes things we consciously miss, and does so much faster than we can if we stop to think something through.

He uses the example of driving on the freeway. Don’t you sometimes just know that guy’s going to change lanes before he does it, even though his blinker isn’t on? Do you feel silly about it? No, because it happens frequently enough that you've learned to trust it. It's part of your driving skill set.

But whether driving or predicting the presence of a person in what's supposed to be an empty house, you're using the same mechanism.

As a teen I became convinced a car was following me based on nothing more than a quick change into my left turn lane. Ridiculous. Lots of people lived down that way. But when the men in the car stayed back at the stop sign I got scared. Were they watching to see where I went?

I turned onto my street, but decided to go to the end and turn around to see if they’d followed. After a minute, when no one showed, I chastised myself for being silly and pulled into my driveway.

Seconds later as I was getting out of my truck, the car turned down my road and passed slowly by my house, both men staring at me.

Thankfully, nothing ever came of it, and I suppose they could have been lost—there’s that rationalization again—but it was a good lesson in listening to my gut.

When De Becker interviews victims of an attack, they often ask him how they could have seen it coming, or why they were leery of a particular person, even if they ultimately didn’t act on their feelings.

He turns it around and asks them. When they recite the story of what happened, details often show up that are insignificant to the storyteller, but are often the key.

As I look back at the story I just told you above, it occurs to me that the bird cage being covered during the day when everyone was gone didn't make sense (maybe). Why care if the bird makes noise if no one is home?

Additionally, the girl’s bedroom door was closed. And who knows what else my subconscious caught that I no longer remember, or never explicitly noticed. Was there an extra car in the driveway? Was there a scent present that I couldn’t consciously identify? Did I see blinds closed when I pulled up?

Whatever the elements were, my instincts got it right even when there was no logical reason to believe anyone was home.

That’s powerful stuff. Don't ignore it.

Photo credit: UNSURE © Sandy Matzen |

Citizens Police Academy: Protect yourself

I’ll do the big CPA write-up on Sunday, but for now, here are a few takeaways from tonight’s presentation by the Captain of the Major Crimes Division for reducing your risk of being a victim. All of these are common sense, yet many people ignore the simple things they can do to protect themselves.

  • Lock your car. Really? I have to tell you that? Apparently. In your driveway, at the mall, at the gas station when you run in to pay…
  • Corollary to locking your car. Don’t leave the keys in the ignition. Ever. If you’re going to warm up the engine on a cold morning, do it while you’re in the car. Or skip it and deal with the cold. You’ll save gas and the environment too.
  • Don’t leave valuables in your car, especially not in plain sight. The number one property crime in Fairfax County is stolen GPS units. At Christmas, don’t put your shopping bags in your car and go back in for more gifts.
  • Be aware. Don’t talk on your cell phone while walking to your car. Pay attention to who and what are around you. And avoid parking lots at night, especially if you’re alone.
  • Never wire money. No, you didn’t win a lottery that requires a fee to collect. If your sister needs money for an emergency, talk to her in person before you send anything. Better yet, deposit it to her bank account instead, if you can. Didn’t know your nephew was out of the country, but now he’s stranded in a foreign country and needs cash? I have a bridge to sell you too.
  • If an attacker wants your purse/wallet, let him have it. Money and ID are not worth your life.
  • Keep the doors to your home locked, and if you have an alarm, use it.

Be safe!