How to Spot a Threat Before it Happens

When violence is imminent, you start to panic, breathing speeds up, and your pulse quickens, but it’s not just the heart rate of the victim that will rise. Attackers too will experience a change in their body as they prepare themselves for what’s to come. 

If you can learn the signs of impending danger, you can learn to avoid them. If someone starts to look aggressive, they are best avoided. If this is not possible, they are the best placated. If both these have failed, and only if both have failed, it’s time to consider your position, potential counter-attacking, and escape.

Of course, everyone is different. Some people are strung out on drugs or alcohol, so they may exhibit none of these signs, though hopefully, they will show far more obvious ones. Other people still have psychological issues and may appear calm and collected, but rather than worry about the outside chances of cold, calculating nut-jobs, we always focus on the most likely scenario. In this case, the typical mugger or average Joe looking for a fight will exhibit one or several of the following: 

–       Change of voice pitch/speed 

A common trait of stress is the change in pitch or speed of a person’s voice. As emotions start to take hold, it becomes increasingly difficult to focus on the calm, reasoned conversation. If you observe someone approaching you and their voice keeps breaking or they speed up and slow down the way they talk, it can be a sign that you need to be wary. 

–       Repetition

Commonly seen among drunks trying to enter a bar or club, repetition occurs because an individual is losing control of the situation. As the adrenaline starts to cloud their thoughts, the only goal they can see is the most obvious one, and this is reflected in their speech pattern. 

If an agitated individual keeps insisting on something or seems to continually refer to the same point, be aware of a potentially impending threat. 

–       Flushed face 

Fairly obvious, this one. When we get stressed, our blood flow increases. If an attacker is preparing for violence, the adrenaline will stimulate an increased heart rate and dilation of the blood vessels to prepare the body for action. This can easily be spotted in a red or flushed complexion on the face. 

The same is true of people who have just been exercising, however. So don’t assume everyone coming out of the gym is about to mug you! Just be aware that increased redness can signal response to stress. 

–       Being nice for no reason. 

Sometimes it pays to be cynical. If a friend or neighbor offers to help you with your shopping, that’s fine. But if a random stranger approaches you in a parking lot and offers the same, it’s time to firmly but politely say, “No thanks”. 

Some aggressors use ‘being nice’ as a way to initially lower the defenses of a target. Once you agree to the help, they have a window into your car, apartment, or life. 

–       Over-Sharing

If someone approaches you asking for the time or some change for a bus, it may be innocent. But if they follow this up with lots of unnecessary details of why they need it, there could be cause for concern. 

Oversharing pointless details is a classic sign of deception. When we lie about something, we often over-compensate by telling others about excessive specifics. 

“I need some change because the bus will be here soon, and I have to meet my girlfriend and her brother in 20 minutes over by the park before we go to…” etc. etc. 

“Do you have the time? I’m guessing it’s about 3:30 pm, but I left my watch at home, and I’d normally use my phone, but it broke last week when I was at the…” etc. etc. 

Of course, they could just be lying to cover up some embarrassment or personal issue, but it pays to be aware of the deception. 

What Can I Do? 

The last thing you want to do in a dangerous situation is to start using the same signals as the threat. This just escalates the encounter as both parties get more and more stressed. 

The simplest way to avoid making a scenario worse if you come across anyone exhibiting any of these signs is to do the opposite. In most cases, this will serve to calm a person down and placate the danger. 

If they are speaking fast, looking flushed and stressed, you respond by being calm and assertive. 

If they seem to be approaching you for unwarranted help and talking a lot, you become laconic and offer a succinct and short reply to the negative, while moving the other way. (Though never losing sight of them) 

In each case, we try to initially cancel out the rising stress of the situation and take control of what is happening. 


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