Intuition: Our Self-Defense Superpower

Side view of a business woman imagining to be a super hero looking aspired.

We all have a self-defense superpower: our intuition. Intuition is a gut feeling. It is a high-speed, information-packed internal alarm that tells you when something isn’t right. When alerting us to danger it can feel like sweaty palms, a knot in your stomach, a rapid heart rate. Pay attention to how yours makes you feel because, when it comes to self-defense, it is your fastest, most reliable method of risk assessment. It is your superpower.

Intuition was once dismissed as mystical, illogical, and unreliable, but today a wide range of experts from law enforcement to psychologists recognize its value, particularly when it comes to quickly assess risk. Gavin De Becker, the author of several books about recognizing and avoiding violence, emphasizes the importance of listening to and acting upon our intuition. De Becker says intuition “is always in response to something and always has our best interests at heart.”[i]

Intuition at work

How does this superpower work? Our brain is continuously busy doing its most important job – keeping us safe. While we go about our day it takes in everything: every sight, sound, and smell. It considers, sorts, and organizes. It recognizes patterns and puts things in context. It does all this unconsciously, instantly, and all the time. Most of this information never rises to consciousness because it is not relevant to our day-to-day business. But when something does not fit a familiar pattern, when a behavior is out of context, our brain recognizes that as meaningful and raises the alarm.

For example, if someone is wearing a heavy wool coat on a cold winter day, that makes sense and no alarm is raised. But if someone is wearing a heavy wool coat on a hot summer day, you may suddenly feel uneasy and not know why. Your intuitive superpower recognizes that a wool coat on a hot day is out of context, and it sets off the internal alarm to get your attention. If you act upon that uneasy feeling and avoid the person in the wool coat – you walk a different route, or ride a different bus, or take a different elevator – you may never know what could have happened because it didn’t. That is excellent self-defense.

Learn to trust your intuition. It can save your life.

Context matters

Context matters when it comes to sensing risk. Offenders often behave in ways that, on the surface, appear friendly, helpful, and even vulnerable, but beneath the surface of these seemingly harmless interactions are clues that something isn’t right. There is a difference between a friendly conversation and a conversation with a person who asks for or shares too much personal information. There is a difference between a genuine offer of help and a person who pressures you to accept help you didn’t ask for and don’t want. There is a difference between someone who asks for assistance and someone who creates an emergency and a false sense of urgency. Predators are wolves in sheep’s clothing, masters of deceit and manipulation.  But intuition is masterful at identifying deception, not by magic, but because it identifies the subtle differences that tell us something is out of context.

Does every intuitive prediction mean a hazard is imminent? No, not all predictions come to pass. But rather than deny or explain away the apprehension, we are safer if we recognize the warning as meaningful. Remember, our intuition is always in response to something and always has our best interests at heart.  Maybe the person in the wool coat just made an odd wardrobe choice, but maybe they are concealing a weapon. Maybe the person standing too close or asking too many personal questions is just socially awkward, but maybe they are setting you up. Nothing is lost when we walk away from an unwanted approach. But when we talk ourselves out of the apprehension something very important is lost – time.

Immediate assertive response

Every moment we engage with a predator is an opportunity for them to turn the situation to their advantage. They work their deceit to distract, confuse, intimidate, and isolate. An immediate, assertive response interrupts the set-up and can potentially save your life. That is why our intuitive brain works so fast in comparison to our rational brain which is slow and cumbersome. If we wait to rationalize all the discrepancies, answer all the questions, and fill in all the blanks, the assault has likely already happened. When it comes to survival, every moment counts.

Practice setting clear boundaries.

Yet all of us have likely denied or explained away an intuitive warning and stayed in a situation where we felt anxious, suspicious, nervous, even fearful. Our intuition tells us to run, and we politely continue the conversation. Why do we do that? The simple answer is we want to be nice, or more precisely we see niceness as so integral to who we are we don’t see other options. Women in particular have been socialized to be nice at all costs. It is important to recognize niceness as nothing more than learned behavior. Niceness is a choice just as speaking up, making a scene, and walking away are also choices. Our survival may depend upon us stepping outside our comfort zone and choosing to connect with our superpower.

Getting to know and trust our superpower is at the heart of empowerment self-defense. When it comes to assessing risk, intuition is our greatest asset. On the flip side, denial is our greatest liability. Denial waits in the wings. It urges, tempts, and prods us to override our intuition, to avoid the uncomfortable, messy business of thinking about the “unthinkable”. Denial is a temporary reprieve, a compromise that offers a feeling of safety in the short run but comes with a very high price. Denial is the dangerous compromise we will look at in our next blog.

Thank you for reading. Stay strong and stay safe.

Train a variety of tactical responses to a threat.


[i] I highly recommend the following two books by Gavin De Becker. They are highly informative, very readable, and full of practical information about intuition and protecting ourselves and our children from violence.

De Becker, Gavin, The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence. Little, Brown and Company. San Francisco, New York, Toronto, London. 1997

De Becker, Gavin. Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane). Dell Publishing. New York. 1999.

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