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In This Hub:
Adrenaline and Brain Wiring Response
Alpha/Beta Behavior
Body Sacrosanct
Bonding Process
Conflict Cycle*
Dealing with Difficult People
Economy & Violence
Fear vs. Danger Management
Fight or No?
High Risk Behavior
Is It REALLY about SD?
Kinds of Violence
Lizard Brain
Mental Preparation
Monkey Brain
Negotiation In Extremis
Never Again
Normal, Abnormal, Dangerous
PTSD: Personal Experience
Pride, Fighting, Self-Control
Problem Neighbors
Provoking An Attack
Reality vs. Actuality
Sanity (in Instructors)
Self-Esteem vs. Self-Respect
Survivor's Guilt
Tough Enough?
Unintended Consequences
Violence Geeks Blog
Violence ISN'T What You Think It Is
What If Monkeys
What's With the *?
Western Ethics and SD
Rape Hub
Robbery Hub
Self Defense Hub
Streetfighting Hub
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Self-defense expert witness

RESOURCES at THE ZERO : The Official Website of Andrew Vachss

Go to RESOURCE section!

Emotional recovery


Another Chance to Get it Right
Andrew Vachss
Abuse recovery /Fiction

Heart Transplant
Andrew Vachss
Graphic Novel / Fiction


Hard Truths
Andrew Vachss
(Interview, crime, predation)

Sex Crimes
Alice Vachss
(Sexual abuse, prosecution)

Emotional Abuse
Zak Mucha
(Emotional self-defense)

American Hookup
(Sexual misconduct on campus)

Resilient Self
S. Wolin, S. Wolin
(Overcoming dysfunction)

Without Conscious
Robert Hare
(Sociopaths, antisocial personality)

Making Sense of Suffering
(Trauma recovery)

Survivor Personality
Al Siebert
(Emotional resiliency)

Narcissim Epidemic
(Domestic violence)

Amy Alkon

The Sociopath Next Door
Martha Stout
(sociopaths, antisocial disorder)






The problem in defense is how far you can go
without destroying from within what
you are trying to defend from without.
                                      Dwight D. Eisenhower

Psychology of Survival

On this page:
Actuality vs. Reality | Adrenal Stress Response* | Alpha/Beta Behavior | Anger and Self-Defense* | Assertive vs. Aggressive | Attracting trouble | Blame vs. Responsibility | Body Sacrosanct | Bonding Process (Human mating behavior) | Boundaries* | Conflict Cycle *| Dealing with difficult people | De-escalation | Economy & Stress Violence* | Freeze Response* | Getting Attacked | High Risk Behavior* | Is It REALLY About Self-Defense?* | Fear | Fear Management vs. Danger Management* | Kinds of Violence* | Lizard Brain* | Mental Preparation | Monkey Brain | Negotiation Out At The Sharp End* | Normal, Abnormal, or Dangerous? * | Post Traumatic Stress Disorder *| PTSD: A Personal Journey | Resistance About Calling For Help | Pride, Self-Defense, Fighting & Self-Control* | Self-Esteem vs. Self-Respect | Problem Neighbors | Sanity in the MA | Staying Out Of Trouble In A Psych Ward | Survivor's guilt | To Fight or Not | Tough Enough?| Unintended Consequences | Violence: What is it? *| Violence Geeks Blog | Violence NEVER Solved Anything ... *| Western Ethics and Self-Defense | Self-help Books: NOT helping

Violence can be a traumatic, life altering experience. Or it could be just another day at the job. It boils down to how well you can cope.

Whether you are the victim, the victor, a participant or you just muddle through violence changes a person forever. That is an established fact... now how it changes someone depends on the person and the resources that he/she finds. Experience has taught us that the wrong resources can be as damaging as no resources at all (1). If not more so.

The fact that violence has such a strong impact on our psyche means that we need to stop and think about it before we find ourselves in the situation. Like Pandora's box, once it is opened, there is no way to put back the plague of woes it has released into our lives. Unfortunately, many people do not realize how much what we think -- and by extension, what we do -- puts us in danger of violence.

Actuality vs. Reality ('personal reality' that is)
Have you ever had an emotional reaction to something someone said? Something that you were positive was an insult, only to discover that that's not what the person meant at all? Welcome to the difference between actuality and reality. Or to be more specific, your personal reality, which isn't always actuality.

Adrenal Stress Response
What the layperson thinks of as 'adrenaline' isn't just a drug, it's a cocktail of chemicals. Putting it in commoly undestood terms, when you're adrenalized you're drunk, high and caffinated all at once. Adrenaline defintiely affects your thinking process. How our minds and bodies function under the Adrenal Stress Response is a major factor whether we freeze or over react in a violent situation.

Afraid To Call For Help
Athough this page is oriented towards parents of teens, it has some important information on connections inside our brains. Connections (or lack there of) that lead to bad decision making. Decisions that end up compounding problems until things esclate to a crisis. People from dysfunctional backgrounds often lack the neural connections that 'normal people' have (They never had a chance to develop them. Or, in abusive backgrounds, different connections were made.) This page looks at the resistance to call for help when things are going out of control.

Anger and Self-Defense
What is the relationship between your anger and defending yourself? And how can your anger get you into more trouble than it gets you out of?

Assertive vs. Aggressive
Assertiveness will prevent an attack. Aggressiveness will provoke one. Before you can understand the difference between the two, you must first understand the nature of personal and shared space. Then being assertive is much easier and more effective.

Attracting trouble
Have you ever wondered why bullies, troublemakers and abusers choose some people but ignore others? There is an entire complex set of behaviors and signals that are going back and forth. The Bullies page is written for young men who are caught in a cycle of behavior -- usually involving both bullying and being bullied. NOTE: due to straight-talking to a particular audience, the content is raw, vulgar and politically incorrect. Still the information is useful for anyone who is being routinely harassed.

Blame vs. Responsibility
Do you know the difference? Many people think they do -- then they abdicate responsibility and put themselves into dangerous situations. When the results aren't what they expected, they resort to blame for psychological damage control.

Body Sacrosanct
Inherent in the paradigm of certain people (especially within certain cultural and socio-economic levels) is the assumption that their body is sacrosanct. They believe they cannot be touched without their consent, much less attacked. This core belief can -- and does -- have a strong influence on their actions. Actions that often increase their danger. Unfortunately, this unconscious paradigm greatly adds to the trauma of being assaulted.

Bonding Process (Human Mating Behavior)
Although many claim rape isn't about sex, rape is a parasite that hides within a very normal human behavioral pattern. A process that sex is pivotal to. This page explains Dr Desmond Morris's 12 step 'Bonding Process' and how, via this process humans establish intimacy. Once you know this process, you can see how easily rape can occur when the process goes wrong -- especially date rape.

Boundaries: Personal and shared space
Many problems arise from a misunderstanding of the nature of boundaries. Often people believe they are defending their boundaries, but they are in fact, attacking. Our model of personal and shared space is a simple, but effective, explanation of both boundaries and why situations so often escalate out of control. It has also proved itself useful for explaining interpersonal relationships and giving teenagers a uniform explanation about why making and leaving messes in shared space is unacceptable behavior.

Conflict Cycle
Did you know that fights, arguments, disagreement and other forms of conflict have predictable stages? To the point of almost being like scripts from movies. Most people don't. But how they don't know makes for all the difference. If you come from a 'functional' background odds are you subconsciously --arguably unconsciously--follow these 'stages' without ever realizing what you're doing. If, however, you're from a dysfunctional background you weren't taught this script. Often it's not the person choosing to be unreasonable, it's that the person doesn't know the conflict cycle and script that effectively resolves conflict. Steps that if you don't follow damage -- if not destroy -- relationships, create the urge for revenge and escalate problems. (You may not be conflict avoidant, you just may not know this cycle.)

Dealing with difficult people
Dr Joseph Bablonka has graciously granted us permission to reprint an article he wrote on the fundamentals of Dealing with Difficult People at work and in your personal life. This article offers a some good, workable long-term advice about approaching difficult people and important strategies for all of your interpersonal dealings.

Verbal de-escalation comes in many forms and in many degrees. The No Nonsense Self-defense de-escalation program is designed for professionals in high-risk situations. In other words, people whose job it is to confront other violent and dangerous people and tell them "no." It is "front-line" psychology for preventing immediate violence and controlling a situation. As such, it may not fit the needs of the average reader. For non-professionals, we have a recommended reading list on verbal self-defense on the Bibliography page.

Economy and Stress Violence
Whether it is a depression or a recession, crime goes up in economic hard times. but not just how you might think it does. There is a direct link between the economy and stress violence.

Establishing Alpha/Beta Status
Humans are social animals. By this we don't just mean they like to be with one another, humans need each other in order to survive. This requires a social order, usually this organizes itself into a hierarchy. In this section we take a look at not only the nature of this phenomenon, but what roles different people fill in the group. Often trouble arises from people not understanding what alpha behavior really is.

Getting Attacked 101
Unfortunately, in trying to either establish control and dominance over a situation or warn away a potential attacker, there are core mistakes a person can make. These mistakes will escalate the situation to physical violence. Here is a handy set of guidelines on ways not to provoke an attack.

High Risk Behavior
Let us start by stating our definition of High Risk Behavior isn't based in moralizing. The simple fact is that a wild party girl (who knows the rules) can be safer among bikers than a 'good girl' on a date with a 'Prince Charming' (who isn't). We define High Risk Behavior as:Any behavior that puts you into circumstances where violence is probable. It's what you do in those circumstances that will determine whether or not you will be attacked.

Is It REALLY About Self-Defense?
A lot of people get into so-called self-defense training for reasons that have nothing to do with actual self-defense. On the Is It REALLY about SD? page we take a hard look at an elephant in room that people don't want to admit to.

Fear is one of the major issues that hinders personal safety. Believe it or not, this is more a problem of not understanding the nature of fear (and its purpose and benefits) than it is a problem with fear itself. Fear is your ally, not your enemy. You don't want to get rid of it.

Fear Management vs. Danger Management
There is a HUGE difference between training and behaviors that soothes your fears and the same that keeps you safe from physical danger. Unfortunately, there is a lot of self-defense training that confirms your fears while actually increasing your danger.

Freeze Response
When it comes to violence there is no concept more misunderstood than freezing. It's not only the greatest dread ("What if I freeze"), but it's also a point of great shame ("I froze"). Entirely too much nonsense is taught about 'overcoming the freeze.' First, let's start out with EVERYBODY freezes. Second, the question isn't "Can I break it in time?" The question is, "Is it the best tactic for the situation?" Yes, freezing can get you hurt. On the other hand it can also save you. The subject of freezing is a little more complicated than you think it is.

Kinds of Violence
Many people don't know what 'self-defense' is because they don't understand there are different kinds of violence. Not only do the different kinds of violence have different goals, but your actions have significant influence on whether or not the situation goes physical. If you blindly react to any threat as though it demands you to unleash your self-defense training you are seriously increasing the chances of the situation escalating into the most dangerous kind of violence -- an event you may not survive.

Lizard Brain
Your brain is a complex, multi-layered machine. One that when certain parts are activated although you may 'think' you are being rational, but your monkey or lizard brain is running the show. Unfortunately, fear, anger and other strong emotions kick you into functioning in the lizard brain.

Mental Preparation
Violence is an extreme. That means you are operating in an arena that you do not normally function. A lot of things that you didn't think about previously will become a matter of life or death. This page introduces you to the factors that WILL be present in a violent encounter. Factors that you need have addressed before you try to function in that environment.

Normal, Abnormal, and Dangerous
This is an excerpt from our book "What You Don't Know Can Kill You." The Normal, Abnormal, Dangerous model serves two critical self defense purposes. The first helps you recognize developing danger so you can take appropriate action (including getting out of there before you're attacked). The second is it prepares you for the interrogation you will face from the police and courts after you've defended yourself. It is a firewall against common verbal strategies designed to undermine your claim of self-defense. There is however a more every day and personal benefit. That is using this model reduces stress and anxiety while simultaneously helping you decide what is an appropriate reaction to what's happening. (Yes, you just saw a guy riding a unicycle playing the bagpipes. While that's weird, it's not dangerous.)

Monkey Brain
We humans have -- as a default setting -- primate behaviors guiding our actions in conflict. While these patterns are not inescapable, if you don't know about how your brain is wired your monkey brain is going to be driving the bus. And monkeys make bad drivers.

Negotiation Out At The Sharp End
Thoughts about how a discussion can become a conflict and how a conflict can turn violent. And how to tell when a situation is floating away from negotiation and into the extremes.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
If you've gone through a traumatic experience, there is a good chance your brain has been physically rewired. This page will give you an introduction to what can happen to you long after the incident has ended. It's called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Having said that, some good news permanent PTSD only happens to between 10 to 15% of people. For everyone else, there are ways through it.

PTSD: A Personal Journey
This article was written to get through to you a young man who was cavalierly discussing the idea of using a knife on another human being, as such the language is somewhat rough -- the message being "Wake up Junior." Although focused on knife use, it is applicable to any lethal force usage.

Pride, Fighting, Self-Defense & Self-Control
I am often approached by people who are willing to do anything for self-defense except practice emotional self-control.  Treating one's emotions like an unstoppable juggernaut over which you have no control is not only the fastest way to get into a violent situation, but also the fastest way to end up in jail. That's because you weren't defending yourself, you were fighting

Problem Neighbors
Having problems with an irrational, hateful and seemingly insane neighbor? In such cases you'll find yourself wondering "WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PERSON? Is he insane?" The answer is no, not really. Odds are what is happening is you've run across someone who 'lives by the feud.' The problem neighbor page will help you understand what motivates these people, why being 'reasonable' doesn't work and why they won't just go away ... until you handle them correctly.

Sanity in the Martial Arts
Putting it mildly, there are a lot of dysfunctional people who are attempting to self-medicate by taking martial arts/self-defense training. Their behavior can range from neurotic to a full blown cult to sociopathic. Before you buy into what they are saying, make sure they are running on all cylinders. Note: The preceding pages are more of a warning about what you will run into while seeking training. (For more personal understanding, see: What do you want out of this training?)

Self-Esteem vs. Self-Respect
Do you know that there's a difference? Do you know how one can blind you from reality and the other put you more in touch with it? Self-esteem is a slippery eel, self-respect is far more stable.

Staying Out Of Trouble On A Psychiatric Ward
A guest columnist allowed us to post her article how to avoid the common pitfalls, problems, hassles and trauma dramas that commonly occur during a stay at a psych hospital.

Survivor's guilt
There is an incredible amount of guilt associated with surviving traumatic situations. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is only one of the forms that this guilt can come in. What many people do not realize is that the same mechanism can leave you feeling guilty about what common sense actions you took to avoid being raped, robbed or beaten. Often people focus on the fact that they "didn't stand up to someone" more than the fact that they were not physically harmed. If what you did worked to keep you safe, then then that's what counts.

To Fight or Not
The decision whether or not to use physical force to defend yourself is not an easy one. Either choice carries consequences and responsibilities that must be considered before hand and accordingly steer your actions.

Unintended Consequences
Why is it so traumatic when things go violent? A huge part of the problem is that most people were not only not mentally prepared for violence to occur, but because of how they were thinking that option wasn't even considered. As such they face both the shock and trauma of the violence, but also the psychological fall into unintended consequences.

Violence -- It ISN'T What You Think It Is
Have you ever checked your definition of violence against a dictionary? We did ... yikes. There is an old clich?that 'violence attracts violence' which has proven itself to be reliably accurate. Unfortunately most people don't realize when they are being violent. That's because the violence they are doing is non-physical

Violence Geeks
I recently wrote a blog that defines a subculture that is largely overlooked by the mainstream. Although you will not find the term Violence Geeks in the DSM-IV these people are very real. And they pose a legitimate danger to people who run across them.

Violence NEVER Solved Anything ... oh yeah?
Politically correct thinking would have us believe that any kind of violence is wrong (first off they need to read the proceeding section as to what violence really is). Often these people use their pacifism as a self-righteous weapon, especially against those whose job it is to use force to protect others and keep the peace. Anyone who has had to use justifiable force (or currently uses it professionally) has dealt with the scorn and contempt of those who contemptuously proclaim ' violence never solves anything,' as a put down. Marc wrote a blog to rebut this long standing clich?and how to answer when it is being used as an insult instead of wisdom.

What do you want out of this training?
In the link to the Sanity section, we suggested that many people are using martial arts/self-defense/ women's self-defense/ reality based self defense training as a form of self-medication. Many people ascribe almost mythical benefits to MA/SD/WSD/RBSD training. While no one is arguing that these programs can provide assistance and beneficial tools for life, they are not omnipotent. Nor are they a replacement for professional therapy. But there are many people who go into training expecting it to solve all sorts of personal issues. Before you spend all kinds of money, you need to know what the training is and what the training isn't.

Western Ethics and Self-Defense
Often popular Western philosophy is diametrically opposite to what you have to do to survive. Thes are deeply embedded issues about morals, morality and ethics. Before you can reconcile these differences you need to take a look at what they are and where they come from.


Self-help books: NOT helping
I have over five decades experience with trauma, conflict and violence. If all that time has taught me anything, it's that violence doesn't just 'come out of nowhere.'

It – like conflict– has knowable stages and build up. It also has some pretty reliable responses to certain behaviors. Unfortunately, those actions that result in violence are almost a default reaction for most people when they are under stress. Back in the days when things in the night were out to eat us and the only hope we had for survival was being in a tribe, these reactions made all kinds of sense. In our modern lifestyles... not so much.

In fact, they often provoke a violent reaction. A big part of the problem is to your adrenalized and emotional self these reactions will seem like the most brilliant move and guaranteed to solve the problem. No. They tend to escalate the situation.  If in your past you suffered abuse, these reactions will be even stronger; to the point of you might think you can't help yourself.

Not true.

But to break these habits we need to have a broader understanding of the subject. There are many books on the side of these pages that  will help with that. They cover a wide variety of topics.

Something else to consider. Most self-help books (and in fact, therapy) is really oriented on making you feel better. Not necessarily develop better coping skills and changing your circumstances, but feel better about where you are.

Well speaking as someone who clawed his way out of the violence and dysfunction of the streets, where I was sucked. I didn't need to feel better about it, I needed to know what it would take to get the hell out of there. I've selected many of these books with that goal in mind, not to feel comfortable with self-identifying as a 'victim.'


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1)There are many issues revolving around self-defense that are not addressed in martial arts training. Nor, in our opinion, are the addressed with sufficient depth in most self-defense classes. Much of what *is* advocated we consider shallow, dysfunctional, unrealistic and down-right dangerous (e.g., "A woman has the right to walk naked into a biker bar and be unmolested." We are not making this up this is a commonly espoused belief in many Women's Self-defense courses. We consider any such ideal an abrogation of common sense).
A lot of the advice given in these situations is either illegal, endorsing obnoxious behavior or likely to provoke an attack from a truly violent person. Then the proponents this kind of thinking wonder why they end up in chaotic and oft times violent situations. The psychological, moral and ethical complexities are far too intricate to be summed up in trite clich? and catchy sound bites. You need to be leery of anyone who tries to tell you differently. You also need to be just as leery if you find yourself slipping into just such a mindset for convenience's sake. There are no "I'd just..." answers to this topic. Nor is there any black and white "I'm right, he's wrong." Return to Text


Righteous Mind
Jonathan Haidt

Complete Idiot
(Boundary setting)

Gift of Fear
Gavin Debecker
(Mental preparation, psychology)

Henry Cloud

Anger Management
For Dummies

Ape In the Corner Office
Richard Conniff
(Human animal behavior)


Nasty People
Jay Carter
(Boundary setting)

Five Essential People Skills
Dale Carnegie
(Developing social skills)

Emotional Healing
For Dummies

Generation Me
(Generation troubles)

Emotional Self-Control
Daniel Goleman
(Emotional intelligence)

Emotional Intelligence
For Dummies

Campfire Tales from Hell
Et all
(Collection of first hand experiences)

Conflict Communications
Rory Miller
(De-escalation, conflict management)

Safe People…
Henry Cloud
(Good/Bad relationships)

Boundaries After A Pathological Relationship
Adelyn Birch

How to Win Friends and Influence People
Dale Carnegie
(Developing social skills)

In Sheep's Clothing
George Simon
(Manipulative people)

When Pleasing You…
Les Carter
(Setting boundaries)

Adrian Sobolewski

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