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The Gift of Fear vs The Shark Cage

(39 Posts)
Themyscira Fri 07-Feb-20 17:30:03

I saw this post on Reddit and it really resonated with me.

So often I've ignored a bad feeling, or not recognised red flags until far after the fact. I think my upbringing has a lot to do with my lack of a strong shark cage, though I'm working on building it up.

I know The Gift of Fear has been widely praised on mumsnet, and I've read it myself, but the idea that it's a bit victim-blaming caught my attention and I had to admit there is some merit in that point of view. For me, for a long time anyway, controlling, abusive behaviour was normal and felt safe, even. I didn't recognise the sharks.

I'd be interested in reading other people's thoughts.

OP’s posts: |
Ereshkigalangcleg Fri 07-Feb-20 18:07:15

MN actually had an almost identical thread a couple of years ago. It was where I first came across the "shark cage" concept. I do understand what you say about the Gift of Fear.

Themyscira Fri 07-Feb-20 18:21:41

Oh that's interesting. I'm glad to see the idea is well known.

OP’s posts: |
StillWeRise Fri 07-Feb-20 19:12:40

place marking as I have to go out, but briefly I think the shark cage has a lot going for it

thehorseandhisboy Fri 07-Feb-20 19:22:44

I think the Shark Cage is a great analogy. It helps women understand why they behave the way they do without blaming them, and empowers them to make different choices in the future.

Mycatismadeofstringcheese Fri 07-Feb-20 19:34:34

There’s an interesting perspective from Captain Awkward on The Gift of Fear about it blaming victims.

“ The Gift of Fear comes with some big caveats around the Domestic Violence chapter, in that de Becker was raised by a mom who had a series of relationships with abusive men, and his language in that chapter crosses over into victim blaming. He both acknowledges the uselessness of restraining orders and the relative powerlessness of law enforcement in intimate partner violence situations, while also over-estimating the victim’s ability to choose to end the relationship safely or on a timeline that looks reasonable to him or to anyone outside the relationship. I know some people hate the book for this reason, but I find the rest of the book very useful because it’s one of the only resources out there that tells you what to DO about de-escalating situations with people who can’t let go. The workplace chapter, for example, is gold, as is the work on how to spot manipulation and boundary-testing (the search for people who are less likely to say no) and how to deal when you meet someone who gets fixated on you.”

Mycatismadeofstringcheese Fri 07-Feb-20 19:40:16

Forgot to add, the shark cage is a really good analogy. I had no boundaries as a young women because I thought I could fix everyone just by being kind and understanding. I had no idea that anyone would choose to exploit that.

TheProdigalKittensReturn Fri 07-Feb-20 19:51:05

I think both are useful. The Shark Cage idea is less well known. I think it's because my mother was abused herself as a child that she built me one made of titanium.

(For those who're bound to come along to wring this hands about how sad it is that some women are afraid of men, I chose that phrasing for a reason. From my perspective my own personal shark cage isn't a burden at all, it's light and flexible and creates no discomfort at all. For me. For men seeking to harm me it creates a great deal of inconvenience.)

Themyscira Fri 07-Feb-20 19:53:14

From my perspective my own personal shark cage isn't a burden at all, it's light and flexible and creates no discomfort at all. For me. For men seeking to harm me it creates a great deal of inconvenience.

See, this is how I think it should be.

A person's discernment/instincts/gift of fear is built inside their shark cage.

OP’s posts: |
ArranUpsideDown Fri 07-Feb-20 20:03:50

The graphics in this thread are interesting - pretty much calling upon girls to suppress their fears about their own concerns/perceptions of safety and come out of the boundaries of their shark cage in order to be an ally to others.

TheProdigalKittensReturn Fri 07-Feb-20 20:07:33

You're not supposed to embrace discomfort. Like physical pain, one of the main reasons it's there is to tell you that something is wrong and you need to act on that.

TheProdigalKittensReturn Fri 07-Feb-20 20:10:07

Since I seem to have failed female socialization (for which again I thank my mother), does this not create an instinctive "fuck off" reaction in most women? Being told to embrace discomfort and that my boundaries hurt people doesn't make me feel guilty or most willing to be compliant, it just a. pisses me off and b. makes me examine the motives of the person saying those things with a very suspicious eye.

pallisers Fri 07-Feb-20 20:17:02

I also have an excellent shark cage (came directly from my mum and dad) and I think it is an incredibly useful way of thinking about boundaries/expectations.

But I also like The Gift of Fear. I think his chapter on domestic violence (I HATE that expression btw - it is just violence) is influenced by his experience of being the powerless child in that situation.

I thought the stuff about pushing back when people go over your boundaries, saying no, listening to "instinct" since it usually based in actual observations, and not engaging with a stalker etc are excellent.

TheProdigalKittensReturn Fri 07-Feb-20 20:18:20

On dealing with stalkers I think De Becker is excellent, he's speaking from many years of professional experience.

Dozer Fri 07-Feb-20 20:22:09

I found Gift of Fear amazing in my early 20s when had been stalked (in a short term and minor way) twice, as was a close friend. There is a lot of good stuff in there, although think can see your point.

Dozer Fri 07-Feb-20 20:28:42

Had never heard of the “shark cage” and like the idea.

ChickenonaMug Fri 07-Feb-20 21:36:33

There is an article from Psychotherapy in Australia which explains the Shark Cage.

I won't link to is as it says that the link is not secure, although I think that the link is fine, however it explains the shark cage like this:

“Why does this keep happening to me?”

The Script goes something like this: There is nothing wrong with you. You don’t have a sign on your forehead. You aren’t asking to be abused. Of course you don’t go looking to be abused. Try and think of it like this. The world is a big beautiful ocean. There are lots of beautiful, colourful, harmless, friendly fish and there are sharks too—lots of them! They are more present in some waters than others, but they are everywhere. They are predators and they are dangerous. To survive in this ocean you need a good Shark Cage.

Where do we get our Shark Cage from?

People aren’t born with Shark Cages. It is up to the people around us when we are young to help us build a Shark Cage. Our caregivers and everyone we come in contact with in childhood contribute to the type of Shark Cage we build. Let’s think of each bar in the Shark Cage as a boundary, or a basic human right. If we are taught that it’s not acceptable for people to shout at us or call us names, that’s one bar in the Shark Cage created. If we are taught through words and actions that it is not acceptable for people to hit us, then that’s another bar in the Shark Cage. If we are taught in words and actions that it’s not acceptable for people to touch us in ways that make us uncomfortable, that’s another bar. Once the bars are in place, sharks bang up against them and find it harder to get close enough to take a bite and hurt us.

Unfortunately, not all of us are lucky enough to have had caregivers who were able to help us build a ‘top of the range’ Shark Cage. This might be because someone in our childhood was abusing us. Building a Shark Cage when it has already become normal to have sharks biting at us is really hard. Some of us might have had caregivers who have never had a good Shark Cage themselves, so they didn’t know how to help us build one. Most of us have Shark Cages with missing bars that need work. That is OK because we can work on and repair our Shark Cage at any time. We just need the right blueprint, assistance and tools
So there is nothing wrong with you. You just need to do some work on your Shark Cage and I can help you with that if you like."

The article then gives examples of how a situation might develop for a woman with a good shark cage and how it might develop for a woman with some cage bars missing. The article then describes how woman can be helped to build a shark cage.

RuffleCrow Fri 07-Feb-20 21:45:21

That makes so much sense @chickenonamug - i identified why at least 3 of my bars are/were missing just from reading you post.

Dozer Sat 08-Feb-20 12:58:06

The Reddit poster additionally mentions social pressures on girls/women to be “nice” and “polite”, especially to men. This can weaken our “cage” even if have grown up a positive family situation

Fivestepframework Sun 15-Nov-20 17:13:03

If you reprint my article you really should acknowledge me as the author. You can down load it in full from my website Also search for my Shark Cage animation on YouTube (make sure it’s my animation there are a few videos talking about it). Also have theSharkCage Facebook page with lots of good info if you start from the first post 😊

DaisiesandButtercups Mon 16-Nov-20 10:47:51

Is there a book on the shark cage theory for parents. A kind of how to mend/strengthen your own shark cage and make a strong one for your children?

Thank you for this thread OP, I hadn’t heard of the gift of fear or the shark cage before and I really wish I had!

I see that there will be a new edition of the gift of fear next year, maybe it will address some of the victim blaming pp mentioned. I will wait and buy the new version I think.

PamDemic Mon 16-Nov-20 10:52:41

I kind of agree. The Gift of Fear relies on you having built up those innate feelings of threats or boundaries. If your upbringing has removed the skill of having boundaries then the gift of fear doesn't work.

In my case, my boundaries were so shot that I didn't even know they were being breached, My feelings were so invalidated and ignored growing up, that I didn't even have any to enforce!

PamDemic Mon 16-Nov-20 10:55:44

But I like the Gift of Fear too. I also read it because I was being stalked, and it resonated and made me take it more seriously, and although I can see that the domestic violence bits are victim blamey, I still thought they were good - it explained a lot for me about women who don't leave violent or abusive partners and will seemingly allow themselves and their children to be hurt over and over again.

Like all of these things, it helps to read a full range of viewpoints, but also counselling is invaluable as, if you find a good counsellor, it's tailored to you in a way that a book can't be.

TottiePlantagenet Mon 16-Nov-20 10:58:51


Is there a book on the shark cage theory for parents. A kind of how to mend/strengthen your own shark cage and make a strong one for your children?

Thank you for this thread OP, I hadn’t heard of the gift of fear or the shark cage before and I really wish I had!

I see that there will be a new edition of the gift of fear next year, maybe it will address some of the victim blaming pp mentioned. I will wait and buy the new version I think.

Yes, can anyone recommend a parenting book to help guide teens? My DD has unfortunately got herself embroiled with an ace manipulator and we can't persuade her otherwise sad I'm beginning to beat myself up about the "missing bars" of her shark cage.

Thanks @ChickenonaMug for that excellent post.

Antibles Mon 16-Nov-20 11:13:00

I think both are excellent and surely complement one another.

I have personally found the Gift of Fear incredibly helpful. I'm not sure about the victim blaming accusation. It's a while since I read it but de Becker came across to me as incredibly well informed and sympathetic about what women have to put up with.

He does, however, point out quite accurately how society socialises men and women to act in certain ways. For women when it comes to men: being nice, 'letting them down easy'. He does point out, slightly tardily in the chapter as I recall, that they do this because they are afraid of the condemnation and even outright violence they might receive if they reject more explicitly.

Perhaps this isn't the chapter the criticisms are about, but honestly I wouldn't want anyone not to read the Gift of Fear because they think somehow he blames women for the things that happen to them. Anything but. I actually found it incredibly helpful to be told that I was probably socialised to 'be nice' and that it really wasn't helping my cause, especially given that men are socialised to be persistent.

He is absolutely brilliant on how to deal with overly persistent men (stalkers but also in other contexts) and his work on identifying red flags is invaluable.

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