The expert will tell them who it is, they think, but actually they will tell me. It's true I have experience with thousands of cases, but they have the experience with this one. Inside them, perhaps trapped where I can help find it, is all the information needed to make an accurate evaluation. At some point in our discussion of possible suspects, the woman will invariably say something like this: "You know, there is one other person, and I don't have any concrete reasons for thinking it's him. I just have this feeling, and I hate to even suggest it, but..." And right there I could send them home and send my bill, because that is who it will be. We will follow my client's intuition until I have "solved the mystery." I'll be much praised for my skill, but most often, I just listen and give them permission to listen to themselves. Early on in these meetings, I say, "No theory is too remote to explore, no person is beyond consideration, no gut feeling is too unsubstantiated." (In fact, as you are about to find out, every intuition is firmly substantiated.) When clients ask, "Do the people who make these threats ever do such-and-such?" I say, "Yes, sometimes they do," and this is permission to explore some theory.

When interviewing victims of anonymous threats, I don't ask, "Who do you think sent you these threats?" because most victims can't imagine that anyone they know sent the threats. I ask instead, "Who could have sent them?" and together we make a list of everyone who had the ability, without regard to motive. Then I ask clients to assign a motive, even a ridiculous one, to each person on the list. It is a creative process that puts them under no pressure to be correct. For this very reason, in almost every case, one of their imaginative theories will be correct.

Quite often, my greatest contribution to solving the mystery is my refusal to call it a mystery. Rather, it is a puzzle, one in which there are enough pieces available to reveal what the image is. I have seen these pieces so often that I may recognize them sooner than some people, but my main job is just to get them on the table.

As we explore the pieces of the human violence puzzle, I'll show you their shapes and their colors. Given your own lifelong study of human behavior—and your own humanness—you'll see that the pieces are already familiar to you. Above all, I hope to leave you knowing that every puzzle can be solved long before all the pieces are in place.

Gavin de Becker's survival signals


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