Self-defense is often talked about as a physical event. We’re taught to scream, kick, and poke the creep’s eyes out. The truth is that self-defense starts in your mind. And we use it daily, whether we’re aware of it or not.

The best way to survive an attack is to avoid it altogether. So, every time you recognize behavior red flags or steer clear of dark alleys, you’re practicing self-defense. It’s as much mental as it is physical. Maybe even more.

Many of the principles of self-defense can be learned at home through books, videos, and courses. As a writer, books are my go-to for education. Let’s look at the three I recommend to every woman I know.

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"The Gift of Fear"


A book I frequently share with the women in my life: "The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence" by Gavin De Becker. (Photo: Elizabeth Bienas/ 

“The solution to violence in America is the acceptance of reality.” – Gavin DeBecker, “The Gift of Fear”

If I had to choose one book as required reading for all teenage girls and women, it would be “The Gift of Fear.” DeBecker says, “You have the gift of a brilliant internal guardian that stands ready to warn you of hazards and guide you through risky situations.” The central theme is that listening to our sixth sense can make us feel, act – and be – safer when it comes to danger.

In my experience, society teaches girls and women to be polite and keep the peace at all costs. We’re not taught to trust our gut, and according to DeBecker, intuition is the key to safety. He says, “Intuition is always right in at least two important ways: It is always in response to something. It always has your best interest at heart.”

“The Gift of Fear” is a book I’ve read several times over the years and will continue to re-read. Whenever I pick it up again, I learn something more or reinforce my knowledge. The real-life examples are excellent tools for showing what went wrong and learning to avoid the same mistakes yourself. Written in 1997, it’s just as relevant today. In fact, with violent crime on the rise and our way of living more hectic, I’d call it essential reading.

Key Takeaways:

  • Your intuition will always alert you when something isn’t right.
  • Don’t brush off these alerts even though we’re conditioned to ignore them.
  • Real fear and needless worry are not the same.
  • Learning the difference between the two will increase your personal safety.

"When Violence Is the Answer"


Tim Larkin clearly explains self-defense concepts in "When Violence Is the Answer: Learning How to Do What It Takes When Your Life Is at Stake." (Photo: Elizabeth Bienas/

“Anything we can do to be more alert makes us less likely to become a target.” – Tim Larkin, “When Violence is the Answer”

Second on my list is “When Violence Is the Answer,” which focuses on teaching you to identify real threats and survive a life-or-death situation. Don’t let the title turn you off. As women, we don’t typically think about violence the same way as men. It’s harder for us to wrap our minds around the “kill or be killed” mentality and easier to ignore it altogether. And for that reason, this book is on my self-defense must-read list.

This book will challenge how you think about violence and its function in our society. Larkin says, “Ninety-nine times out of 100, the answer will not be violence. It will be avoidance or de-escalation. But that one time when violence is the answer, make no mistake, it will be the only answer.”

Overall, I found “When Violence is the Answer” to be eye-opening. It changed my perspective on violence in many ways. The true stories told are engaging despite the dark nature of the material covered. I believe the lessons here are life-changing, so I’ve added it to my “to re-read” list.

Key Takeaways:

  • Violence is rarely the answer, but when it is, it’s the only answer.
  • Violence is wrongly stigmatized, and ignoring the possibility doesn’t make you immune.
  • It’s ok to use violence to defend your life.
  • We need to start seeing violence as a tool for the good guys, not just criminals.

"Sharp Women"


With "Sharp Women: Embrace Your Intuition, Build Your Situational Awareness, and Live Life Unafraid," author Kelly Sayre brings a needed female voice to the self-defense space. (Photo: Elizabeth Bienas/

“The things in life that make you feel fear are your social mores clashing with new information being received from your environment.”
– Kelly Sayre, “Sharp Women”


And finally, I recommend “Sharp Women,” a guide for learning to use your intuition to live safely and without fear. Sayre points out that self-defense is mainly taught from the physical point of view, ignoring an important aspect. She says, “Your intuition signals are your basic survival instincts trying to communicate with you.”

This book is filled with a wealth of information, including how to rethink societal norms, use situational awareness, and ensure vehicle and travel safety. Sayre gives several real-life examples and breaks down how they could have been avoided. There’s even a chapter on how and when to teach these lessons to children. 

I found “Sharp Women” to be engaging and informative. I appreciated the female perspective, as most self-defense books are written by men. The content is easy to digest and gives actionable steps to implement immediately. As someone who’s read several of these types of books, I found myself learning new things as well as nodding my head in agreement.

Key Takeaways:

  • Women have incredible intuition skills.
  • We’re not taught to use our intuition for personal safety.
  • Intuition is the best self-defense tool and can help you avoid harm.
  • Small daily habits can increase your situational awareness and safety.

Final Thoughts


You can learn a lot about a self-defense mindset from well-written books in the comfort of your home. (Photo: Elizabeth Bienas/

If you’ve ever felt threatened or scared and wish to feel safer, know that you already have everything you need to do so. While I highly recommend self-defense classes, you can get a jumpstart on learning at home. The most crucial self-defense tools are inside you, and with the knowledge contained in these books, you can learn how to use them.

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