Protect and defend>Complacency

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Complacency is the bane of physical security and personal safety. No matter how vigilant we are, as time goes by with no problems occurring, we become complacent and let our guard down. September 11th, 2001 is a prime example. Immediately after the event, people were vigilant and leery of everything out of the ordinary. Now, everyone is carrying on as they did before the attack, relying on the Department of Homeland Security to protect them, and not giving terrorism even a fleeting thought.


After a neighborhood burglary, homeowners will install new locks and security systems and will be on guard every time they enter their houses. However, after a few months, the security system is unused, and caution is forgotten until the next occurrence of a crime.

Life is what happens when you least expect it. People do not get hurt or robbed when they expect it. Bad things occur when you least expect them. Therefore, to be safe, you must expect the worst to happen. You don’t need to be paranoid; you just need to maintain your vigilance, even when it appears nothing is going wrong.

If you train in the martial arts for personal safety and you do not practice self-defense strategies every day, then you are wasting your time. Everyone is cautious when walking through a "bad" neighborhood at night, but most people feel safe when walking through a "good" neighborhood at night. If you are a bad guy, the best time to attack is when the victim feels the safest.

Chronic complacency

Complacency is a natural function of the brain. The brain is designed to automate repetitive behavior. Complacency is not the result of apathy, carelessness, or a flaw in your personality; it’s the way the brain functions. Most of our day-to-day behavior is automated; it happens without conscious or deliberate thought. Have you ever been driving and thinking about the solution to a problem and suddenly find yourself at your destination with no recollection of how you got there? The brain can handle routine actions without conscious guidance. Repetitive tasks become automated to free up our attention for things that are new, unusual, or threatening. If it were not that way, we would become overwhelmed by the simplest of tasks. 

The brain constantly and unconsciously scans the environment for signs of danger. We notice and respond to what is unique, unusual, or threatening. However, repeated exposure to situations, even if they are potentially dangerous, dulls our defense mechanism and our awareness. People are terrified on a roller coaster ride where injury extremely rate but the nonchalantly drive down the highway chatting with friends on the phone while people are dying daily in vehicle accidents. Even people who are repeatedly exposed to dangerous or violent situations, such as police officers and firefighters, become less concerned and cautious about them. 

We become complacent about our personal safety from repeated exposure to threatening situations that do not actually occur. Psychologists call this habituation. Habituation works against us when we are repeatedly exposed to the potential of predatory situations, but nothing happens. Over time, the absence of consequences causes us to become lax about our personal safety.

Cure for complacency

The cure for complacency is a deliberate effort to apply safety strategies in the absence of perceived danger. Remember, the time that you are at greatest risk is when you least expect something bad is about to happen. The key is to form safety habits that you do repeatedly until they override your former unsafe behaviors and become instinctive. Start by doing a risk assessment of your life and lifestyle. When are you most susceptible to violent or predatory situations? Consider prevention situations at home, while commuting, at work, while traveling, and while carrying out your daily activities. Adopt safety tactics that you are comfortable with and deliberately do them consistently, even in the absence of perceived danger, until they become unconscious safety habits.

Complacency is like a chronic illness that you must treat daily to maintain your health. You are never cured of complacency; it requires constant attention to prevent it from adversely affecting your life.


  • LaHaie R. (2002). Protective Strategies. [Online]. Available: [2003, April 10].
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