Considerations for Lethal Force Part 3

In Considerations for Lethal Force Part One, we took a look at the capability and mindset requirements for greatly increasing your chances of prevailing in a lethal force self-defense situation.

In Considerations for Lethal Force Part Two, I talked about staying within some guidelines to avoid losing the legal fight. In Part Three, we will look at the social and psychological components, and talk about a few ways to prepare for them as well.

The social cost of violence

First, let’s discuss the social fallout of violence. There are a number of ways that this can affect your life. While I cannot cover them all in a short article, I’d like to get you thinking about including this part of the fight in your preparation.

If you are involved in a lethal fight and your attacker dies as a result of your actions, people will look at you differently. You may lose friends, family members, and co-workers from your circle. You can even lose your job (companies tend to shy away from having someone who has killed a person working in their facilities or representing them to the public).

If you are unlucky enough to have your story picked up by national media or the person you fought against gains some kind of post-mortem support in the public, your life can be utterly ruined. Don’t think it can happen? You obviously haven’t watched the news in the past 5 or so years. Any fight anywhere can become the next national outrage.

Riot in New York City, social cost of violence.
Image Source: National Geographic. Photograph by Amir Hamja.

Your children will deal with problems in school due to having a parent who has killed someone. If you make it on to the news it will be even worse. Your spouse may suffer the same social after-effects in his or her circle of friends and employment.

Being involved in a very public lethal force event will change your life. It can change everything about your social and work life from who talks to you all the way up to where you or your spouse will even work. Having this knowledge beforehand can help you build the narrative better. Help those closest to you understand what your mission truly is, and how you will have to act if you or someone you care about is violently attacked someday.

Refrain from talking about violence loosely and saying things like “I’ll kill the first person who breaks into my house!” and instead articulate the virtues of self-defense in a respectable and more conservative manner. “I don’t want to ever hurt anyone, but if myself
or my family are ever attacked I want to be able to defend myself effectively” is a much better way to say it, and it will ease the acceptance of those closest to you should that ever actually happen. Be a good representative of yourself and of self- defense in general, and things will be much better for you all the way around.

Winning the psychological fight

The last consideration of lethal force I’d like to discuss is the psychological fight. Lethal force is a life-changing event, even if you win. If you truly feared for your life during a fight (which should be the case if you’ve used deadly force) the effects of having faced death will stay with you for a very long time. You can develop new fears, sleep problems and nightmares, and more. But it’s not unavoidable. If we take the time to learn and understand a few important things before that day ever comes, we can improve the outcome dramatically.

The two types of effects I have seen most in post-lethal force survivors are stress-induced fear, and psychological struggles stemming from moral injury.

Stress-induced fear

When you believe you have truly faced death, and you felt the full stress of the event thinking that at any second that fatal blow could come, and you would be laying there dying and there is nothing you could do about it — you will be affected forever.

Being put under the threat of death and having to fight for your life introduces a level of stress to your brain that is powerful enough to change the way you view life itself. It can be incredibly damaging to your well-being. Because of this, we need to include these aspects into our preparation plan for defending ourselves.

I outlined in the first two parts of this series that your training plan should include the development of a clear mission statement and some legal research to clearly understand the laws of your state and area. Now, we add to that the importance of understanding how you truly feel about living and dying.

We begin to look at ways to improve your ability to handle the stress of a high-stakes, life-or-death event. One of the most effective ways is to have instilled true confidence, which is accomplished by having reliable capabilities, an unquestionable mission statement, and sound legal justification for your actions.

That confidence reduces the amount of stress by reducing the number of unknowns. We tend to be overwhelmed by factors that we can’t control or don’t have a good solution for, things that cause uncertainty. Uncertainty is the real enemy of every fighter. The more uncertain you feel about the outcome of the fight, the more stress you will experience and the less confident you will be in your actions. Your plans will begin to crumble.

Let’s take a look at what creates true confidence:


If you have confidence in your capabilities, then you know how to fight. What does it mean to have confidence in your capabilities? You trust in your ability to draw, hold, and shoot a gun accurately under pressure. You know your ability to move and make decisions about how to position yourself in the best way to give yourself the advantage without bringing harm to anyone besides your opponent. You’re confident in your ability to make decisions based on what is happening in real-time. If you have this confidence, you don’t have to worry about this part because you’ve practiced enough to know how to do it, under pressure, and on-demand.

Mission Clarity

If you have confidence in your reasoning for being in the fight, that it is fully in- line with your well-thought-out mission, then you will avoid uncertainty there as well. You will make decisions with confidence because you know why you are there, what you are willing to do, and who you are willing to do it to.

Legal Justification

If you have confidence that you are in the right, and you know what the laws of the state or area you are in are, then you can make decisions with full confidence knowing you are in the right and that you will be able to clearly articulate that afterward. Uncertainty is once again reduced and yet another source of stress is reduced or eliminated.

Of course, this is not a fool-proof way of eliminating the stress of a deadly fight. That would be pretty impossible to guarantee using any technique. However, having these considerations in your training and preparedness plan will definitely not hurt you in any way, and they just may save you from the serious side effects of post-traumatic stress someday.

Violence attacks the mind

How you will be affected by violence always remains to be seen. Everyone processes these events differently. While it is common for most people to be adversely affected in some way, there are a few people who seem to take it much better and experience fewer effects. The problem is that you may think you will be one of those people and find out the hard way that you are not.

Lethal force after-effects can sneak up on you. I have personal experience with some of these effects and have many friends and associates from law enforcement or military combat that also have experienced them.

You can feel completely fine in your conscious mind following a lethal confrontation yet have terrible nightmares in your sleep. Anxieties and fears can attack even the strongest person through their unconscious mind. You may experience vivid dreams where you are killed or maimed in the same way you have participated in. And because you have seen it in real life, the vividness of the nightmares will be very real to you.

Being involved in a lethal force event can also introduce you to the thought of your own mortality and the fragility of your life in a way you never imagined. You may realize how quickly and easily life can be ended, and that will cause fear if even only at a sub-conscious level. This can be very hard to overcome.

This is also where mission clarity can reduce or eliminate psychological repercussions or moral injuries that can result from taking someone’s life. If you are clear in your mission and why you would ever use lethal force, then you will know that essentially you were put into a position where you were left with no other choice. This means it was not your “fault” that this other person decided to do something bad and risk their own life. You did not wake up that day looking for trouble, they did. Rest easier knowing these points well before that day ever comes.

Consider these thoughts…

In this three-part series, I laid out what I consider the most important considerations when preparing for defending yourself with lethal force. These are the basic tenets that I teach in my courses primarily because they come from first-hand experience. Having performance standards, developed and tested capabilities, a confident mindset, and understanding the legal, social, and psychological pitfalls of lethal force are all included in a thorough preparation plan.

If you have purchased or carry a gun for self-defense, you must consider all of these factors if you want to improve your chances of truly winning the fight. The fight is not just physical, it’s also social, legal, and psychological. Include them all in your mission statement, your family plans, and your training, and you will greatly improve your chances of coming out of such an event with you and your family life in one piece.

Varg Freeborn, Part Three of Considerations for Lethal Force. Understand mission, legal issues, and psychological/social fallout so you and your family will come out intact.

Varg Freeborn (@vargfreeborn) is the founder of One Life Defense, Violence Education and Lethal Force Training. He's a fitness coach, lethal force educator, and author of the book Violence of Mind. That's a pretty simple one-line explanation for a pretty complicated man. So, read more about Varg Freeborn here.

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