Training to overcome my fear of firearms — a guest post by Armed in Heels

When we hear the word firearm, we all think different things. Some of us may think about the actual metal and polymer structures that make up a tangible item. Others may think of emotions associated with shooting. Those might be exhilaration, empowerment, or fear. If you have read my storyyou know that, for me, the word firearm triggers all of these things at once.  When I hear firearm, I visualize something real, I think of the scientific principles that make it fire, and I feel a combination of contradictory emotions. I think these things because they map onto my experiences.

I am not satisfied with everything my mind activates when I hear the word firearm. I love that it connects to my scientific background. I love that I can feel exhilarated and empowered. But I hate that my mind retrieves fear from my emotional toolbox. If my PhD in education has taught me anything about knowledge, it is that those subconscious connections are not permanent and that they build on other things. I have the power to change them by providing myself with new experiences. This is how I knew that I needed to get additional training. I needed new experiences.

The memebers of our defensive handgun class with Fred Mastison of Force Options.

The members of our defensive handgun class with Fred Mastison of Force Options.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to participate in at two day ladies defensive handgun course hosted by me (Armed in Heels) and taught by Fred Mastison of Force Options. This is what I learned: the instructor makes all the difference.  I was able to have amazing experiences to help me associate firearms with exhilaration and empowerment while breaking and overcoming some associations with fear. Here is what I learned about the process of seeking firearms training. This is the advice I would go back and tell my past self to help fight the fear while getting trained:

  1. Talk to others. Just getting started? Talk to people to find out if they have any recommendations for firearms instructors. Ask them if they would send their daughter or mother to the same trainer and why. My husband had originally trained with Force Options. I remember him coming home from class one day and describing some of the class. He told me that the instructor did not force one approach on his students and that he really took the time to find out what level his students were at so that he could adjust instruction appropriately to maximize learning. What I heard: the instructor is open minded, won’t yell at me if I don’t do it right, and will make sure I’m ready for everything we try. To me, that sounded safe. But I still wanted to find out more before committing.
  2. Meet with the instructor before the class.  I was able to meet Fred at SHOT Show in January at an informal gathering. I was able to talk to him and see him interact with others. What I learned was how kind he was to others even when they had differing opinions. What I took in: the instructor would listen to me if I had questions and really care to help me. I also realized that I would be comfortable in his presence rather than intimidated by his authority. This is a good time to ask what the instructors teaching philosophy is. Fred’s was two-fold. First, he wanted his students to feel empowered and driven to protect themselves. (He would probably say he was training for the warrior mindset – but I encoded it as driven and empowered.)  Second, he would get students to that point by using a crawl-walk-run strategy, meaning skills would start simple and build on each other throughout the course. This philosophy was consistent with the reasons I wanted training, so it seemed like a perfect fit. But I still wanted to find out if he would be able to help me with my emotional challenge.
  3. Tell the instructor your story. There is a tendency to want to hide our weaknesses from others. It seems terrifying to approach an instructor and say something like, “I would love to take your class but first you must know that firearms make me fearful sometimes.” But, for me, this is was incredibly necessary. I needed to know that my instructor would understand that if I was having a hard time it may very well be a result of an emotion rather than a logistical set of procedures. I needed to know that my instructor could acknowledge that some drills might be scarier for me than others and that I might need verbal reminders like “just breathe” or “relax your mind” instead of “focus on your draw” or “let’s speed that one up”. A few months before the course I published my story, and Fred read it. Knowing that he was aware of my full story freed me from guilt or embarrassment when the fear crept in. I knew that he knew why, so I knew that it would be ok. This gave me the strength to be proud of how far I had come rather than be ashamed of where I wasn’t. So tell enough of your story so that it does not make you feel ashamed. A good instructor will want to support you and feel honored to be included in your journey.
  4. Bring a carefully selected buddy to participate, too. When women are stressed about everyday life things they often turn to girlfriends to vent, talk, problem-solve, and get support. We know that they won’t judge us and feel safe being vulnerable. I knew I needed a friend like this with me on the range. I needed someone who understood me and that I trusted completely. I needed someone who could see my emotional warning signs and know exactly what to do. And I also needed someone who I knew I could have a fantastic time with. Britney Starr was my choice. We laughed, shot, joked, shot, danced, shot, sang, shot, cried, shot, made fun of the boys, shot, cheered each other on, shot, took pictures, shot, retook the pictures because we didn’t like the first ones, shot, posted the girl-approved pictures online, shot, complained about our body aches, shot, and did all the other things friends do together. We had a fantastic time.

To read the rest of Jacquelyn’s post, visit Armed in Heels.


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    The Women's Outdoor News, aka The WON, features news, reviews and stories about women who are shooting, hunting, fishing and actively engaging in outdoor adventure. This publication is for women, by women.