Do you often feel overwhelmed and self-conscious in the presence of others? Here’s how to not be intimidated
We all feel intimidated by others from time to time. Sometimes, people intimidate us accidentally. At other times, intimidation can be intentional.
With unintentional intimidation, you might feel intimidated by someone you perceive to be confident, smart, and self-assured – they might make you feel shy or self-conscious simply by being themselves.
But in some cases, people might deliberately try to intimidate you. For example, someone might threaten you, either implicitly or explicitly. When someone suggests that they will harm you (emotionally or physically), this can be abusive and a form of bullying.
The feelings that come with being intimidated can be overwhelming. It’s a good idea to pause, take a breath, and figure out what’s going on.
The way you react to feeling intimidated will depend on the type of intimidation you’re feeling.
You might want to ask yourself:
- Is this person trying to intimidate me, or do I simply feel overwhelmed or shy in their presence?
- What actions of theirs are intimidating me?
- How does their presence make me feel?
- Are they implying that they will harm me?
- Are they deliberately trying to make me feel inferior?
Assessing the situation can help you figure out the best way to act. For example, if you’re intimidated by a very confident, blunt person who makes you feel a little shy, you might want to reassure yourself and remember to speak up.
If you’re being intentionally intimidated by someone who is threatening you, you might need to take legal action.
Recall your capabilities
Some people make us feel intimidated because they seem capable and self-assured. We might compare ourselves to them and feel inferior in their presence.
If you feel shy, overwhelmed, or thrown off by them, remind yourself about how capable and skilled you are.
Some examples of what you might say to yourself include:
- My co-worker is super accomplished, and I also have skills and experience.
- My date is super beautiful and interesting, and I am also attractive and fun to talk to.
- This client is a leader in our industry, and I can also bring value and expertise to the table.
You might want to recall compliments that were given to you by people who know you well, such as your family, friends, and co-workers.
State your boundaries
Sometimes people intimidate us because of their sheer presence: confident, self-assured people can make us feel overwhelmed even if they don’t intend to.
But sometimes people intimidate others on purpose. This sort of intimidation might be manipulation or bullying.
There’s no surefire way to deal with bullying. But stating your boundaries upfront, and reiterating them when necessary, lets them know that you’re not okay with whatever it is that they’re doing.
Setting boundaries — and preserving those boundaries — can be tough, and it takes some practice. But ultimately, this is a good way to deal with people who try to intimidate you.
If someone disrespects your boundaries, you don’t have to give them access to your time, presence, or energy.
Removing yourself from the situation can be tough if you have to deal with them — for example, if they’re your boss or neighbor.
If you’d like, you can use phrases such as:
- “As my work agreement states, I finish work at 5pm. I won’t be staying later than that.”
- “I’ve asked you to stop shouting at me. I’m putting down the phone now.”
- “As discussed earlier, we can only do ABC, not XYZ.”
- “I understand you’re angry, but insulting me is not okay. I’d like to pause this discussion and resume it when you’re ready to do so in a civil way.”
Know your rights
When it comes to intentional intimidation, it’s important to know the law. It’s likely that there are laws against threatening and intimidating behavior where you live, but the legal definition of intimidation can vary from one country to the next.
Bullying and abuse are not okay. If someone is deliberately intimidating you, it might be necessary to seek legal counsel.
Sometimes, people intimidate us through no fault of their own. We might be intimidated by people we perceive to be attractive, successful, or confident. When we’re feeling self-conscious, we might feel overwhelmed in the presence of people who seem more self-assured than we do.
In this case, the best thing to do is to work through our own difficulties and insecurities. Ask yourself:
- Why is this person intimidating?
- Do they remind me of my (perceived) shortcomings?
- Am I projecting my insecurities onto them?
In this situation, remember that your insecurities aren’t a reason to be standoffish to them. If you like them, be kind and friendly. Who knows? You might realize that your highly accomplished, “intimidating” co-worker is actually a warm, supportive person who wants to cheer you on.
Intentional intimidation is when someone wants you to feel scared or intimidated by them. In other words, intentional intimidation is a lot like bullying and manipulation.
It can include the suggestion or implication that you or your livelihood will be harmed. The threat can be verbal, physical, or written. If somebody threatens you or suggests that they’ll hurt you, it’s illegal. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, willful intimidation can be a form of abuse.
On the other hand, sometimes people intentionally try to intimidate you, but without actually threatening you. They might try to make you feel inferior by deliberately condescending or mocking you. This intimidation might not always be dangerous and illegal, but it still isn’t okay.
If intimidation happens in the workplace, read up about your rights and your company’s policy on workplace bullying.
According to the American Psychological Association’s Center for Workplace Mental Health, workplace bullying can include:
- intentionally sabotaging or undermining someone’s work
- constant and unwarranted criticism
- cursing at, threatening, and humiliation
- spreading gossip and rumors
- willfully excluding or ignoring someone
Consider speaking to your union rep or HR so that you can find a solution.
Someone with an intimidating personality can make others feel frightened or self-conscious. However, many people who come across as intimidating might not intend to be that way. A person who is blunt and outspoken might intimidate others, but that doesn’t mean they intend to make others feel uncomfortable.
Although some people intentionally intimidate others in order to bully and manipulate them, it’s important to remember that you’re not always responsible for the feelings you inspire in others.
People might feel intimidated by confidence and assertiveness because of their own low self-esteem or insecurities. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be confident and assertive.
Intimidation can be intentional or unintentional in nature. While unintentional intimidation might suggest you need to build up self-esteem, intentional intimidation is not okay.
If someone threatens you or suggests they will hurt you, learn about your rights and reach out if you need assistance. The following resources can be helpful:
- National Domestic Violence Hotline
- National Sexual Assault Hotline
- National Dating Abuse Hotline
- Pathways to Safety International
- National Center for Victims of Crime
- Casa de Esperanza (Spanish-speaking hotline)
- National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center
- Asian and Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence
- The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community
- National LGBTQ Task Force