“There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.” – Jane Austen

When you walk into a room where you know you’ll interact with, or be amongst, others whom you find to be intimidating, it’s not always easy to quash your fears and adopt the most appropriate behavior. After all, feeling intimidated is uncomfortable. It is, however, rooted in fear. Whether the intimidation is internal and has to do with your own thought processes, or external, having to do with the actions/behavior of others, you can learn to overcome it.

Prepare yourself ahead of time — so you’re not at a loss when dealing with an intimidating person.

Steeling yourself to be mentally tough can seem like good preparation for an upcoming interaction with someone who intimidates you, yet how do you do that effectively? An article in Inc. offered sound advice for just what to do in such a situation, keying in on several pertinent tips (which I’ve embellished a bit from personal experience):

  • You’re different from the other person. That doesn’t make him/her better than you.
  • Everyone is human, and we all make mistakes. While you may not know those of the intimidator, he/she has them.
  • Mentally go through your own positive attributes, accomplishments, traits and beliefs. You are not inadequate. You have much going for you.
  • Recall people who’ve reinforced your self-confidence in the past, as this can help lower your present stress level and give you the mental resolve to embrace this encounter.
  • Maybe this individual is not portraying who he/she really is at this moment. Perhaps another persona or attitude has taken over. If you get to know the person better, your perception of how intimidating he/she is may change.

How developing a keen mental edge can protect you from intimidation.

Research from the University of Lincoln that was reported in Science Daily on successful Premier League soccer players revealed that they developed their rare mental attributes — not being intimidated by others, dealing with criticism, confronting challenges after repeated failures — early. According to the research, those players who were mentally toughest were also more independent and took greater personal responsibility for their development. In addition, these highly successful young soccer players showed a fierce desire to learn, were strongly trusting of their coach, eagerly followed instructions, and constantly strived to improve.

A salient point about not being intimidated is to never fear making mistakes. Instead, readily accept challenges and challenging (often uncomfortable or difficult) situations, for when you learn to cope with personal limitations and work on overcoming weaknesses while playing to your talents, abilities and strengths, you’ll boost self-confidence in the process.

Countering public humiliation (“teaching by humiliation”) still needs work.

Medical school is extraordinarily difficult, and the environment is rife with instances of “teaching by humiliation.” A study published in Medical School Online used focus groups of medical students undergoing clinical rotation at the University of Washington School of Medicine and identified emergent themes from qualitative analysis of their responses. Students defined “public humiliation” as that which was “negatively, purposefully induced embarrassment.” Risk factors for public humiliation included the teacher’s tone and intent, in addition to the situations occurring publicly to patients and during surgical/medical procedure. The purpose of the study was to investigate and define public humiliation in the setting of medical student mistreatment, which researchers said is an “enduring problem in medical education.”

A 2015 study published in the Medical Journal of Australia sought to obtain a contemporary understanding of the experience of “teaching by humiliation” that Australian medical students underwent. Students reported experiencing or witnessing teaching by humiliation (74 percent and 83 percent, respectively) during adult clinical rotations. They said the behaviors that were humiliating and intimidating were “mostly more subtle than overt and included aggressive and abusive questioning techniques.” Researchers noted that such practices need to be eradicated, given evidence of how detrimental they are to both the students’ ability to learn and their mental health, not to mention dissonance with the formal professionalism curricula.

While most people aren’t necessarily subjected to public humiliation by teachers, those of us who have this kind of experience are keenly aware how much it erodes belief in yourself and your abilities, as well as hampers your desire to continue to seek knowledge. That said, if you do become humiliated by a teacher — or a supervisor, co-worker, family member, neighbor or friend — do your best not to internalize the humiliation. It isn’t you that’s at fault, but the one perpetrating the humiliation. In medical, academic and other rigid, bureaucratic institutions, such outdated behavior often goes unchallenged, even though it urgently needs changing.

5 Key Takeaways

Well-meaning advice on what to do when you’re being humiliated is good to review, although finding the courage to be assertive and put some of it into practice may still be an uphill battle. After all, who hasn’t suffered the bitter sting of rebuke from a person of authority, whether by a parent or teacher or someone else generally held in high esteem? These tips may offer some solace and serve as a go-to guide on how to keep your sanity and your sense of motivation.

  • Stop worrying (or caring) about what others think — and what they say about you to your face. Here, it’s important to acknowledge your own ego, for you’re likely afraid other people will see your flaws and call you out on them. You simply cannot keep this up, because accumulated worry will drag you down, sap your energy and cloud your decision-making.
  • Never give others permission to intimidate you. No one can intimidate you unless you allow it to happen. They may bluster, shout, criticize and complain, even tell you that you’re worthless, but unless you accept this assault, you won’t be intimidated.
  • Eliminate (or drastically curtail) saying “I’m sorry” for everything. You have nothing to apologize for (unless you do, in which case a heartfelt apology is likely enough to get you past the incident, along with a fervent resolve not to repeat the transgression).
  • Remember that you have value – always. This is vitally important for you to keep in mind, for others may not acknowledge your value. As often happens in the case of intimidators, they refuse or fail to recognize your value. You are the one who knows your true value, so hold onto that recognition.
  • When you enter a room where you’ll be in the presence of intimidating others, act like you belong there. It may feel like you’re putting on a show, yet standing tall and striding forth with confidence will help you navigate this awkward and potentially embarrassing situation. By standing tall, you’re also helping yourself breathe, which helps quell butterflies and bolsters self-confidence.
  • You are always enough. In any circumstance or situation, no matter who you interact with, how long or why, there is nothing missing from you as a human being. You are not deficient or stupid or incompetent, no matter what others who seem intent on ill-will may say.
  • Practice being assertive, as this skill will go a long way towards giving you the self-confidence to deal with any situation where you feel intimidated.