“You’re so intimidating.” Really? Are you really?

Has any one ever said to you, “You’re so intimidating?”

Have you ever believed them?

I have heard this line for more than 20 years, and I used to believe it when people of all kinds would tell me this.  

I would worry, feel ashamed, and get small.  I’d stop talking as much, stop sharing my knowledge, my hopes, or desires. I would trip over myself to not laugh too loud or speak with too much strength. I tried to be “nice.” 

Until I got fucking real with myself.

I was not being INTIMIDATING. 

These folks were INTIMIDATED. 

And this is a big difference. Let me break it down for you. 

Brown woman with short hair looking back over her shoulder, smiling. She has snowflake tattoos cascading over her shoulder and down her back.

***

INTIMIDATE (verb): to make timid or fearful: FRIGHTEN, especially to compel or deter by or as if by threats.  Synonyms include bully, browbeat, strong-arm, coerce, constrain, hound, badger, demoralize, bludgeon, pick on. 

from Merriam Webster Dictionary

INTIMIDATING behavior is using your body, voice, status or authority to harm or threaten to harm people, animals, or the planet as a way to CONTROL other people.  

Here are some examples:

  • Intimidating behavior is yelling in someone’s face, screaming, name-calling, casual insults
  • Throwing furniture, punching walls, hitting, squeezing, jolting someone
  • Standing very close to another person and talking down to them, getting in someone’s personal space without consent, using your big size to make other people feel small
  • Dismissing another person’s feelings, experience, rights, or humanity, 
  • Hurting animals through overt violence or neglect
  • Choosing to not remember people’s names, pronouns, or other important identity information
  • Purposely using your body to block the movement of others
  • Purposely using your body to move other people:
    • When men (I know or don’t) put their hands on my waist from behind for whatever reason (moving past me, to get my attention, etc)
  • Raising their voice at me (different from getting loud excitedly)
  • Turning casual disagreements or discussion into arguments with real anger
  • One-upmanship, especially about trivial things, includes choosing to not acknowledge another person’s experience or constantly setting the terms of how everything in a conversation must go. 
  • Infantilizing, patronizing
  • Finding something someone loves and consistently hurting it
  • Lying, Gaslighting, Gossiping
  • Brandishing weapons 
  • Thinking or acting with entitlement to other people’s time, money, energy, affection, attention, or labor
  • Sexual harassment, discussing sexualize content at the office, without consent, to minors
  • Enforcing a meritocracy of human value (a person is worth more if they are smarter, richer, higher authority, more talented)
  • Using institutional power for personal profits or public punishment:
    • laying off 10,000 employees and moving those jobs abroad, pocketing the profits,
    • denying overtime pay when an employee works more than 40 hours per week,
    • requiring Secret Service escort to your golf resort, costing the tax payers 287 years worth of Presidential salary 

*****

So, are you intimidating?  

Do you do any these behaviors that are manipulative, abusive, and harmful?  

If the answer is YES, contact me right now.  Let me help you secure the appropriate therapy, training, and ongoing support to change your mindset and your behavior.  There is NO SHAME in acknowledging and addressing harmful behaviors.  It is important, valuable, and necessary life work that will absolutely change your life. 

But, truthfully, if you are NOT, in fact, engaging in intimidating behavior, let us unpack the other stuff people describe as “intimidating” that means something different.”

I asked a few friends what kinds of traits or behaviors they define as “intimidating.”  Their list included many of the bullet points named above in the harmful category, but they also included some of these below. 

  • Subject-specific knowledge, 
  • Public speaking proficiency, 
  • Declaring their skills, talents, or gifts,
  • Saying what you want or what you know, 
  • Having strong boundaries, 
  • Saying NO without apologizing, explaining, or minimizing, 
  • Naming their sexual desires and pleasures as necessary and integral to life, 
  • Enjoying their sexuality and orgasms,
  • Confronting oppression, standing up for themselves or others vis a vis an authority figure or institution
  • Expressing anger
  • Being loud or boisterous (includes loud laughing, talking, friendly banter)
  • Being tall, conventionally pretty with good teeth, good hair, nice clothes
  • Exceptional talent in music, art, athletics, etc
  • Financial wealth or security, talking frankly about their financial success 
  • Taking big risks
  • Being optimistic through great challenges. 

These actions and traits are not, in and of themselves, harmful to other people.  In fact, most of these behaviors are evidence of a person knowing who they are, what they need or want in life, living in conscious relationship with others, and being proud of their accomplishments.  Many folks consider that #LivingYourBestLife.

If this is you, living you best life, and someone tells you, “You are so intimidating,” what they really mean is, “I feel intimidated.”

But I want to break it down even further because “to feel intimidated,” isn’t even a feeling.  It is an interpretation of and assumption about another person’s intentions or actions.  

What they really mean is, “I am insecure.”

They may also feel anxious, sad, jealous, envious, or ashamed as they notice or interact with you because they are comparing themselves to you.  And most people compare their internal struggling experience with another’s external polished expression.

In doing so, they project their insecurities onto you by telling you, “You are intimidating,” rather than owning their own inner swirl and spin, making you responsible for their discomfort. 

You are not responsible for someone else’s happiness or self-love or self-acceptance or orgasmic pleasure or success in life.  That is their job. 

So, don’t take it on. Don’t take on the “intimidating” label.  

Don’t let their fear, animosity, insecurity, or shame make you fold or hide away your brilliance.  Don’t let this label make you hard to the world, to tenderness, or intimacy. 

In a dating facebook group recently, I saw a post from a man asking, “What’s the most intimidating thing about dating you?”  Dozens of comments from women revealed them owning this label because they are financially independent, have a committed set of priorities that won’t be derailed, spiritual convictions, straightforward communication, and they won’t put up with drama shit from men. 

No men commented to say what made them intimidating.  But men did chime in to say things like, “A lot of women profess to like honesty, but… they’re averse to the truth.” “You’re standards are too high.” “Independent is another way of saying you’re stuck in your ways and just playin.”

Too often, the projection of insecurity is used to denigrate the independence, ambition, confidence, or boundaries of women, femmes, transwomen, non-binary people, or people of color.  And too often, this label has a disproportionate and lethal affect on these folks in the social, professional, or legal regulation of personality or personhood. 

In another piece of writing, I’ll tell you more about some of my own experiences as a strong-willed, independent, emotionally intelligent, stubborn, sexually experimental and self-possessed, queer femme woman in the world who has lots of experience with this projection. 

But for now, what is most important, is that we all do some compassionate self-reflecting, so we can all get fucking real.

  • Do I act in ways that intimidate and harm other people or the planet?
  • Do I listen and take seriously feedback from others who tell me that my behavior is harmful to them?
  • Do I compare myself to other people and project my insecurities onto them?
  • Is what I fear in other people based on comparison and shame or the recognition of a real and true threat to my safety or life?
  • Do I internalize the “intimidating” label, framing my confidence, skill, and accomplishments as something I need to hide or harden in order to be liked or maintain relationships?
  • Do I assume that I’m unloveable because I am “intimidating?”

There is enough room in the world for all of us to be big, bold, daring, brilliant, smart, confident, talented, passionate, independent, and fierce without hurting other people or wilting in someone else’s light.

If you want to experience something different, you have to do something different.

That may mean you have to change your beliefs about yourself, the world, or other people. It may mean that you need to get some help to change your perspective and your behavior.

It may take years of unpacking and unlearning the bad, outdated lessons you internalized in previous years of your life.  It may feel like a big slog and the heaviest lifting of your life.  But I promise.  Your effort will be worth it. 

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