Things People Do When They’re Secretly Intimidated By You

So you’ve noticed that folks in your circle have been cold or short with you lately. Believe it or not, this could be a telltale sign that they are intimidated by you. Body language gives us several cues about how people around us feel; even in the modern environment, many of us fall back on our animalistic tendencies to show rather than tell. So, if you want confirmation that your suspicions are correct, here are 16 things people do when secretly intimidated by you.

1. They won’t make eye contact.

We are not likely to stare down the things we fear. If someone is intimidated by you, there’s a good chance they won’t make eye contact while speaking or quickly look away when you try to make contact. If they focus in on their phone or diligently turn their attention to something else—pretty much anything to avoid having to meet your eyes—it’s a sign.

2. They won’t get too close.

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Creating space is something we do when we are frightened, and the same behavior can manifest when someone is intimidated. By creating space, we give ourselves protection and more time to react should a threat become hostile. Not to say those who are intimidated by you assume you’ll be flipping over a desk, but they might be worried you will say something or do something that puts them in a vulnerable position. If you find people taking a firm step back when speaking to you or inching away from you on a bench, it’s a pretty reliable sign they’re nervous around you.

3. They fidget.

When we’re in a stressful situation, we fidget, bounce our legs, play with the hem of our clothing, and twirl our hair. These are all ways of letting go of excess anxious energy. So, it’s no surprise that intimidated people will also display these behaviors. If people seem to fidget more than usual when you speak to them or act jumpy and nervous when you’re around, it probably means they’re intimidated by you.

4. They angle themselves away from you.

This is a more subtle cue people show when you intimidate them. When you approach them from the front, they might angle themselves slightly to the left or right to avoid looking you straight on. This is another habit picked up from our animal ancestors. In certain species, such as wolves, it can be a sign of respect; in others, it can protect vital organs or make an escape easier. Either way, this slight angling is a way of saying, “I’m not quite on your level, and that makes me nervous.”

5. They speak quietly or in a high-pitched voice.

Making yourself small is another defense mechanism people might employ to offset an intimidating person. Speaking quietly can make you seem more demure and innocent, appeal to your empathy, and make you less likely to strike. In addition, the pitch of our voice naturally elevates when we are nervous, scared, or intimidated. So if someone is often breathy or squeaky around you in particular, it could be a sign you strike fear into their heart.

6. They’ll avoid physical contact.

This one is 50/50 because sometimes people will avoid physical contact regardless. However, if those who are intimidated by you won’t let you get close or meet your eyes out of fear, imagine what type of fear a touch would inspire. They might brush off something as simple as a handshake for fear of closing that gap. By not opening themselves up to you physically, they avoid having to be vulnerable.

7. They won’t ask you about yourself.

Sure, this could also apply to self-centered people, but it can be relevant to people who are intimidated by you. Keeping encounters brief and casual could help them feel safer around you. They may not want to prolong a conversation or potentially discover new details that will add to their intimidation. In turn, they avoid the oppressive atmosphere even at the cost of seeming callous.

8. They’ll nod excessively.

Nodding is an example of a nonverbal assurance cue. It is often a sign of active listening. It also indicates that the person is invested in what you have to say or wants you to continue. Nodding to someone who intimidates you is a way of flattering and assuring them so that you can gain status with them. Most people will do this an average amount, especially if they’re trying to impress you. However, if you notice them nodding to everything you say, they could be using it as a desperate bid for safety.

9. They won’t challenge your opinion.

Speaking of being agreeable, those who are intimidated by you will be less likely to challenge your authority or raise criticism. They either have a very high opinion of you or an unabashed fear. Either way, it wouldn’t make much sense for them to get on your bad side. This can be frustrating, even when you ask for feedback, people may not give it to you for fear it will put a target on their back.

10. They’ll cross their arms or legs.

As an animal might crawl into its shell or ball up when danger threatens it, so do people. When we are scared, we shield our bodies by crossing our arms and legs. By creating a physical barrier and closing off our vulnerable parts, we feel safer interacting with those we find intimidating. This is a subtle and sometimes misunderstood gesture, but it can be a sign that those around you feel the need to protect themselves.

11. They might stutter or trip over their words.

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Imagine yourself speaking in front of a huge crowd. It might make you feel extremely anxious to the point that you lose your words. The same can be said when you give a presentation to a boss or teacher. When we are scared or intimidated by someone, it’s common to struggle with stuttering or tripping over our words. So, if your classmate or coworker is having difficulty getting their point across, it might be because you’re making them nervous.

12. They might try to exclude you.

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I’m sure most of you could think of reasons you wouldn’t invite your boss to your birthday party. They would cramp the mood, and you would probably feel awkward behaving unprofessionally around them. The same goes for those who might find you intimidating. If they think you will cause issues with them or other people attending, you might be less likely to get invited to events. Being left out can feel unfair because you may not be trying to intimidate others, so take this gesture with a grain of salt.

13. They self-soothe without realizing it.

Self-soothing habits such as running hands through one’s hair or rubbing one’s arms can show up when someone is intimidated by you. People who do this are likely trying to calm themselves down amid a natural panic response. These repetitive motions that develop during childhood can give them a sense of calm, even in a stressful situation. So if you notice these behaviors when you speak to people, it could be because you are very intimidating.

14. They’ll apologize more than they should.

Outdoor portrait of a young African woman.©iStock/LuminaStock

Apologizing is the human equivalent of a dog showing their belly to a dominant dog in their pack. It can be a submission or admission that they are not as strong as you. Sure, apologizing when you make a mistake is a good habit but apologizing for everything can be a sign you feel insecure and are socially submitting to the person you’re talking to. If you find people apologizing to you frequently, especially when they’re not your subordinates, you can surmise they’re doing it to appease you.

15. They raise their eyebrows.

Raising our eyebrows is a natural reaction to shock, surprise, and fear. If you read a person’s face when you approach them, you get a good idea of their feelings about the encounter. If they have raised their eyebrows, there’s a good chance that your approaching them is a surprise. Once you get to talking to them, this often subsides. However, if they keep doing it, it can be a sign that you’re scaring them with your presence or you’re putting them on edge.

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