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There's nothing wrong with setting your sights high and pursuing your dreams with absolute conviction. There's a fine line, however, between doing that and intimidating everybody around you. You want to avoid the latter at all costs, as it can have a negative influence on your ability to lead well.

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Posted November 12, Reviewed by Davia Sills. Intimidation is a hidden undercurrent in many of our relationships, ranging from subtle and uncertain to clear and abusive. Talking about intimidation is difficult by definition, given the actual and perceived risks associated with saying something, and fixing it is challenging.

This piece is a follow-up to one on how people can be intimidating without realizing it. The fact of the matter is that power plays a critical role in human relations, even though our relationships are grounded in love and mutuality, a desire for equality and fairness, and community and collaboration. How do we balance destructively aggressive and defensively hostile influences with healthy competition and cooperation?

Being told we are intimidating—and more so becoming aware that we actually have been intimidating—can be a bitter pill to swallow. Yet it is essential to understand our own tendencies toward intimidation if we are to refine our relationships with one another, and with ourselves. This takes courage, humility, and self-compassion.

We can try to shame and threaten ourselves, for example, into doing things we think we should be doing, to be who we think we should be, but in doing so we run the risk of creating the need to fight back against our own self- bullying. What happens when someone tells us they find us intimidating? What le another person to tell me I am intimidating? Is it deliberate, calculated, meant to disorient, or meant to help me out in some way—like, or what? Is it off-the-cuff, something in the spur of the moment, more likely to be solely the result of feeling intimidated in my presence?

A blend of motives, possibly? Many people tend Do people find me intimidating communicate defensively, especially when feeling nervous and threatened.

When we are not tracking the influence of intimidation on how we relate, it is likely we will fall into maladaptive patterns. Specifically, intimidation often serves to maintain power dynamics, keeping people in their places in the pecking order and maintaining the structure of society itself, to a ificant extent by suppressing dissent and marginalizing dissenters.

People who are effective intimidators attempt to avoid justice and sometimes they succeed ; sometimes they act solo, and sometimes they band together to protect their own interests.

There are times, however, when we believe the other person is intimidating. More accurately, we feel intimidated, and we either have no idea at all that we feel this way, or we may have only an intellectual understanding, leaving our deeper, more influential feelings and attitudes hidden.

So, when someone finds us intimidating, they may do so because we are intimidating—whether we know it or not. Here are some factors that may be running in the background when we think others are intimidating:. A consequence of unconscious bias — Racial stereotypes, genderinstitutionalized racismsexism, antisemitism, and other forms of bias may motivate others to label a person as intimidating when they are not. For example, Bolino and Turnley conducted workplace research showing that women perceived as intimidating were both seen as less likable and less capable than men perceived as intimidating.

Racism is notorious for the mislabeling of individuals as intimidating for malign purposes and out of distorted beliefs. Those in positions of power may feel insecure about their own value and feel intimidated by assertive employees from marginalized groups, holding stereotypes and feeling irrational fears. When the entire culture is suffused with bias, it is hard to say who is intimidating and who is intimidated—and what is really going on may be exactly the opposite of what we think is happening. When we are taught to see others as a threat, as inferior, as resentful, our unconscious bias can be so deeply conditioned into us that we are hard-pressed to catch even a glimpse of ourselves in the proverbial mirror.

The aftermath of using simplistic defenses — We can project our own intimidation onto others who are not actually intimidating. When people lack the ability to self-reflect with nuance and have not recognized that there may be multiple Do people find me intimidating of oneself operating together and sometimes at odds, seeing other people as intimidating is more likely to be a reflection of their own disavowed character traits.

The result of a history of being repeatedly intimidated — When we have been bullied, neglected, or otherwise victimized, there is a good chance that we will over-read threat in others as a self-protective measure. We trade off being more likely to detect predators for being more likely to think someone may be a threat when they are actually not.

Aside from developmental factors, some people may be predisposed to misinterpret social cues as threats or anger when they actually represent a different emotion, such as nervousness or anxiety. Developing a coherent and integrated sense of oneself and the ability to navigate complex social situations typically does not happen automatically, but is rather the Do people find me intimidating of developmental influences and ongoing work throughout the lifespan.

As a result of unconscious motivations — In my experience, most of the time people Do people find me intimidating maladaptive behaviors out of habit rather than repressed wishes, free from masochism or a need to defeat oneself. Especially as a psychoanalyst —in spite of an interpersonal-relational rather than classical style—I have seen that things often mean more than we know. The bias toward reading meaning into things is overall worth the effort and the resistance to the effortthough it's relatively uncommon when we really do things "unconsciously on purpose.

Telling the wrong person unconsciously the right person that they are intimidating may precipitate a sequence of events, leading to getting put on probation and eventually fired, or hurting Do people find me intimidating feelings of those closest to us and ending up lonely and isolated.

With intimate relationships, it may be that we want to be close to others and enjoy fulfilling relationships, but unconsciously feel even more unworthy than we can acknowledge, possibly fearing and even failing at intimacymore than we consciously want connection. When such powerful, unconscious forces are operating behind the scenes, we may experience others as intimidating, because to do so le to a chain reaction, resulting in the conflicted, consciously unacceptable, yet desired outcome.

There are undoubtedly times when intimidation is clear-cut, and one person is intimidating to another person, who is accurately seeing their actions as intimidating. The effort to intimidate is unambiguous, and it may be impossible not to feel intimidated.

Intimidation may provide sadistic pleasure or serve the function of inducing fear to throw the other person off their game, so when intimidated it makes sense to identify what is going on, manage strong emotional reactions, and approach dealing with the situation thoughtfully in order to secure a better outcome. If and when to out the other person as intimidating is a political choice, with unpredictable outcomes. Under these conditions, a more accurate take on intimidation requires us to resist splitting and over-simplification in general.

In taking on a multifaceted view of personality and motivationwe assume that the one person may be intimidating as well as non-threatening, with different sides that may not be integrated, rather than necessarily manipulative, immoral, or nefarious. Likewise, for the person on the receiving end of perceived intimidation, we would assume that they would both be genuinely intimidated, as well as moved by factors, such as those noted above, to see the other person as intimidating when they are not wholly intimidating.

Sorting through a situation with perceived intimidation which may or may not be present requires that we think about relationships in a more complicated way. The intimidating-intimidated pairing creates a victim-perpetrator dynamic which may be traumatizing.

The intimidating-unintimidated pairing may allow clearer thinking due to lower levels of anxiety and threat. The unintimidating-intimidated pairing le to a mismatch in perception, leading to a variety of possible misadventures ranging from confusion, to false accusation, to avoidable harm, to a chance for rectification and repair.

Tune into any insecurities

The unintimidating-unintimidated pairing seems unremarkable. Efforts to directly confront alleged intimidation can foment system-wide changes, may simply fade away, or may be actively suppressed—depending on whether there is anything to be concerned about, and how it is addressed, if at all. Being silent in the face of possible intimidation is de facto condoning it, risking complicity.

Grant Hilary Brenner, M. About the Author.

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