Feeling Overly Intimidated By Certain Types Of People
Many shy or socially awkward types feel especially uneasy around certain kinds of people. I'll cover some common ones, and give suggestions for how to feel less intimidated by them.
Types of intimidating people
Anyone who's super-outgoing
If someone is intimidated by really outgoing people they're often worried they'll get overwhelmed by their talkativeness and not be able to keep up in the conversation. They might also fear they'll get put on the spot and embarrassed, e.g., that the chatterbox will zero in on them and grill them on why they're being so quiet. Being around someone who's really socially comfortable may also make them judge themselves as inadequate, and they'd rather not stir up those feelings.
Really confident, popular, charismatic people
I think everyone feels a little off-balance when they're around those handful of people who just seem to have everything going for them. They may fear they'll be rejected, or not like the envy that rises up inside. These types may be outgoing as well, which can add in the problems from the point above.
People who you think will make fun of you or judge you
If you know someone is mean-spirited or gossipy of course you're going to be nervous around them. However, you may feel a level of fear that's still out of proportion to the actual threat, i.e., you're extremely anxious while most people would feel a bit guarded and touchy.
Very good looking people
Really attractive people set off a mix of feelings. Sometimes we're nervous around them because we want their validation and approval. We may worry they're going to be cutting and judgmental. Or we might resent them for their appearance.
People in positions of authority
A lot of employees are intimidated by their managers, or students by their teachers or professors. Someone could be nervous around police officers, professionals like doctors and lawyers, religious figures, or employees who have power in a particular establishment, like bouncers or bartenders. Some people feel uncomfortable around their friends' or partner's parents.
People who are really knowledgeable and competent
Intelligent, capable individuals may have status and authority. They can be scary in their own right because you worry you'll do or say something stupid around them, and they'll verbally eviscerate you for it.
Tough or thuggish types
This is sometimes more of a problem for people when they're still in high school, when all kinds of students are mixed together and they may run into the resident Bad Kid. Once someone has moved on to college or the work world they usually have an easier time steering clear of the tough guys. The fear here is that these people are dangerous loose cannons who may kick your ass at any second. Obviously that's not an unreasonable concern, but sometimes we can be overly cautious around people who appear "tough".
People who break the rules or commit minor crimes
This is another issue that comes up more in high school and reflects an attitude of being a bit too innocent and afraid of the world. Sometimes socially inexperienced people who obey the rules and always color between the lines can see anyone who does some minor rebellious acts as being really edgy and unstable. Like they may start getting weak in the knees when they have to talk to someone at their school who drinks under age, occasionally skips classes, and who once tagged a mailbox with a marker.
Members of your own gender
Some men don't feel comfortable hanging out with other guys. They find them to be too macho, aggressive, unpredictable, or mean with their humor. They may feel that way because they got picked on as a kid, or because they never really felt like they fit the conventional male template. Some women feel the same way and see other females as being too catty, girly, backstabbing, or dramatic, among other things.
People you may be wary of because of stereotypes you've taken to heart
Even when we want to see ourselves as liberal, enlightened, open-minded citizens of the world we can sometimes absorb and subtly act on negative stereotypes about certain groups without meaning to. Someone may be nervous around young men from a particular ethnic background because the media often portrays them as criminals. It's not always such a textbook example. For example, at a university someone may feel a little hesitant to try to be friendly to the Chinese international students, because everyone on campus "knows" that they're all cliquish and aloof, and only associate with each other.
We can also believe stereotypes about subcultures, positive or negative. For example, people in fraternities or sororities are often portrayed as shallow douchebags. However, society also sends messages that they're the height of social success, and even if you outwardly dislike them, deep down their judgments about who's worthy or not are correct, and you should seek their approval. It's easy to see how someone could feel nervous around frat guys or sorority girls if they held all those ideas in their head.
Ways to feel less-intimidated around certain types of people
Improve your overall confidence and social skills
This is a general suggestion and not something you can do in a day, but if you can gradually get better at making conversation you may find you don't feel so on edge around really sociable, outgoing types. When you feel more self-assured and socially capable you'll see popular types as closer to your level, as opposed to being up on a pedestal, while you grovel below in your awkward unworthiness.
Get more experience around them
Some people are more intimidating when they're distant, abstract archetypes. When you spend more time with them you see they're regular people, and have flaws, quirks, and insecurities like everyone else. You experience firsthand not everyone from Group X is a mean-spirited jerk.
You may decide you don't have a ton in common with that type of person or want to be closer friends, but you realize they're not all simplistic monsters. If a particular type of person makes you uneasy, and it's not too immediately anxiety-provoking, see if you can find ways to spend a bit of time around them, and then try to just observe them from a place of curiosity, rather than trying to impress them or protect yourself.
Challenge your assumptions about what certain people are like
Some of our fears are based on inaccurate beliefs. If you question your beliefs or get an outside perspective, your view of certain people may shift. For example, you may question assumptions like:
- Everyone who dresses and acts in a certain way is judgmental and snobby (e.g., anyone who looks like a bro or Mean Girl)- Some might be, but others may just like that type of fashion, or go along with it because all their friends are in that subculture.
- Every expert is looking for an excuse to mock anyone who misspeaks - Some of them are understanding that not everyone knows as much as them, and are happy to help people learn about their field.
- Everyone who seems a bit tough or thuggish is ultra-dangerous - It's sensible to be a bit more cautious around someone who gives off those vibes, but they're not all movie henchmen who will beat you up just for talking to them or being in the same nightclub.
- People who break rules are really sketchy - Plenty of otherwise good, nice people often skirt the rules in one way or another. They may speed or park illegally, smoke under age, or buy a fake ID so they can get into bars. Maybe they're a tad daring compared to some people, but they're hardly supreme badasses.
This isn't to say every bit of fear or wariness you have around some people is totally unwarranted. The idea is to look at everything objectively and separate out which beliefs are sensible vs. which ones are a bit off.
Gradually face your fear of being around specific kinds of people
Questioning the beliefs that underlie your intimidation can help, but in the end you may not fully get used to certain types of people until you face your fear of being around them. For example, you may have to practice approaching your manager or professor to ask a question several times before you start to relax around her.
Process the upsetting memories around the types of people who intimidate you
We're often fearful of certain kinds of people because we had bad experiences with them when we were younger. For example, we're afraid of authority figures because our teacher or coach screamed at us in elementary school, or we're wary around big, bro-ish guys because we were picked on by jocks growing up.
Even if we challenge our beliefs or try to face our fears the sense of being vulnerable and intimidated can still somewhat remain. This is because the emotions from the original painful events can get "frozen" in our minds, then called up later by a similar situation. When we're around a jock or our boss or whatnot, a part of our brain is stuck in the past and thinks we're still a helpless kid facing an evil bully or humiliating teacher. It doesn't get that we're an adult now and the context is totally different.
If you process, or work through, the emotions attached to the original painful memories, then they stop affecting your mindset so much. You're able to be around a jock and react to who they are as a person in front of you, and not as an echo from the past.