Sometime last fall, I learned that I scare people — not in a spooky-Halloween way, but in an intimidating and threatening way.
While my husband has long accused me of looking angry while I am writing or of typing angry (I prefer typing with confidence), I waved it off. When he told me that some of his acquaintances were afraid to approach me, I presumed it was an issue on their end, not mine.
I started to get concerned when other kids’ parents smiled at my husband but not me — “because you scare them,” he said. I couldn’t see how.
What finally caused it to sink in was when a coworker told me that some of the other staff were scared to work with me.
I laughed it off publicly — even taking a set of scary selfie photos wearing devil horns — but inwardly I was concerned. I wondered what impact it might have, or might have already had, on my career path. I wondered if it was something I could change, or if it needed to be changed. I even wondered whether I was seen as particularly scary because of my gender.
There is a lot of research to support the theory that because I am outspoken, confident, not afraid to question authority, and also female, I may seem more intimidating — to both genders. However, I think this may only speak to a few people who find me scary and I think there is a bigger picture.
To find that bigger picture, I had to take a critical look at which aspects of my personality or which actions I take were making me scary in others’ eyes.
When I am concentrating, my face falls into something of a scowl or frown; I know this makes me appear unapproachable. On the bus, it’s actually an advantage. Last year a tongue-in-cheek PSA on Funny or Die addressed the issue of “bitchy resting face” and after the clip got two million hits, psychologists and plastic surgeons started to weigh in on the validity of women who seem to look angry, upset, or sad most of the time. Aside from the suggested solution of having “expression surgery” to literally turn my frown upside down, the only other option is to train myself to smile more.
Being outspoken, confident and able to question authority are traits I have built up over the years. I rarely withhold my opinion; I do not offer my thoughts with disrespect but I do expect to be heard. I will also seek answers by asking questions — even when others don’t want to rock the boat. I understand how these can seem intimidating, but I refuse to abandon or change this part of my personality.
There are, however, a few things I can change.
One of my friends confessed that the scariest aspect about me is that I do not suffer fools gladly, and tend toward intellectual snobbery and elitism. I can be judgmental and I have a bad habit of using words as weapons. These are all attitudes I never considered to be intimidating or scary, but I accept that they are. I can and should adjust them as they don’t serve me particularly well in most arenas. While I would never hide or downplay intelligence — nothing annoys me more than playing dumb — I can learn to show more patience and to hold my tongue.
I don’t know if any of these shifts will help the perception that I am scary. It may just take time and with some people I may have missed the boat; one doesn’t usually get a second chance to make a first impression.
“Making Faces” by Cheryl DeWolfe
“Scared” by Capture Queen TM