Lesson 4 of 7 - optimize your relationships

Options for Responding
 to Intimidation

Affirm Your Rights and
Enforce Your Boundaries

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/relate/intimidate.htm

Updated  02-11-2015

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      This is one of a series of lesson-4 articles on how to optimize your relationships. This article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Web site, and the premises underlying it

  • self-improvement Lessons 1-4 here,

  • this sample Bill of Personal Rights;

  • principles of effective assertion; and ...

  • communication options with "difficult" people.

      This brief YouTube video about "difficult people" previews some of what you'll read in this article. The video mentions eight self-improvement lessons here - I've reduced that to seven.

button  The Surface Problem ...

      Intimidation means "to make timid (fearful)." It occurs when one person feels significant anxiety about someone else's aggression ("I'll cause you discomfort!"), stressful conflict, violence, and/or the loss of some prize. Blackmail is a classic form of intimidation. So are religious threats of "eternal damnation" and "burning in a lake of fire."

      Intimidation is usually not an isolated stressor, but one of a web of surface and underlying problems, like aggression, hostility, superiority, egotism, dislike, disrespect, and distrust. It often occurs because the intimidator is (a) psychologically wounded and controlled by a self-centered, insecure false self; and/or s/he (b) doesn't know how to assert and negotiate filling needs respectfully.

      I assume you're reading this because you or someone you care for feel too intimidated by someone  and you seek an effective way of reacting to that. If so, the surface problem is your feeling intimidated (scared), not the other person's threatening behavior.

      How can you raise your self-confidence and stay grounded in the face of intimidation?

button Identify and Reduce the Primary Problems

      Start by sorting out what you can affect and what you can't:

I can affect or change...

I can't...

  • who leads my personality

  • my perception of "the problem"

  • my attitude and behavior toward the other person/s

  • the scope and level of my fears

  • my self esteem and integrity

  • my boundaries (limits)

  • my life priorities and knowledge

  • when and how I respond to intimidation

  • my ability to assert limits and consequences effectively

  • my support network and spirituality

  • my self-blame and any guilts

  • my abilities to grieve past losses and to forgive others

  • (add your own)

  • change the other person's personality, needs, priorities, values, wounds, or spiritual faith

  • change the past or human nature

  • make the other person want to grieve

  • make the other person want to change or heal

  • make the other person hear (understand and agree with) me

  • control how the other person perceives me, my actions, or the past

  • reason logically with the other person

  • change the law


      Note that you can affect more things than you can't. If your reaction is "Yes, but ...", a well-intentioned false self probably rules you. 

      1)  Your first option is to decide whether or not to take responsibility for changing the things you can in order to reduce your fears. For perspective, consider this old Chinese folktale:

Once upon a time, a fierce forest tiger caused a village to live in terror. It ate livestock at will, and even killed several children and adults. The villagers hired a hunter, and trapped the tiger. Respecting life, they built a stout bamboo cage for him in the center of the village. 

      For many years, the tiger slept, and paced endlessly around the cage. The grandchildren of the original villagers finally said - our tiger is old and toothless. We should let him return to his forest to die in peace. They dismantled the cage, and all gathered to see their old friend set free.

      The tiger was bewildered. He looked around at the strange bar-less scene, and at the nearby forest. Then he resumed pacing his measured square, walking the boundaries of the cage that was no longer there. 

      How can you free yourself from your invisible cage of anxiety?


      2)  Envision a life where intimidation doesn't cause you significant anxiety. Retain that vision as an achievable goal, even if you don't know how yet.

      3)  Invest time and effort in self-improvement Lesson 1, with these objectives:

  • use ''parts work'' to identify and meet your personality subselves, including learning which of them is causing your self-doubts and fears (usually one or more Inner Kids, and your Worrier, Magician, Pessimist, Procrastinator, and Catastrophizer).

  • identify which of these subselves distrust your true Self, and work patiently to earn their trust over time - i.e. to free your Self (capital "S") to guide you..

  • see if you have a Peaceful Warrior/Amazon subself who will assert boundaries and consequences effectively for you.

  • identify and change any subselves' toxic beliefs and attitudes that contribute to your intimidation-anxieties.

  • identify any hero/ines or mentors that inspire your courage and self-confidence, including your Higher Power. Practice envisioning them when you assert your needs and boundaries to intimidating people.

  • teach all your subselves effective communication skills, by...

      4) Investing time and effort studying Lesson 2 here. Give special attention to...

  • becoming aware of your communication process - specially R-messages, E-levels, awareness bubbles, and staying focused in the present.

  • clarifying and affirming your Bill of Personal Rights.

  • digging down, respectful assertion, and empathic listening,skills;

  • learning how to identify and overcome your favorite communication blocks, and give special attention to...

  • avoiding lose-lose power struggles, and...

  • learning to empathize with (not approve of) the needs and feelings of the intimidating person, and giving them equal importance to your own. And...

  • role-playing responses like these to build your confidence.

      Notice your thoughts and feelings now. How do these four options compare with your normal responses to intimidation?

      Reading this article will not increase your ability to stay grounded - you'll have to try these options to experience their power. Are you willing to do that now?

button Recap

      This Lesson-4 article defines interpersonal "intimidation," and proposes that it is not the problem - your anxiety is. Then it proposes four practical options toward increasing your self-confidence and ability to assert effective boundaries and consequences with threatening people.

      The options begin with accepting full responsibility for reducing your anxieties and clarifying what you can and cannot control. Then patiently studying and applying Lessons 1 and 2 will help you grow firm and calm in the face of intimidation. There are many other personal and social benefits! 

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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        For more perspective, read about managing hostility.  Otherwise, return to Lesson 4.


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