Well, to start with, I have to say that I’ve noticed how many times I automatically say “I’m sorry”. But at least I am starting to become aware of the habit that I’ve learned…yes, learned…in my life. Many of us have been taught to be polite and to basically apologize for everything so as not to offend.
But this blog today is about what we unconsciously do that may attract bullies and predators.
What I found most interesting in my research is that dangerous criminals…Ted Bundy being one of them…when asked what stands out to them the most when it comes to picking a target/victim is…the way that they walk.
Predators are experts at body language. They specifically look for that person who shuffles their feet when they walk. And hesitancy. Someone who walks too slowly or to quickly…as if they are in a world of their own and not paying attention to what is around them…or someone who seems ill at ease with being outside in the world and moves like a nervous gazelle. They also look for awkwardness of movement. That is the number one body language cue that tells people that you are vulnerable and will not put up a fight.
Another cue that gives away insecurity is body posture. Do you tend to hunch over like you carry the weight of the world on your shoulders? Do you clutch your pocketbook or knapsack or whatever tightly to yourself? Do you tend to look down at the ground instead of the people and things around you? These too can emit an aura of insecurity.
So can social awkwardness and being a wallflower. Avoiding eye contact can also signal a weakness of confidence.
So, what is recommended besides becoming more aware of how you appear to others? (which in itself is a nightmare to people who tend to be shy or socially phobic)
Well, there are the obvious things like watching your nervous habits. Don’t twist your hair, bite your nails, or tap your fingers.
Also, try to walk briskly but not too fast. Pay attention to your surroundings. Stand up straight. And if you want to sit and look confident, the best way to do that is to stretch your arms out in front of you, put one ankle over your other knee, and place your hands on your legs in front of you in an open style. (obviously not if you are wearing a dress or skirt) If wearing a dress or skirt, it is best to cross your ankles and put your hands on your thighs.
Another thing to consider is how fit you are. With men, the broader the shoulders, the less likely they are to be victimized. No matter who you are, or what shape you are in, if you can lift weights to gain strength in your arms, do it. Take a martial arts class if you can. Join Toastmasters to learn how to speak in front of people. Well, those are suggestions that I read anyway.
My feeling is that some of these things may be out of reach for some people. But like everything else, just become more aware of the need to stretch your confidence. When you learn new skills or take new chances, you can like yourself a bit better. And that can show up unconsciously in the way you move and act.
When I tell some people that I am shy or quiet, I am surprised when they laugh and say “no, you’re not”. But it has taken work on my part.
There are many times in our lives when things change, and we have to go forward even though we are afraid. When I got separated and then divorced, I lost pretty much all of our shared friends. Being co-dependent, I pretty much had a social life with my husband and not so much by myself. But that began to change.
I took classes, worked two jobs, took square-dancing lessons, volunteered at the suicide hotline, joined a bowling league (and I suck at bowling) joined a paranormal group, started inviting people to my house, went to Chi Gong, joined a bookclub, started dating…I just kept doing even when it was uncomfortable. And it helped. But I still work on it all the time.
Joining SNAP opened up my world even more. I flew across the country by myself. Introduced a key speaker. Ran a live support group for those abused as adults, and then got literally dragged into another room to stand at a podium and tell my story to a group of strangers. Oh, also, I drove to and from D.C.
There was a time I would never have thought I could do any of those things by myself. Also, maybe most importantly, I can talk about what happened without feeling ashamed. That took time. And reading. And talking to other people.
But these things are possible. Maybe not without therapy or meds…but possible.
Oh, and the relationships I’ve had? I saw the warning signs, but I didn’t listen to my gut. In my defense, I don’t really know what a normal relationship is, so having someone try to completely change who I was, and withholding things, I felt that there are just things you accept as long as they are a nice person. Until the bar got higher and they decided that withholding sex was the way to go to get me to move in with them. I walked away. Because the bar will always get higher.
Another warning sign I ignored with a nice guy? He never had money to pay for anything. I knew that would never change so I chose to walk away. But not until after I had paid for everything he had wanted to get his daughter for Christmas.
It can be hard to see the warning signs…and even harder to listen to them. But here are some signs that you might want to watch out for to keep yourself out of danger.
If someone rubs their nose when they talk to you, they may not be telling you the truth. Same as if they can’t look you in the eyes or if they don’t use many hand gestures.
Signs that you may be in physical danger include, unwelcome touching of yourself or your stuff, foot stomping, narrowing of the eyes, jutting out of the chin with tightened lips, licking of teeth with or without the mouth open, tense or lowered eyebrows, sneering, looking through you, quick darting glances, clenched hands, hands in the pockets, uneven breathing, dilated pupils, staring at you…and one that was not in the stuff I read but that happened to me with the priest…blocking your exit. It was a threatening gesture that was meant to intimidate.
Other signs to look out for, of course, with a person who appears really nice is. like I mentioned, trying to change who you are or implying that you are not what they want so you need to change, trying to manipulate you or guilt trip you, being dishonest, needing you to cater to someone else in their life, disrespecting your needs…especially if you have stated what you need, being sexually selfish or not respecting your comfort level sexually, using you, trying to get a commitment right away, giving you things or doing things for you with strings attached, monitoring where you are going, accusing you of things, etc.
And I did say “nice person”, didn’t I? Because that too can be confusing. When someone who is nice begins to exhibit questionable behavior, it can be confusing. I tend to make excuses for people. Do you find yourself doing that? Not listening to your gut and telling yourself that what someone is doing is because of this or that and not because the situation is not good for you and you need to walk away?
That can be difficult to do. Because your brain may tell you one thing and your heart may tell you that you are leaving your best friend. The love of your life. Because the nice person and the things they can start to do just don’t add up or make sense. And if you have no solid basis for what healthy looks like…you may doubt yourself.
We will talk more about that next time. Until then, remember not to let fear stop you from stepping out of your comfort zone, but as you step out, listen to your gut for anything that doesn’t seem right. Be patient with yourself because we are all in a continuous state of learning.
Also, if you are victimized, it is not your fault. But we can learn ways to help protect ourselves.