Social intimidation is very different from being physically threatened. What I mean by social intimidation is someone spreading rumours about you, slinging mud, trying to convince other people to not like you, and generally acting like a petulant child who isn’t getting their way. I mean, even if you did something horrible to that person, there is a right way (acting with class) and a wrong way (acting like a bully) to deal with that. If you are under a physical threat please contact the proper authorities where you live.
I'm the kind of girl that people either love or hate. There's no in-between about me. If you love me, you love me like crazy, but if you hate me, well, you definitely hate me. It's been this way all my life. I was loved (and returned the love) by my best friends and early boyfriends passionately, but for no good reason I drove some people crazy.* (Which isn't to say that sometimes I don't deserve the hatred, because sometimes, oh yes, I do.)
When you're hated, and I mean really hated, it's easy to feel intimidated by that, not to mention feeling intimidated when someone is talking trash about you all over town. I know that in the past I've done things like change my phone number, drop whole (associated) groups of friends (by the way, you guys, thanks for taking me back), and even change cities because I have felt that my reputation has been irreparably damaged. Through all of these experiences I've learned how to cope with someone who tries to publicly humiliate me, and I'm finally at the point at 33 where I refuse to be intimidated by anyone who thinks they can harm me.
So, if you are in a position where you are being intimidated (once again, of course, I do mean socially here, not in any physically threatening way) and you're not going to take it anymore, I'd like to share what I've learned with you.
Refuse to waste energy on the person who is intimidating you. Regardless of how you really feel, complaining about them to your friends or partner isn't really going to help matters anyway. You need to push them out of your mind–sometimes being a person who meditates comes in really handy in this exercise. When negative thoughts arise, just recognize that they are there, and then move on from them. Expending energy on negative thoughts and emotions isn't good for you. It makes you look tired, it hurts your stomach, and your body doesn't function as well. Push them out of your mind as forcibly as you have to. (Sometimes that's a fun mental image to play with…)
That being said, this is the time to rally your friends and loved ones around you. You don’t have to be constantly telling them how you’ve been wronged by the intimidator, nor do they need every detail of the drama that you feel is consuming your entire life, but it is important to surround yourself with people who love you when you feel you are being attacked. Some of my deepest, most important friendships have blossomed during these times. Just don’t make the time you spend with them all about you and your problems, listen to and love them and it will shore up your heart to wade once again back into the fray.
Be honest. When someone asks you what has happened to cause this ire towards you in someone else, tell them. Lying to cover your own ass is never a good path to take. The whole point of this exercise is to take the high road. If you honestly don’t know why someone dislikes you, that’s fine, but if you know that there has been a slight on your part towards that person (perceived or otherwise), it is your responsibility to own up to it. Don’t allow yourself to take blame for things you didn’t do, and don’t allow blame for things you did do to be blown out of proportion, but own them and be truthful about them. (Really, when it all comes down to it, no slight is worth being dragged publicly through the mud. If you want to play with the big kids you have to be nice to each other. Or get out of the sandbox.)
Speaking of taking the high road, don’t sling mud back. It may be tempting to say, “Yeah, well, maybe she’s lying and telling people I’m a shoplifter, but I know for a fact that she’s drowning in debt and hunting for a sugar daddy,” but that’s not going to make you look good, now is it? I am reminded of something I read in The Fabulous Girl’s Code Red: A Guide to Grace Under Pressure by Kim Izzo and Ceri Marsh, about how a common misconception is that good manners exist to make people feel more comfortable, but in situations like this (or any other potentially awkward social situation), good manners can make the other person very uncomfortable. That’s what we’re going for here. That high road is going to make you look mighty good, and make the other person feel and look very low, small and petty.
Don’t back down. Don’t let that person take away your boldness, your bravery. Still go to social events where they might be. Most of the time (I’d say 95%), that person isn’t going to throw a punch–I mean, they might, but it’s not very likely–and you need to prove that you refuse to be intimidated by someone else’s talk. Walk in, hold your head high, and have a great time. This is the perfect place to exercise the social snub. Not only do you not talk to the other person, they do not exist. Powerful and frightening. Reserved for the very, very bad. I have only had to use it on one person, and that person felt it very strongly.
Continue to live your public life publicly. If you have a blog, keep it as candid and open as it was before. If you use Twitter, keep it open. Be honest with your readership and don’t be afraid to speak your mind in the public spaces you have carved out for yourself. However, do be more guarded in your private life. No one needs to know all your intimate details, regardless of who hates you at the moment. A friend mentioned to me recently that living his public life very openly allows him to have a very private private life. This is something I am trying to live up to.
Most importantly, protect yourself. Learn about the libel and slander laws where you live, and how they apply to your current situation. Which is to say, if some of what another person is saying about you (whether in public, online, or to your friends) gets back to you, know how you can use it to defend yourself. Often a threat of legal action is enough to get even the meanest of bullies to back down.
No one likes to be in these situations. They are uncomfortable at best. But hold your head up high, be calm, look cute, succeed.
*Liz from high school and the little girl from summer camp who pulled my hair come to mind.