Some specific fears have plagued me my entire life, even to this day. Walking anywhere in public has brought on unique thoughts and feelings. I could be walking down the road and pass by someone walking the other way. From the moment I notice the person until the moment we pass each other, I am evaluating them and how they interpret me. I remind myself to keep my head held high, back straight, and shoulders back so I appear confident and not like a potential victim. That has become an automatic thought-reaction. In school, when the potential bullies were everywhere, this was a necessity. I realized at some point that if I carried myself with my head down and a hunched over posture, that was a body language indicator I had no confidence. This made me unattractive to girls and a potential target for bullies I passed by. Being that there were many cute girls in school I wanted to attract and many bullies I didn’t, it became an important lesson to learn.
When I carried myself like I was afraid of my own shadow, I would get certain looks from other kids once in a while like they were tempted to trip me, slap me, spit on me, pull my pants down, or do anything to humiliate me in front of others. A couple of times I passed by someone who would fake like he was going to throw a punch at me to see if I would flinch. Unfortunately, I did when it happened to me in junior high and early high school. Sometimes I would notice a pretty girl, smile at her, and say ‘Hey, what’s up?” Sometimes she would return my hello. More often, though, she would ignore me or give me one of those looks that said, “Dream on, loser.” The latter felt like a dagger to the heart. Being that school hallways are crowded between every class, there were ample opportunities for these sorts of things to happen. I also think that giving off the ‘no confidence’ appearance is partially responsible for some of the problems I had with kids in my classes. Of course, my words and other actions also played a large role. The social awkwardness and the acting without thinking thing can lead to problems with teenagers who aren’t very empathic, which is to say most of them.
At some point I discovered my posture was a part of how people saw me and even how I felt. Now, when I passed people in the hallway, especially if they seemed like a threat, I would remind myself to keep my head up, shoulders back, and back straight. When I did this there weren’t any instances of kids faking a punch or the “dream on, loser” looks. It didn’t solve all my problems, but in the hallways it made an improvement when passing strangers. If only that confident look happened naturally and didn’t require a reminder all the time.
Another thought that would enter my mind passing people was who would move out of the other person’s way. I felt that by being the one to move out of the path of the other person I was weak, and the other person moving out of my path made me strong. When both of us moved aside a little, it felt like a friendly encounter. Another factor was how close the other person was before someone made the decision to move. Would one of us move as soon as we saw the other heading directly for us or would we wait until the last moment to move? Whoever moved aside early would be seen as weak, unless the other person didn’t notice them do it. It was like a game of chicken. Whoever moved first was the loser. That’s how I saw it. However, when the other person and I felt especially bold, no one would move aside and we would run into each other’s shoulder. When that happened, it became a matter of whether to say ‘excuse me’, ‘I’m sorry’, ‘look out’, or nothing at all. The reaction determined whether or not it would escalate into a confrontation.
Sometimes, if the other person intentionally bumped into me, they would put more force into it to knock me back a little in hopes of either intimidating me or starting a fight. Whether the collision was intentional or accidental, whoever spoke first and what they said determined who won the standoff in my view. If I was afraid of the other person, I would speak first and say ‘I’m sorry’. If I wasn’t afraid of the other person, I would either say ‘excuse me’ or nothing at all. I never used the ‘look out’ response, especially if it was accidental, because I didn’t want to unnecessarily trigger a fight. A fight never broke out from this for me, but a couple of times it resulted in a few words being exchanged or some dirty looks. After growing up a bit, that became less of a concern when I passed by someone.
Another thing that entered my mind when passing someone was the length of eye contact, where my eyes were looking, and the expression on my face. Too much eye contact might be interpreted as a challenge, particularly to a guy. Looking down might be seen as weak. A smile, frown, or neutral face determined what they thought was on my mind. I worry that my neutral face looks like resting bitch face. I don’t want people to think I’m unfriendly. If I smile, I worry that if it’s not reciprocated, I’ve been rebuffed. If I smile for too long, I worry the other person will think I’m insane. If I smile for too long while making eye contact for too long with a woman, I worry she will think I plan on raping her. I worry she’ll think something is off if I look away too soon after making eye contact. If it’s a guy, I worry looking away too soon after making eye contact will be seen as surrendering and being weak. So with all these thoughts running through my head, what do I do? I try to hold a tiny smile, to avoid displaying resting bitch face. I use a combination of looking off to the side, looking straight ahead, and making eye contact for the proper length of time. See how stressful something so simple as walking by someone can become if you’re thinking like me?