We might not always know exactly what someone thinks of us, but that’s why we’re surrounded by signs that provide us with clues – given that we can pick up on them. With a little help from the body language of fear, we’re able to discern whether the people we’re surrounded by might be afraid of us.
Although you might not consider yourself a particularly scary person, you might notice that some of the people you work with or hang out with aren’t all that comfortable around you. Advantageous or not, chances are you’re not looking for everyone to be scared of you all the time.
What’s the tea with the body language of fear, anyway? Body language refers to conscious and unconscious nonverbal cues we use to communicate with each other. Mannerisms, gestures, expressions, body movements, and even posture can communicate much more than mere words.
We can control the words that come out of our mouths, but we’re not necessarily able to do the same with our body movements, twitches, and responses. We can say we’re fine, for example, but we can’t stop our eyes from glistening with tears or avoiding eye contact and giving away the truth.
Why does that matter? Well, recognizing these signs and signals might tell you that it’s time to reevaluate things (or maybe not). When you’re looking to become more welcoming to your surroundings, you might want to start keeping an eye on these ten signs that show that someone might be afraid of you.
What is fear?
When you experience an emotional response to someone or something that might be threatening or dangerous, you’re showcasing signs of fear. We all experience some sort of fear on a day-to-day basis, ranging from nervousness about public speaking to nerve-racking phobias.
When talking about fear, we’re typically referring to situation-specific fear, PTSD, and phobias. Situation-specific fears are the most common. They pretty much refer to temporary nervousness you feel when you’re responding to stress, anxiety, or something that makes you slightly uncomfortable.
Situation-specific fear oftentimes resolves itself when the threat is gone. But what happens when someone is afraid of you? Whether that’s a colleague who works under you or a friend’s friend who can’t seem to get comfortable around you, their fear might interfere with their day-to-day life.
Now, during a frightening or stressful situation, people experience the “fight or flight” response. Although we think of fear as an emotional response, physical responses are also involved. At the end of the day, you can always observe the behavior of people around you and figure out whether they’re afraid of you.
10 surefire signs of the body language of fear
1. They avoid eye contact
An obvious sign that someone is afraid of you is a lack of eye contact. You might not even be aware of the fact that they’re trying to avoid your eyes, but there’s a clear disconnect between you and the person who’s afraid of you. They don’t want you to see that they’re terrified of your presence.
Avoiding eye contact can mean many things, but they’re all connected. Maybe they’re embarrassed to look you in the eye. Perhaps they’re talking about something that makes them feel like they’re revealing too much about themselves. Maybe they’re uneasy around you.
2. They turn slightly away from you
When you’re talking to someone you suspect might be afraid of you, chances are they’ll back away from you or turn slightly away from you – every single time. Without saying that they’re trembling when they’re around you, they’re showing you that they’re uncomfortable.
This is a sure body language sign of fear, as they’re trying to assume a position that allows them to run away faster. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re thinking of getting away from you physically, but that’s their body’s response to being close to someone they’re afraid of.
3. They fidget
Fidgeting almost always means that the person you’re talking to might be struggling with anxiety, stress, and overall nervousness around you.
You might notice them bouncing their legs or tapping their fingers, playing with a pen, checking their phone, or doing pretty much anything other than paying attention to you. You might think it’s silly, but people who are afraid aren’t able to maintain eye contact with you or focus on what you’re talking about.
Being around someone you are afraid of or don’t like can be nerve-racking. People typically resort to fidgeting to keep their minds away from overthinking and overanalyzing everything they’re doing, and that’s a tell-tale sign that they’re afraid of you.
4. They speak quietly
Body language extends further than body movements, you know? You’d be surprised at what the tone of someone’s voice can reveal to you about what they’re like, what they’re thinking, or who they’re afraid of. You might notice the person you’re talking to become quieter as the conversation goes on.
Before assuming you’ve bored them to death, think again.
People who suddenly become quiet do so because they’re nervous, intimidated, or afraid. Some become completely silent and refuse to contribute to the conversation. Others either become quiet to avoid embarrassment or high-pitched to cover the fact that they’re freaking out.
5. They stand back
Distance might not always make the heart grow fonder, especially when we’re talking about two people who can’t seem to converse with each other without getting uncomfortable. Whether you’re talking to a colleague, a friend, or a family member, you might notice them putting distance between you.
Maybe they’re pulling away when they’re talking about something. Maybe they’re putting physical obstacles between the two of you to protect themselves – not getting up when you approach them, keeping their bag in front of them all at times, or standing near the exit.
6. They hunch their shoulders
We’d argue that hunching of the shoulders represents one of the most common signs of the body language of fear, nervousness, and anxiety. When someone’s scared, they’re likely to hunch their shoulders in an attempt to make themselves appear smaller and less noticeable.
People who hunch their shoulders when they’re talking to you might avoid eye contact, become tense, change the tone of their voice, and seem like they’re struggling to keep the conversation going. So, hunched shoulders can be a great way for you to figure out whether people are afraid of you.
7. They tremble
Trembling, shivering, shaking – these are all signs that you’re freaking out and probably talking to someone who makes you want to crawl out of your skin.
You tremble when you’re nervous, scared, or even excited because your body sees stress as a sign that you need to stand your ground or escape. You’re pretty much choosing whether you want to fight or flight.
Your muscles tense up and prepare the rest of your body for either of the two actions. Then you typically stop trembling when the adrenaline leaves your body.
When you’re trying to converse with someone who keeps trembling, twitching, and fidgeting, know that they’re likely terrified of talking to you.
8. They sweat
You wouldn’t believe how adrenaline affects your body when you’re scared. You get sweaty when you’re nervous because your body releases hormones related to stress (such as adrenaline and cortisol). Your heart starts pounding, your hormones send a message to the rest of your body, and you start to sweat.
We’d argue that you’ve probably experienced situations where people around you were sweating, trembling, or struggling to speak up. You might not have thought much about that at the time, but now you know that those are tell-tale signs of the body language of fear.
9. They chew on their nails
Do people start chewing their nails whenever you approach them? Do you notice a sudden surge of nail chewers around you? When people are nervous, anxious, or scared, they’re likely to chew their nails to cope with their nerves. Repetitive behavior helps some people handle challenging emotions.
Chewing on their nails can provide a temporary escape, distraction, or a bit of pleasure or relaxation. People chew their nails when they’re understimulated (a.k.a. bored) or overstimulated (a.k.a. scared, excited, or stressed out).
Whatever the case might be, people chewing on their nails when they’re around you seldom means that they’re having fun.
10. They have a dry mouth
Whether they’re reaching for a sip of water all the time, licking their lips, or trying to cough out the giant frog stuck inside their throat, they’re probably terrified to talk to you. When people experience stress, anxiety, or panic attacks, all the fluid from their mouth goes to the rest of their body.
We mentioned beforehand that people sweat when they’re scared, and that’s one of the reasons they might get a dry mouth, too. They’re preparing for their “fight of flight” response to kick in, and they’re struggling to hide it from you. They’re probably freaking out. So, remember to go easy on them.