Understanding what’s really happening when a woman feels ‘creeped out’ will help you understand what you can — and can’t — do to remedy the situation.

Lots of articles talk about basic social skills intended to help guys avoid being ‘creepy’. Feel free to check them out, but be cautious: creepy isn’t a mechanical readout. It would be easy to avoid if ‘one lecherous sneer + two awkward silences = creepy’… but unfortunately, in real life, it’s not so simple. There is some great advice out there about how to respect others’ boundaries, and present yourself in a way that avoids many people’s triggers, to prevent people seeing you as creepy in the future. (My advice: don’t block a woman’s path, as she’s walking down the street, while smiling at her the way that you would smile at a chipmunk before dropping a rock on it. Yes, this really happened to me.)

But what do you do when someone thinks you’re creepy now?

Experiencing a situation or person as creepy is a subjective human experience of unease and even danger, on one side, and unease and even shame on the other. It can seem nebulous, irrational and very unfair. You’ve followed the advice, you’ve done your best, and still — this person somehow feels creeped out. What do you do?

Let’s get alchemical on this shit.

Alchemy: Turning Shit Into Gold

When alchemical texts were first rediscovered in the West, they were taken literally, and a lot of time was lost trying to turn base metals into gold. But as globalization brought knowledge of the spiritual and energetic components of the human body back into Western consciousness, it’s become obvious that alchemy isn’t literal. It’s actually metaphorical, just like so much ancient knowledge: it describes the transmutation of our base experience of life into the ‘gold’ of spiritual energy. It’s a way of understanding how everything in life is energy, and how to use that to create a better life.

How does this relate to creepiness?

Creepiness Isn’t An Identity. It’s Not an Objective Quality. It’s an Energetic Exchange.

Creepiness is about energy too! This is the key, the thing that’s missing from so much advice about how to avoid being creepy. No one is objectively creepy. Believing that creepy is just part of someone’s identity is why being labeled as ‘creepy’ is so profoundly hurtful; why so much of the advice about how to avoid being creepy contradicts itself; and why even if you were the single most non-threatening person in the world, someone may still find you creepy. Even someone you really like and were having a great social interaction with only moments before.

Creepy isn’t something that you are or aren’t. It’s an energetic exchange that leads to a fleeting impression. Creepy isn’t even something you do. Understanding this will give you the tools to identify, understand and disarm ‘creepy situations’; and empower you to avoid fearing The Creep(y situations).

It’s Not Fair—Cavalier Use of the Word ‘Creepy’

You may witness a person calling someone creepy without ‘any rational reason’. When pushed, the creeped-out may try to vaguely label the creepiness by attributing it to some little detail of the alleged-creeper’s appearance or behavior.

“It was his hat,” she might say, or “His moustache was just… creepy.”

How unfair is that?!

I can already hear many of you out there in reader land (“the land away from the computer”, a mythical place I have only heard of in fantastic tales), saying:

“A-HA! See?! That’s not a logical reason, that’s just an absurdly subjective judgement. Just because he’s wearing a hat or has a droopy moustache, or is carrying a machete! That’s no reason to arbitrarily label him as creepy!” (Just joking on that last one, about the machete.)

The main objection is basically:

“You are labeling him as a creep despite not being able to prove that he is objectively creepy, which is patently unfair! Your opinion is therefore invalid! Either you suck or creepy isn’t actually a big deal, or both!”

Here’s the thing: Creepy is arbitrary. It is irrational. And that’s OK. That doesn’t diminish it’s importance or validity. It doesn’t mean that it’s insincere and being used as a weapon against you. Understanding this is empowering yourself to un-creepify any creepy situation, and protect yourself from feeling ashamed or guilty as a result. Because once you understand this, you’ll realize that there are simply people out there who will see what you do in a poor light — because of them, not because of you. And there are people who will see the opposite: who will find your nervousness endearing and your fedora sassy as f*ck.

Humans don’t react to everything based on reason and rationality alone, and that’s where energy fits into the interaction:

The creeped-out was not creeped out by any basic detail, not by a hat or glasses or moustache or anything else. The creeped-out was creeped out by this person’s energy. That may manifest as scary body language, like the example of the guy who cut me off while I was walking, but it doesn’t always. In our culture, intuition and emotive understand are vilified as unimportant, inconsistent, unreliable. But many women were raised without having their intuitive/emotional understanding dismissed in the same way that many men were raised in our culture.

Therefore, women are more likely to be aware of, and trust their gut feelings. Often, doing so can protect them from real, dangerous, sometimes life-or-death situations. It doesn’t mean women want you to be creepy or are on the lookout for it. It means they are trying to be safe in a world that tells them they aren’t, and are using their intuition as a tool towards that goal.

Before everyone goes all “BUT SCIENCE” on this, there is growing scientific evidence and acceptance of intuitive veracity. The reductionist mechanistic worldview, which regards human emotions as a PROCESSING ERROR, EEP EEP OOP, is oversimplistic and false. Just because science can’t yet completely explain how a person might know in their gut that another person might be dangerous to them, doesn’t mean that it isn’t an important, valid part of human experience. She may be reacting to a situation that happened a long time ago, that you’ve inadvertently reminded her of. She may feel unsafe because of the song coming out of that restaurant. That doesn’t make her experience any less real to her. It does mean that it has less to do with you than you might think.

The fact is that everyone has emotions—everyone has powerful emotions—and in the case of creepiness, the main emotion at play is fear.

But I’m Not Scary

No one wants to be labeled as frightening.

You know whether you’re a good guy, a safe guy, or a dangerous guy. If you’re honest with yourself, you know whether people have any reason to be afraid of you, and for 99% of you (or more), the answer is a resounding no: there is no reason for anyone to fear you, at all (except for the fear we all have of having our hearts broken by another, but that’s a different story entirely). The vast majority of men aren’t just safe to be around, but in my experience actually make life safer for the women around them.

(I love men. Can you tell? If you want to learn more about this, check out my page about Happy Men and Healthy Masculinity. And if you know a woman who is interested in learning how to improve her relationships with men, I’m putting together a lot of resources about The Power of Feminine Energy for just said purpose).

So why does it hurt so much to hear that someone thinks you’re scary? Why, despite knowing in your head that you’re safe to be around, do you feel a pang of fear or shame in your heart or gut… fear that maybe you are dangerous?

That’s because most men in our society have internalized some of women’s fear of them, some of the (incorrect!) beliefs our culture has about men being dangerous. Personally, I believe this fear to be massively unfounded, and I think the majority of men reading this would agree with me. Nevertheless, most men in our society have vicious internal dialogue, beliefs that cause profound shame in and around their manhood.

Similarly, most women in our society have been taught to be terrified of men. Many women have had very traumatic experiences with men, which compounds that fear and creates a nexus of trauma, fear, and avoidance, which is terribly painful for the woman to experience.

Often, when a woman feels ‘creeped out’, she’s actually triggered: reminded, by some detail or energetic quality of the person that’s creeping her out, of a time when she felt that she was not safe… and thus feeling very unsafe in the present. As someone recovering from PTSD myself, I can tell you that no amount of rational internal dialogue can override the abject fear that comes from being triggered. It’s like being under the influence of a powerful, terrible drug.

All of this to say that, often, being labeled as ‘creepy’ has nothing to do with you. And, often, the shame that results has less to do with having been labeled as creepy, and more to do with the shame and fear that this label triggers within you.

Many men are taught to be afraid of themselves: afraid that they are dangerous. Even well-meaning attempts to reduce sexual violence by teaching consent to men implies that without such teaching, men will rape. Combine this cultural atmosphere with the yang energy of manhood: sometimes-barely-controllable urges, dirty and violent thoughts, dark desires… welcome to Testosterone Country! These things don’t mean that you’re dangerous, even if that fear feels very real. But most men have internalized terrible shame around, well, being men.

Changing the Situation

Here’s the catch: just like alchemy can’t really turn lead into gold, there is no magical way to change how another person feels about you… especially if they’re reacting to deep emotional traumas that have nothing to do with you.

What you can change is the shame and fear that you feel within yourself, and how you react when people throw the C-Word around. (I mean creepy.)

First, whenever someone calls someone else creepy or acts in a creeped out way that really bothers you, stay with your feelings. Witness them the way you would watch a movie or a listen to music: trying to follow, to understand, to empathize… not to change, control, or explain away. Emotions need to be felt in order to be released. Watch the thoughts that come up when the Creepy Trigger is pulled; this will lead you to any unresolved shame or fear around your identity as a man, so that you can resolve it once and for all, and feel good about yourself. You deserve it 🙂

Second, empathize with the person who is feeling creeped out. Try and remember that they are experiencing real fear, which they did not choose, and which is not pleasant. They’re not doing it on purpose, and if they could choose to feel otherwise, they would. As hard as it may be, try to remember that this is a person who is suffering. That alone will change the energy you’re projecting.

You can’t control how another person views you, or reacts to you and your energy. You can choose to love yourself, care for yourself, and be gentle with yourself when the hurts of the world arise. Doing so is transformative, and enables you to start sending out a very different message.

So the next time you get the sense that someone thinks you’re creepy, be kind to yourself. It’s really an opportunity to turn a shitty situation into gold.

And you deserve that.

From the heart,
Kathryn

Originally appeared on Kathryn Hogan.ca