Beta Wolf Behavior

Posted at 8:24 PM, FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2009

I was talking to Kate Bornstein the other day (yup, that Kate Bornstein. Yeah, I know, that’s kinda the coolest thing I’ve ever been able to say). She mentioned something she called “beta wolf behavior” — a survival mechanism, a way to protect oneself in a hostile environment. Essentially, beta wolf behavior is making oneself really vulnerable and inoffensive, like a really cute puppy, rolling around on its back and exposing its belly — “I’m vulnerable; I’m showing you my throat, and you could kill me, but you don’t want to because I’m just so dang cute! You don’t want to hurt me because I’m just so cute and adorable.”

In other words, beta wolf behavior is how I’ve lived pretty much my entire life. Particularly in school, especially when I feel threatened or vulnerable or insecure — I try to be as absolutely non-threatening and likable as possible. In high school, I had such a fear of people disliking me and being mad at me, so I carefully cultivated a really cute, girly, happy persona that people wouldn’t object to. It was an unconscious move; it wasn’t as though I made a calculated decision to make people like me so that they wouldn’t hate me.

In a way, it was really easy. I’m short, really short; I’ve always been small and had a big smile (for real, my smile has been referred to as a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day). Being a small, smiley, Asian girl pretty much equals “cute.” I’ve just gotten used to smiling a lot and being agreeable. People don’t tend to take me seriously (little girls are dismissed easily), but that made it easier to get by.

And then in high school, it got even easier. I was in theatre, and I loved my theatre group. I adored my director and tech director; I adored the older theatre kids; I adored our community; I adored our shows. It just made me happy. Very, very happy. Bouncing around, smiling, hugging everyone constantly —  it came naturally because I was genuinely happy to see them. And then, somehow, it just . . . continued. If I felt nervous around people, I’d just smile a lot and not say much.

Beta wolf behavior. It’s served me well, in the sense that I didn’t go through a lot of the hard stuff that a lot of other people went through in high school. High school girls can be pretty cruel to those who are different/other/opinionated, and I avoided a lot of that by being as not-different as possible. I got by.

But now, I’m done with that. I’m trying so hard to break free of that, to not just smile and hope to get by. I’m trying to make waves, to stand up for what I believe in, to not worry so damn much about having people like me.

I’m getting too old to do the whole “little girl” thing anyway. And I don’t want people to dismiss me as a girl, so, clearly, I need to move on. I need to figure out how to simply be myself and deal with people disliking me. In a way, it’s just relearning how to move and act and be. Mentally, I want to just not care what other people think of me, but then I’ll get into a situation where I don’t know what to do, and I just fall back into bad habits.

One response to “Beta Wolf Behavior

  1. I was told by my therapist that I have a tendency to smile even when Im very upset or hurt or angry. They suggested that this probably didn’t help in my communicating my feelings to others, because people would get the wrong message and think that everything was fine. I think its a valid point and I have tried to stop. But its not easy. On the other hand, I never was able to fit in as well as you and I do recall thinking how much easier (so it seemed to me) you were able to get along with people around you. Of course, the cross-cultural thing also was a factor. But yeah, I dont think that Beta Wolf behavior is always a bad thing, but it should be conscious and intentional, and not something that someone just automatically does. We all need to know how to stand up for ourselves and when to do so.

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