cringe or curl up in fear
cower - flinch
To ‘cower’ is to shrink away or crouch down to hide or protect yourself from a perceived threat. It is considered a humiliating and cowardly way to react to something that frightens you, so the term tends to be used in a derogatory way. As people generally don’t literally hunch down and quiver in response to something fearful, it also tends to be used as an exaggeration for effect.
David is too timid and needs to learn to stand up for himself. You can almost see him cower in fear when his boss rebukes him over something.
The dictator has surrounded himself with a bunch of cowering lackeys so that there is no opposition to his rule.
Don’t pretend you weren’t terrified by that horror movie. You were practically cowering behind the sofa by the end of it!