Chapter 11 – Emotional Body Language

Summary – Chapter 11

This chapter focused on emotional body language. We began by discussing New York style body language called “displacement behaviour.” We saw that displacement behaviours include actions set to preoccupy in order to dehumanize the outside world – especially in more crowded areas. The list of behaviours included nail biting, gum chewing, grooming, tapping the does, head scratching or playing with jewelry, but can also mean looking and acting ‘out of touch’ or closed off.

Next, “fight or flight” was finally shifted to “freeze, flight or fight” finally putting it into the proper order. Following this was clenching behaviour where we found that actions such as gripping the wrist of the opposite hand in behind the back, or wringing the hands out like a wet article of clothing, are forms of restraint. We also hit on nervous hands and how shaking can tell us a lot about what sort of emotions a person is experiencing.

We then moved onto poor self image and the language that tells. Here we found that auto contacts including stroking the beard, rubbing the hands, tugging the ear, massaging the throat, pulling the fingers, rubbing the back of the neck and so forth, are linked to insecurity since they attempt to provide reassurance. We hit on eyebrow lowering and that when they are permanently lowered by the newly incarcerated it signifies easy prey for existing inmates. Interlaced fingers and palm finger stroking, on the other “hand”, were both labeled as emitted by those with negative thoughts. In the section on suckling and mouthing we saw that the mouth and lips provide a target for tactile gratification to provide comfort. Here we saw that anytime the fingers go to the mouth or lips to suckle, that our target is regressing to an infantile stage, and is trying to regain the security they felt as a child.

We found that compressed lips indicate stress, down-turned smile unhappiness, anger or tension, and lip pursing indicates that a thought, usually negative, is being processed. We found that tongues can depict deep concentration or a cheeky attitude, and that sneering signals contempt, disapproval and disrespect the world over. Ear language was covered next and we learned that ear grabbing refers to “hearing no evil” showing disbelief or an attempt to close off communication by blocking the ears. Hostile body language, on the other hand, was found to be more similar to sexual body language, but only in so much as the body language showed through figuratively onto ourselves when we would much rather inflict it onto others. Examples of such hostile body language included pulling or pinching at one’s own ears, cheeks, hair, or face. Next we covered the sequence by which bodies reject and then how they relax.

We discovered that the neck becomes particularly sensitive under pressure and like the cheeks, it becomes red and engorged with blood when we become nervous. Thus when people are under pressure they tend to touch or cover it so as to pacify. Women also tend to cover their “suprasternal notch” when they are experiencing anxiety. We found that people who don’t cross their legs are generally uncomfortable because crossing significantly reduces the ability to act quickly during confrontation and exit. Next we found that the eyes and the body can block unwanted thoughts and images, that blushing indicates emotion and anxiety, and that asymmetry can show when emotions are faked, gravity defying behaviours means people are happy, and that there are six universal facial expressions. We learned that asymmetry is what tells us honest expressions from fake ones. We also discovered that everyone, no matter how extroverted, requires emotional downtime, that timid people will cocoon and that guilty people will turtle. We also found in this chapter that full body hugs, where the chest and hips make contact, shows sexual intimacy, and that light hugs, where the shoulders touch shows friendship. Lastly we covered the “hug-ender cue” or the “tap out” that tells others that the hug has run its full course and one party wishes to submit. We concluded with a list of additional emotional body language.

Additional Emotional Body Language

A whole host of other body language is associated with emotion and fear such as a pale face, dry mouth, damp eyes, avoiding eye contact, trembling, speech errors, voice tremors, varying speech tone, increases in sweating, tension and jerky movements, gasping or holding breath, red face or neck, widening of the eyes or raised eyebrows, grimacing and trying to change the topic. Be aware too, of smiles that are dishonest or faked or stress filled as these can be a dead giveaway which was covered in an earlier chapter. These smiles will be quickly flashed across the face or permanently held under extreme anxiety where only the lips are stretched across the face.

The Types Of Hugs

An intimate hug is obvious be checking the distance between the hips.  The smaller the distance, the more intimacy is present.  When we hug grandma, we might only touch shoulders and lean in!

An intimate hug is obvious by checking the distance between the hips. The smaller the distance, the more intimacy is present. When we hug grandma, we might only touch shoulders by leaning in!

There are two types of hugs and each one indicates a different level of intimacy. The first is called the “full body hug” and is reserved for sexual partners. This type of hug is characterized by full chest to chest and hip to hip contact. Since the bodies are so tightly pressed together, the genitals might also touch incidentally. The second type of huge is the “light social hug”, the main hug for acquaintances and friends, and happens when the shoulders come together as the torso hunches forward, but the hips remain apart.

Hugs have a secondary hidden meaning as well. The longer the hug, the more intimate and affectionate is the relationship. A pat at the end of the hug indicates that one party would like to “submit” from the hug and terminate it. This gesture is similar to the actions wrestlers to do “tap out.” Taps also show feigned or meaningless hugs, or even unwelcome hugs, especially if the tap happens early. Most people think tapping while hugging shows comfort, but sexually romantic partners and close family members do not pat, they embrace deeply and squeeze tight.

The hips, during a hug, also have a very significant hidden meaning. That meaning is conveyed directly through the distance to which they remain separated and that distance tells us a lot about the type of relationship two people have. Hugs that happen between family and friends will have at least six inches between the pelvic regions of each person, whereas hugs from lovers have no, or very little space between the hips. The torsos of lovers also move tightly into each other’s intimate zones enveloping each other. The degree to which hips remain separate, or rear-ends are extended outward, whichever you prefer, and the amount of contact that takes place in the upper chest, tells us what degree of intimacy is present between huggers. Light hugs as we saw, can include only light shoulder contact, and in extreme light hugging, the bodies might not press together at all. The arms and hands might form a closed loop from shoulder to shoulder “around” them, but the chest and shoulders might only seem to move slightly closer, or seem to bob in quickly before moving out, not coming any closer than a foot. The hidden language of hugs can tell us a lot about the relationships around us, even potentially juicy ones like those brewing amongst staff members. A careful eye at the next social affair might uncover some cheeky relationships!

Turtling – It’s When The Head Goes Into It’s Shell

Turtling is a limbic response to confrontation.  The head sinks, shoulders shrug, and the body takes on a smaller form to avoid being seen as a threat.

Turtling is a limbic response to confrontation. The head sinks, shoulders shrug, and the body takes on a smaller form to avoid being seen as a threat.

The posture happens as the head seems to sink inside the shoulders, however, what is really happening is that the shoulders are slowly being raised so the neck disappears taking the head with it. It is as if the head is being swallowed by the shoulders. We see this posture when people are uncomfortable, have low confidence about themselves or a topic, have insecurities, feel weak or powerless, ashamed, or are carrying any other negative emotion. It is usually found when someone is centered out on their poor performance. The origins of the head turtle is to protect it from harm. For example, when people hear a very loud bang, they will quickly pull their heads inward and down, and tuck their chins. However, when it is done out of shame, it happens more slowly and deliberately so as to draw even less attention.

It usually happens when people want to appear less significant so they are ignored rather than called on. In business the head duck will occur when subordinates meet with superiors as they try to stand out less and look less significant or when employees wish to be overlooked during status reports at a boardroom meeting. It might also happen in class when the professor is calling on students who don’t have the answers, or when athletes have to walk back in shame to their dressing rooms after losing an important match.

Cocooning

There are two forms of cocooning, one is mild, the other extreme. Cocooning is a terms used to describe the body language which shows others that we wish not to be bothered. I outlined a method previously that my wife employs while out shopping where she wears a set of headphones to tell others she isn’t interested in socializing. Another form of cocooning happens while in deep concentration, while studying for example, or while working at a cubicle. This posture occurs by placing both elbows on the table and drawing the hands up to the forehead so as to put “the blinders up.” The intention of the blinders is to tell others that we are under stress and are trying to block out the rest of the world so we can deal private matters.

Extreme cocooning on the other hand, is a complete shut down posture where the head collapses onto the thighs while in a seated position. The posture is a form of self hugging as the arms are drawn in and the legs are held together tightly. We see this form of cocooning only rarely as it is due to extreme circumstances such as deaths of close relatives or massive natural disasters where houses and villages are destroyed. The aim of the posture is to completely close off external pressures and internalize what has just happened.

Emotional Downtime

We all check out and spend some time inside our own heads - even while out in public.

We all check out and spend some time inside our own heads – even while out in public.

It might not surprise you to know that everyone needs time alone every once in a while, or even once a day, but what might surprise you is that we actually need time to ourselves minute by minute. All day long we are bombarded with a multitude of people, from our coworkers, to our spouses, friends, to cashiers at stores and those who share our commute with us in the streets. Even with almost seemingly endless social interaction the research shows that every three seconds, on average, we ‘slip away’ to be with our own thoughts and to internalize what is happening around us. This ‘downtime’ allows our brains the time it needs to process, the information that is happening all around us.

We know someone is in downtime by their body language which includes having the head titled away or to the side, shifting the shoulders at an angle, or looking to the right or left for a fraction of a second. The eye patterns in downtime are what psychologists call ‘conjugate lateral eye movements.’ All these cues are tells that the mind has moved into processing mode and is no longer accepting new information. Other cues indicating emotional downtime include pauses in breathing, subtle chewing of the lips, or very brief eye freezes or glazing over.

Knowing about downtime can be used to our advantage so as to give people enough time to take in the new information presented rather than overwhelming them, confusing them and possibly putting them off for good. The simplest way to do this is to watch for downtime cues and then pause or slow speech accordingly. This will give the listener enough time to look away momentarily and process the information. Once we learn about someone, and their character, it will be easy to find their cues to downtime and therefore proceed at a reasonable pace for them specifically.

A second type of downtime is more extended, and happens in the absence of other people. The purpose of this downtime is to escape daily stress and pressure, and to help us recover. The need for downtime is obvious. We become stressed or over-stimulated, our thought process becomes hazy and we can’t think straight. Our faces will also become blank and expressionless, and our eyes will glaze over and be unmoving. Other times we feel under-stimulated and detached from what is going on around us, and feel that we need to get away to re-connect. During this period we begin to withdraw by avoiding eye contact, dropping our heads and shoulders, and switching off our ears. We may zone out in such a significant way that we have trouble even feeling someone if they happen to brush up against us. When downtime like this happens around other people we’re asked to ‘snap out of it’ only to reply with “Sorry, I was zoned out” or “I must have spaced out.” The most respectful thing to do when you notice someone in this state, is to leave them be, instead of interrupting them. Remember that they slipped into downtime for good reason, it’s not just to ignore you! In fact, as we saw, it has much less to do with negative reasons, than personal constructive ones. Downtime serves to relax the minds and set it back onto the right course before getting back to business.

Universal Facial Expressions

As discussed in chapter 2, there are six main facial expressions that are found throughout the world. They are happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, anger and disgust. Each expression involves three independent parts of the face, the forehead and eyebrows, the eyes, eyelids and upper part of the nose called the “root” and the lower part of the face including the lower part of the nose, cheeks, chin and mouth. Here is a breakdown of the six facial expressions:

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Happiness.

Happiness.

Happiness (smile): The gesture is done by slightly raising the lower eyelids, wrinkles appear below them, crow’s feet may form at the edge of the eye. The mouth lengthens as the corners move out and up. Lips may part to show upper teeth and the cheeks rise and bulge narrowing the eyes and creating wrinkles around the nose and mouth.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Sadness.

Sadness.

Sadness: Sadness is controlled mainly by the mouth where it drops at the corners. The inner eyebrows rise producing a triangular shape between the root of the nose and the eyes. The forehead might show wrinkles and the eyes may appear moist with tears.

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Surprise.

Surprise.

Surprise: The eyebrows curve upwards, wrinkles form in the forehead and the whites of the eyes become visible through eye widening. The jaw becomes slack and opens.

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The fear facial expression.

The fear facial expression.

Fear: This expression is sometimes confused with surprise as in much of the world only subtle differences exist. During fear, eyebrows rise and are pulled together, and curve although less than in surprise. Wrinkles appear in the forehead, but do not cross the entire forehead like in the surprised expression. The upper eyelids rise, as in the surprise expression, to expose the white of the eyes and the lower eyelids also rise. The lips may be stretched back and the mouth opened.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Anger

Anger

Anger: In this expression, eyebrows are pulled down and inward and creases form between the eyebrows. The eyes narrow and take on a hard stare. The lips are often tightly clenched and the corners pulled downward. The nose is sometimes flared.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Disgust.

Disgust.

Disgust: This facial expression contains the most meaning in the eyes and the lower face. Here, the lower eyelids rise and lines appear in the skin below them. The cheeks move up, the nose is wrinkled and either the upper lip is raised or both are raised.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Ever thought about why our noses are down-turned rather then some other orientation, such as sideways or facing upward? The answer has nothing to do with preventing rain from falling in! Disgust is a very honest facial expression when it happens because it can happen in microseconds to indicate a particularly distasteful thought. The facial expression is rooted in rejection of spoiled foods which is why a large portion of it involves the nose which is used to detect off-putting scents. To evoke disgust, just imagine the smell or rotting flesh! In real life it instantly causes the nose to snarl and prevents us from stomaching potentially deadly foods.

How Can We Tell If An Emotion Is Faked?

The uneven smile.  This one is a fake!

The uneven smile. This one is a fake!

Being able to tell the difference between real emotions and the body language that follows is a very useful skill in reading people. Being able to detect fake emotions can help us decide who we can trust and who is actually in agreement with us, versus those who are simply faking it. Liars and their body language are covered more extensively later in the book, so it is of no direct concern here. Rather, here we present rules of thumb that help us decide if facial expressions and emotions such as fear, sadness, happiness, shame, guilt and disgust are real and genuine or feigned. Emotional fakery of sadness is used to generate sympathy in order to gain various resources, and fake sadness is used to generate leniency and therefore receive help in the form of favours. Being able to detect real from fake is a useful skill because it gives the body language reader the power to decide what course of action is merited.

So how can we tell if a facial expression is fake versus real? While body language readers can never really know for certain, the face does subconsciously give us some clues that it’s not being honest. For example, a fake emotion is one where there are symmetrical differences between the right and left side of the face. That is, when the left and right side don’t match. A smiling face, where the smile is uneven is a perfect example of a false smile and one that was covered in great detail earlier. The second telltale sign of a fake expression is when it appears and disappears in a jerky, non-fluid manner. This tells us there is doubt and uncertainty. The third cue that an emotion is faked has to do with eye movements and directions. Looking downward and away indicates shame, guilt or disgust, looking down indicates sadness. The final way to detect false emotions is by catching those that seem to be held for too long, or seem over-exaggerated. Expressions that are so big that they are “over-the-top” or seem “out of this world” and don’t flow with context or match timing expectations, meaning they don’t go with what is being said, are more than likely fake.

The fear facial expression.

The fear facial expression.

Sadness.

Sadness.

Other times, emotions are difficult to decipher. For example, when the eyebrows go up, they sometimes indicate fear, but other times they are raised to indicate surprise. Fear is usually shown by showing the whites of the eyes, raising the upper eyelids, raising the inner brow and tightening the eyelid. However it is important to note that raising the inner brow can show sadness, lowering the brow can show anger or mental effort and tightening the eyelid can show anger or disgust.

 

Anger

Anger

Disgust.

Disgust.

Some expressions are only seen very rarely, which is the case with the more extreme expressions making them difficult to study. These facial expressions also happen very quickly, so it’s not always easy to spot them. Usually the expressions are encoded by the viewer in large part to the context in which we find them. For example, jumping out of the bushes and yelling at someone is bound to create a surprised look, but can you decide if a face absent of context shows fear or surprise, what about sadness? It’s not always that easy, but absent of slow motion photography and mind reading, the rules of thumb covered here can make the process simpler and more manageable.

Gravity Defying Body Language

A convenient and accurate way to read someone’s level of happiness is to look for what is called “gravity defying” body language. This is any gestures that makes it seem as if a person is floating on air. We can also call these gestures of exuberance where energy is seemingly in no short supply, being expended just for its own sake. Children will walk excitedly by bouncing up and down on their way to see grandparents or to the town fair, and will sometimes even grab our hands so as to be swung to catch even more air. When we see people with a “Bounce in their step” what we really are seeing is happiness through body language as a person walks on the balls of their feet or when their arms swing confidently at their sides.

When hockey players score a goal, they will immediately throw their hands into the air. The stick is usually thrust upward in concert to defy gravity even more. Alexander Ovetchikin attained part of his fame for his elaborate celebration displays by tossing himself against the hockey rink glass. Bobby Orr’s superman dive after scoring the goal to win the Stanley cup in 1970 is one of the most recognizable images in hockey history. He personified gravity defying body language. Fist pumping is another common, yet much more subdued way to show happiness when we’ve succeeded at something and football has no shortage of exuberant dance moves after scoring a touch-down.

Another gesture that is more commonplace in everyday life happens by when either a toe is raised pointing upward while in a standing position with the weight on the back foot, or the while seated where the toe is facing down, but the heel is upward. Both gestures are gravity defying and signal that good things are happening. While standing, a person might rock back and forth on the balls of the feet or seem to stand taller, more confident and more animated. When people are happy their arms are used more to gesticulate during speech. Gravity defying gestures are rarely faked since they mostly go under the radar and someone in a bad mood usually wouldn’t think of, or be able to hold the gestures for any length of time. Interestingly, those with clinical depression are rarely seen doing these sorts of gestures, instead their shoulders seem to slump and their arms do no more than hang at their sides. Those that are insecure seem to let the weight of life keep them down and pin their arms to their sides.

Blushing – The Colour Of Emotion

We are all familiar with blushing because we’ve all had to deal with it at some point or another. However, most of us don’t understand the reason for it. Blushing is linked to adrenaline and cortisol which are hormones that are released when we get excited, feel pressure or are nervous. Chronic stress in our daily lives also drip these hormones into our blood streams potentially causing long term issues. Adrenaline is released in order to prepare us to either fight or run away; the “fight or fight response”. Adrenaline is tied to an increase in heart rate and breathing. The hormone also diverts blood flow from the digestive system and shunts it to major muscle groups giving them a burst of energy. As a side effect, our blood vessels that deliver blood to our faces dilate, meaning they relax or open, allowing more blood to reach the surface of our face causing them to turn red.

It is unfortunate for some that they have a condition known as “erythrophobia” which is a fear of blushing. Blushing is a reflex controlled unconsciously by our sympathetic nervous system, but in people with this condition the mere fear of blushing causes them to blush, and so they blush much more frequently with minimal stimulus. In all other people, there is a link to our emotions or our environment, we can’t just think about blushing to make it happen, so it becomes much less of an issue in our daily lives.

In most cases then, aside from those who suffer from erythrophobia, we can reliably use blushing to determine someone’s level of stress where the greater the amount of blushing, the greater the stress. For most, a small amount of reddish tint will appear on the cheeks, but before this redness appears we see it in the ears, so be sure to check there first for signs of nervousness or stress. We should be careful though because blushing only tells us that someone has received a dose of adrenaline, it never tells us why. In other words, blushing is just a cue or signal, and in and of itself, has no meaning. Creating meaning is our job.

It might seem counter-intuitive but blushing can be a good thing too and if you can control it by some miracle, you can use it to your advantage. Blushing tells us we are embarrassed so it can signal to others that we deserve some leniency. Blushing has the effect of saying “I’m sorry” without saying it, which may result in a lesser penalty, especially in women and children. If you blush easily, match your body language by using submissive postures and you’ll be more apt to get away with a misdemeanor.

Blushing can also signal that we are attracted to someone, which is obviously more advantageous to women since it makes them appear more submissive, but in men will have the opposite result as they are expected to act more dominant. Blushing, when done by women, essentially does the work for them, making their thoughts known. Men who are aware of the signal and who fancy the blusher, should seize the opportunity.

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