In this chapter we will cover defensive and aggressive body language. By examining them together we can link them in our minds, yet keep them distinctive since they are near opposites. We use defensive body language to figuratively protect ourselves against aggression, which isn’t always physical either. In fact, the vast majority of the body language we will see, and appropriately label defensive, is that which stems from emotional roots. After all, our evolution selected defensive body language came about under primarily physical circumstances. Being yelled at, or scolded by a superior or rival, is similar in a visceral sense to physical abuse. Any emotionally abused victim will tell you that the suffering they experienced, is equally, if not more sever than that experienced by those physically abused. In most cases threats in our daily lives come in much milder forms, such as high pressure sales, a heated discussion, or a disagreement.
Defensive body language is a set of postures that make the body feel protected, secure and comfortable in awkward situations. Defensive body language is also similar to submissive body language in that the postures are aimed at protecting vulnerable parts of our bodies, or in size reduction turning our bodies into smaller targets.
Aggressive body language is nearly the mirror opposite. Here the body prepares for a real or figurative attack as it becomes loose or tenses up and tries to appear larger and more threatening. Aggressive body language can happen by clenching the fists, finger pointing or flared nostrils more technically termed “nasal wing dilation”, and much more as we will see. Aggressive body language is simple to read and classify because we instinctively find them to be a salient part of our lives. In fact, it is hard to go through life without properly identifying aggressive body language. By missing cues to aggression, even just once, it leads to disastrous conclusions which we naturally learn in short order how to avoid. Defensive body language, on the other hand, because it is less of a threat, can easily be mistaken for regular actions in a persons repertoire and be ignored. This is why we cover defensive body language in much greater detail.
This chapter will cover defensive body language such as the double arm hug, partial arm cross, arm gripping, fist clenching, the use of “security blankets” for comfort, using stiff arms, how barriers are used to reduce angles of attack, how barriers like books and headphones can be used to our advantage, in addition to others. We will then cover aggressive body language and signals of aggression such as the unblinking eyes and personal space invaders.