Tag Archive for Fists

Hostile Body Language

I think she has choice words for you.

I think she has choice words for you.

Hostile body language is similar to sexual body language but only in so much as the gestures are made figuratively to the object with which the action is intended. For examples, hostility can be displayed by pulling or pinching at one’s own ears, cheeks, hair, or face. Figuratively these are actions that the hostile persons wish’s to inflict against their agitator. The gestures are displacement signals meaning they allow for the release of hostile thoughts through peaceful means that avoid (for the time being) direct physical conflict. In evolutionary terms, the gestures serve as overt warnings that a more damaging and dangerous bout might ensue, but offers a last ‘out’ which is the nonverbal display, before things escalate.

We might see foot jabs against the leg of a chair, against the floor or other object. A fist might be repetitively pound against the table with emphasis, or the classic fist to palm punch with some verbally threatening language such as “I’m going to smash your face in.” When something is being pounded, the object is a substitute for the foe’s face and the punch itself is a form of displacement of emotion and energy. The pounding gesture is a more aggressive form of warning more likely to be done by men, whereas women might show less aggressive and more subtle gestures such as biting, sucking or chewing a lip or the inside of the mouth. As conflict approaches the combatants will begin to size each other up by directly facing each other, the fists will be clenched, breathing rate will increase and the chest will puff out to seem larger and more intimidating. Snarls will come from the faces of men whereas women carry have dirty looks to scold their enemies. Other signals include strong and persistent eye contact, glaring through unblinking eyes, turning red in the face and neck, cracking knuckles and overt stretching.

Keep in mind that these signals are obvious and rarely mistaken for other signals and should be heeded for what they are; an early warning system! Ignore them at your peril!

Clenching And Gripping

Fists into a ball is a classic expression of discomfort.  The natural position for the hands is loose and relaxed, so when they ball-up, we know something is creating negative emotions.

Fists into a ball is a classic expression of discomfort. The natural position for the hands is loose and relaxed, so when they ball-up, we know something is creating negative emotions.  A smile, in this case, indicates stress, not happiness.

Clenching and gripping are signals of frustration and restraint. They are very different then the relaxed palm in palm gesture discussed in a previous chapter. A classic gripping posture happens when the hand opposite reaches behind the back and grabs the wrist of the opposite arm. We know it shows frustration because it serves to relieve tension through gripping, an energy displacement mechanism, and serves to show restraint because the hand is gripping the arm in effort to prevent them from striking out against another person.

Gripping, especially intensely, helps us feel more relaxed because the pain releases pleasure hormones and adrenaline. The same could be achieved through more constructive mechanisms like running, exercise, or constructing something useful, but like all forms of body language, the solutions come from an archaic part of the brain through evolution (or accident), so we are not interested in doing constructive work at a time when our minds are dealing with stress. In other words, we just want a quick, immediate fix for the anxiety, and wringing the hands helps sooth and pacifies us without having to leave the area. Most minds deal poorly with stress and can’t function normally without dealing with the source, so the last thing we want to do is leave the area in which the problem has arisen without a solution. Wringing the hands is a gesture that is seen in people the world over. At times the fingers may become interlaced appearing as if in prayer, which might even be the case. Pressure can be so great that the fingers can even blanch as blood flow is impeded.

Extreme anxiety causes the desire to control the pain by inflicting it against ourselves.  It gives back our sense of control over our anxiety.  People who resort to 'cutting' also seek to displace their anxiety and control it.

Extreme anxiety causes the desire to control the pain by inflicting it against ourselves. It gives back our sense of control over our anxiety. People who resort to ‘cutting’ also seek to displace their anxiety and control it.

Pacing is a classic full-blown signal of anxiety, and falls into the same energy displacement category because it gives us something to do and burns extra calories in a trickle to make us feel more relaxed. Clenching and gripping are ways of signaling that a negative thought or emotion is being held back. A more intense hand gripping posture happens when the arm grips higher up near the elbow or upper arm. The higher the grip, the more frustration is present and the more self control is expressing. Clenching and gripping postures occur anytime stress and anger is present, such as waiting to see a doctor or dentist, awaiting bad news, or during conflict.

Another form of clenching that shows emotional restraint happens with the hands in a raised position instead of being hidden behind the back. This form of clenching appears as if the hands are being rung out by each other, as we would a wet article of clothing. Smiling does not negate the gesture either, and even alludes to a greater than normal tension. Smiles when accompanied by wringing, are called “stress smiles” or grimacing. The hands can be held in front of the face, resting on the desk or lap or when standing, in front of the crotch, but once again, the higher the clenching appears the more prevalent and obvious is the tension.

Hand wringing allows us to 'control' our pain and discomfort - it gives us an outlet.

Hand wringing allows us to ‘control’ our pain and discomfort – it gives us an outlet.

The hands and feet are key places to verify anxiety and will be the usual suspects in betraying emotions. They move easily and freely from the rest of the body and can be used to burn energy and release stress anxiety without requiring the body to move large distances. Because they can be moved independent of the body, they also tend to leak information more readily. Therefore, to read anxiety carefully watch for tapping toes or fingers, or feet that move frequently or never seem to find a comfortable position as well as any other repetitive behaviours. Foot movements will show more restraint than hand movements especially if someone is trying to hide their fears from others.

Jaw clenching.

Jaw clenching.

Clenching and gripping can have many other forms as well, including clenching the jaws tight or even talking through the teeth, cracking knuckles, pulling the hair or even plucking it, pinching one’s self, and clenching the fists by turning them into a ball. In my observations of other people, I have noticed some peculiar emotional behaviour that includes the grotesque such as squeezing pimples to plucking nose hairs to more damaging and extreme behaviours such as hitting the head and scratching called “self harm” but can include any other painful and repetitive behaviours serving to sooth emotional stress.

The more astute will notice tension from something so minor that most won’t even notice, and the carrier of which, will have no conscious awareness. That is, sitting in an awkward position, or rather, sitting in a less than fully relaxed position. This cue tells us that they won’t and can’t permit themselves to take on a more relaxed position because they should be doing something else more pressing or useful. Perhaps watching television isn’t of highest priority when one weighs the importance of a report or an essay for school, that the house needs tending to, or family time has been ignored. Notice a fully relaxed position for a person over time, and then note when they aren’t holding it, then you’ll know something isn’t right in their minds! Identify the pattern, call them out on it, and then look like a genious!

Summary – Chapter 9

In this chapter we covered defensive and aggressive body language. We found that double arm hug or arm crossing, partial arm crossing, arm gripping, fists and arm clenching, stiff or curved arms, or even cufflinks can be used to signal defensiveness. We learned that objects are used to shield the insecure by affording fewer angles of attack which is the case when we lean against a wall or bar top, hold a drink near our face or against our chest, or hide behind a podium whilst presenting. We discovered that headphones can be great tools for women who don’t want to be bothered, how pens, books, or newspapers indicate division between people and how conversations can be ended or avoided simply by raising a book. We found that other cues such as head bows, looking up to the side or through the forehead, avoiding eye contact, seeking escape routes with darting eyes, or reduce body size among others, show defensiveness.

On the other hand, we cut through defensiveness to study aggression which can include the in-your-face posture characterized by the hands on hips, feet together at attention, leaning forward with the head and chin up or out and exposed. We also saw that an aggressive person might get red in the face, cross or drop their arms to the side and clench their fists, finger point, become tense overall, clamp their jaw, tighten their lips, frown and lower their eyebrows. We learned that a stare lasting ten seconds or longer invokes anxiety and discomfort in subordinates in the ‘unblinking eyes’, and that overstepping boundaries can lead to conflict.

Cues To Indicate Defense

She protects her mid-section with a fig leaf posture.

She protects her mid-section with a fig leaf posture.

When children get scolded by parents they adopt very specific postures. They will bow their head, avoid eye contact by looking up or to the side, and will hunch over making their bodies seem even smaller. Reducing body size is a mechanism that turns off the aggression emotion in the mind of a potential aggressor. As adults, we will adopt similar postures in addition to covering those areas we feel are most likely to be attacked or are the most vulnerable. Our heads will come back and away if aggression is strong, effectively putting distance between us and our attacker. We may also drop our chins to protect us from a blow that might knock us out cold.

Fear or uncertainty which roughly falls into a defensive strategy was covered previously and happens by crossing one ankle around the other. A variation on this is a clenched fist or tightly gripping the arms of a chair which can indicate aggression and restraint. If we feel that an attack is imminent our bodies may become tense or “wired” in effort to become ready to withstand an attack, or mount a counter attack if necessary. We may also collapse downward to cover our throats if we think a swing is nearing and when an attack commences, we cover our face and cower. If we think we can win or when escape is impossible, we draw our fists up and usually swing randomly. Our knees will also come together to protect our groin and our arms brought inward to the center of our body to protect other vital areas. The eyes might also be flicked from side to side in effort to locate possible escape routes.

Fist And Arms Clenched

Fist clenching can be subtle and show hidden insecurity and hostility.

Fist clenching can be subtle and show hidden insecurity and hostility.

Holding the fists clenched and holding a full arm cross shows hostility, defensiveness and also readiness to attack. It can also be accompanied by a red face, clenched teeth, lowered eyebrows, a forward thrust of the lips or an angry expression. These accompanying signals show that physical aggression is imminent and likely, and ignoring them can be a huge mistake. Part of the reason we have aggression signals at all is to avoid risky physical confrontations. Our minds are hardwired to avoid possibly deadly or damaging situations. The signals are our way to warn others, or be warned by others, that we are nearing our threshold. All people are capable of lashing out with force if provided with the proper stimulus, any mother will agree.

In business and other context were violence is strictly forbidden we see an abbreviation of the hostile cues listed above. Here we see a more subtly form with the fists clenched tightly and the arms folded across the chest, usually while seated. Other times the dominant hand will make a fist with the other hand clasping the wrist. This is a mental way for the person to figuratively ‘hold themselves back.’ When we lack the right to express ourselves to our satisfaction, we hold back our negativity. Social norms and customs prevent us from expressing our true emotions whenever we desire.

Fist clenching happens very naturally and subconsciously; a slip of the hand so to speak. Women can even be seen doing this while being verbally berated by a partner. President Nixon was videotaped intensely balling his fist such that his knuckles turned white during a press conference called to discuss what was supposed to be a temporary incursion into Cambodia. The rest of his body was confident and his voice was smooth, yet his hands gave his restraint and dishonesty away. Of course, holding a tight fist does not necessarily mean they intent to strike out, rather it shows just the opposite – that their minds are dealing with a dilemma, of which social norms prevent physical resolutions. So very rarely are we allowed to fully express our emotions. In fact, one of the most important lessons we learn early in life is self control and this is exactly what happens when the fist is balled, clenched, but resists striking. We learn very early on that it’s not acceptable to throw fits and tantrums so we do the next best thing – we get very close to striking, but stop at the last second.

Whenever you are privy to clenching body language your first inclination should be to diffusing the situation. You might start by slowing down speech or stopping it altogether to allow the situation to simmer rather than continue boiling. You should then use open body language with palm up gestures to show honesty. Next, add submissive postures, head down, shoulders slumped and a reduction in body size. Your goal is to show that you are not interested in confrontation. You might even consider succeeding to their point of view, even just temporarily to allow them to take a saner headspace. In many cases it will be impossible to recover from this position successfully depending on what level of negativity is present. It’s always best to reduce tension early on before it gets out of control.

Introduction – Chapter 9

I think she has choice words for you.

I think she has choice words for you.

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.