A more obvious defensive posture is the “stiff arm” which happens by thrusting the arm forward and away from the body with the palm face vertical in a “stop” type signal. Another defensive posture is the “curved arm,” a variation of the stiff arm, where the arm is bent and locked at the elbow and thrust outward facing down or horizontally. As a cluster, the stiff arm and curved arm is accompanied by a step backwards to reclaim stolen space, which is the true intention of the stiff arm. When we say “keeping people at arms length” this is the body language we refer to. The curved arm also creates a closed body position since the arm crosses over the middle of the body. At times, the arm fails to come up any higher than a few inches, or the hand might flip upwards slightly while being held at waist level, however, the message is the same. As the intensity of the approach increases, the hand and arm will rise even further and a person will shift their weight backwards.
Other times, the stiff or curved arm is used to thwart closeness that is not necessarily due to physical threat. Sometimes we keep our arms out just to keep people we don’t like from getting too close. The arms can also indicate how much someone likes or dislikes someone by their proximity to other people. When someone is particularly turned off by someone else they will keep their arms away from them in-so-much as their bodies can maintain enough personal space and don’t need to be thrown in harms way, so to speak, to serve as stiff arms. This is called “arm distancing” – the arms move away from things they disagree with.