Our body’s response is an important component of an emotional reaction to any event. If you’ve ever been criticized in public and found your face heated and your heart pounding, you’ve experienced your body’s reaction to shame or humiliation.
Sometimes what you’re feeling is clear and consistent with what you’re saying. You might say “welcome” as you greet a guest with a smile.
But at other times, we mask our emotions from the people around us. There are many reasons to hide how you’re feeling. You don’t want to rock the boat with a new supervisor that you feel is too critical or you don’t want to hurt a friends feelings by letting him know a remark was insensitive. Sometimes you simply want to smooth over social situations.
Even when you don’t communicate your feelings verbally, you may still be imparting information with your body. Arms across you chest the next time you approach that new supervisor? Looking down when you speak to your friend? These gestures are all important expressions of an emotion.
Try tuning in to what others are communicating with their bodies and see what kind of information you gain. Notice things like eye contact, motions (trembling hands), rate of speech and posture. How does their verbal communication match their body language?
How about you? Try tuning in to your own body. How do you think others perceive you? Are you slumped over in a meeting? Is that consistent with how you feel? Is it how you want to feel?
Body language communication is a two way street. It projects outward, communicating to others what you’re feeling, but it also has an impact on your internal emotional state. Changing your body and posture can have an impact on how you feel. Sit up in that meeting and you might find yourself more alert and engaged. Uncross your arms and you might find yourself more open to your new supervisor. Take a few deep breaths and you might find yourself less anxious.
The body and your body language is a great resource to tap into, especially if concealing how you feel has become habitual for you. Over time, if you become practiced at hiding your feelings, you may begin to hide them from yourself, as well. You can lose contact with how you actually feel in different situations. People who have experienced abuse often become quite good at masking how they feel. However the consequence can be losing contact with your own emotions.
Here is some common examples of body language and the emotion it is conveying:
Body Language: Eye contact, mutual gaze Emotion: Caring, love, affection
Body Language: Smiling, jumping, talkative, Emotion Joy, excitement, happiness
Body Language: Red flushed face, clenched hands, looking down, withdrawal, teeth clamping, frowning, invading other people’s space, Emotion Anger, dislike, annoyance,
Body Language: Frowning, looking down, slumped posture, low, quiet monotonous voice, Emotion Sadness, hurt, unhappiness
Body Language: Nervous talk, crying, fidgeting, speech errors, shakiness, speechlessness, freezing, Emotion anxiety, nervousness, fear
Body Language: Covering face, hiding, slumping, eyes down, darting eyes, Emotion shame, embarrassment, regret
Photo by Orange42, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.
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Last reviewed: 30 Jan 2011