Abuse Through Body Language

What's the most ancient form of communication, still existing in full force in the animal world? You got it--body language. Oh, those rolling eyeballs that speak volumes! The nasty piece about body language is that people "read" it unconsciously and only register it as weird when the spoken language and the body aren't saying the same thing. Let's take an example: "Oh, sweetie, you can talk to me any time." Sounds nice, inviting, warm, right? Now suppose someone said that with a frown, or in such an undertone that it was barely audible, or with their nose in a book. Wouldn't that be confusing? The listener would be forgiven if she or he wasn't sure if it were sincere.

So, suppose someone was saying, "I respect you," but they were looking bored, eyes cast off at a spot on the floor. What message would the listener hear? Suppose a mother says, "I love you" but her arms are stiff as she holds her little child. Suppose your own true love holds your hand very, very loosely as you walk down the street. Can you see how each of these gestures of the body convey an unclear meaning or one that is the opposite from the spoken one?

Here are some rules of words and deeds:

If words and deeds don't match, the listener doesn't believe the words. In other words, the deeds rule.

Usually, the listener doesn't know why. In other words, the action speaks to the unconscious so the listener doesn't consciously know what was communicated. He just feels uncomfortable.

Or, the listener could come to believe that the speaker is a liar or at least someone not to be trusted--and never consciously know why.

Worst case scenario, the listener could come to lose faith in his or her own sanity or intelligence. Their conscious mind says that the speaker is a doll, a first rate human being, and they come to dismiss the messages from their unconscious mind because they can't put their finger on what the problem is. This would be particularly so if the speaker is someone that is supposed to love them. They would rather mistrust themselves than the one they love.

Here's another scenario. Suppose the body language was not subtle, not contradictory, like, say, eyeball rolling while telling someone "That's dumb." Guess what? The eyeball rolling hurts more. The body language is more potent, more powerful than even the words. So when you add them together, it packs a punch. I mean it. It packs a punch. No need to punch, friends, you've done it already.

Now here is the fascinating part of that. The body language is "read" by a different part of the brain than the words. When you receive body messages, they are read by the older, deeper, more emotional part of the brain and not only are those messages more potent and painful, they are harder to overcome years later, they are harder to counteract, they are harder to unlearn. (Not impossible, just harder.) That is why they hurt so badly and that is why you somehow believe that they are true--even more true than the idea that friends and those that really do love you try to convince you that you are really a good person and so on. In summary, the body language

- is more believed
- hurts more
- has a message that is harder to disagree with than cognitive messages
- and can lead to intense self-doubt and confusion

Obviously, recovery must take this into account.


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