Body Language

body languageOne of the side effects of aging, at least in my family, is an assortment of dermatological decorations … moles, skin tags, age spots and the like.  My Dad had them and now, so do I.   As a health conscious senior, I keep an eye on these uninvited passengers, since they can sometimes evolve into a skin cancer.   I also have my doctor give me the once over every time I see him.  So far I’ve been lucky but I have had few skin tags removed because they are in places that snag on clothing.  A while back, I noticed a rather large raised patch of rough skin on my right forearm.  Anything new worries me.  I’m going to have Dr. G look at this, I told my wife, Muri.   A while later, I was working on a technical problem at my desk and noticed that I was biting on that exact spot on my arm.  My dermatological decoration was my Thinking Spot, where I unconsciously bite my arm when I’m thinking.  Sitting here a moment ago, trying to come up with a next sentence, I noticed I was chewing the ends of my mustache … and the rough spot on my arm is gone.  I guess I’ve moved my Thinking Spot.   As we were leaving the house for Arizona two weeks ago, Muri suddenly snapped her fingers.  What did you forget? I said.  Me?  When I forget something, I slap my right thigh with my right hand (at my age, I could hurt myself trying to slap my left thigh with my right hand).  I asked my daughter what she does when she forgets something.  I just say “Shit,” she said.  I sometimes combine an expletive with a leg slap if I forget something important, the vulgarity of the expletive directly proportional to the importance of the forgotten item.  I can always tell when Muri is thinking because she bites the inside of her lip or cheek.  We must be oral thinkers.

In my writing classes, we called such non-verbal indicators of what’s going on inside a character’s head Markers.  Interspersing Markers with dialog is one of the most effective ways to heed that most common of writing tips, Show, don’t tell.   Psychologists call these indicators Body Language.  If you Google the subject, you can find pages and pages of gestures and how they reveal one’s emotions or state of mind, along with warnings like this one: Body language is not an exact science.  No single body language sign is a reliable indicator.  Understanding body language involves the interpretation of several consistent signals to support or indicate a particular conclusion.  Hmm.  And yet, along with the pages of gestures, you’ll find lots of advice on how to use the inexact science of Body Language to improve your communication, particularly in business or dating situations.  Psychologists say that when body language and speech characteristics are mirrored or synchronized between people this tends to assist the process of creating and keeping rapport (a mutual feeling of empathy, understanding, trust).  That’s always seemed vaguely exploitative to me.

You see, for most of my life, people might have said I was an aggressive person but I believe that age has dulled that down to assertiveness.  I carry my Inner Curmudgeon around for those moments that some aggressiveness is called for.  I don’t crave conflict but see it as part of life.   As an assertive person, I’ve liked to believe that there’s no need to read my body language … after all, I say what I mean (hopefully not saying it mean) and wear my emotions on my sleeve.  With that belief came little patience with having to read someone else’s body language.  But, of course, I’m no different than anyone else.  When I’m angry and trying to keep my cool, I clench my fists and when I’m sad but trying to keep that stiff upper lip, I tend to look downward.  I look away if I’m stretching the truth.  The list goes on and on.  After forty-five years of marriage, Muri reads me like the proverbial book.  And I, her.  We’ve never studied the almost-science of Body Language but we use it on a regular basis, sometimes to aid communication and sometimes to avoid it at the wrong time.  But I’ll tell you this.  If I start mirroring the Body Language of the love of my life, it’s just going to tick her off, I promise.

How much do you use Body Language in your relationships?

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2 Comments on “Body Language”

  1. Hah! Had to chuckle over this bit about “Thinking spots!” I tend to scratch the top of my head -almost as if I think maybe if I scratch hard enough there, I’ll be able to reach into my inner brain cells and hit the “memory” area so I’ll be able to move forward with good, intelligent information on hand then. Thus far, I don’t think my plan works very well seeing as I haven’t come up with anything ultra-brilliant in my thinking/remembering process of the mind!

  2. cherperz Says:

    I am much like your daughter. I tend to be verbal. I, too would say shit and if it was super important it might be Shit, shit, shit.”

    I will have to ask my husband about my body language. We read each other so well after 43 years of marriage but we have the added advantage of knowing each other as children. SO..after something like 57 years of knowing each other…I just know what he is feeling and vice versa. I had a pretty good idea how to read him when he was a 3 year old living next door to my family. He was sweet but his older brothers were brats.

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