Body Language Articles
Body language refers to non-verbal communication using the body, whether consciously or subconsciously. Movements and facial expressions can sometimes convey emotions. Although body language doesn't involve words, it can sometimes communicate messages to others. For example, someone might cross their arms when they want to communicate that they are angry.
People can reveal their emotions through posture, movements, and facial expressions. The body language advice section offers articles about how body language may help you understand human behavior. Through these articles, you may learn how to pick up on a person's thoughts or feelings and be more sensitive to various emotional states. You can also learn about how your body language may impact others.
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Medically reviewed by Julie A. Dodson, MA, LCSW
Humans express themselves in various ways, including verbal speech and body language. While people may not be able to read minds, body language helps individuals attempt to identify what another person might be feeling or thinking by observing their behavior and movements.
Is Body Language Always Seen The Same Way?
The meanings of certain gestures or bodily behaviors can differ depending on your life experiences, mental health, and culture. For example, people often use eye contact as an example of respect. If someone looks into your eyes, you may believe they are listening to or trying to understand what you are saying. However, some groups of people may struggle with eye contact, not out of a lack of respect but due to discomfort.
Those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or another neurodivergent identity or condition may have difficulty making eye contact. The same can apply to people with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These individuals may find that maintaining eye contact is distracting and that they can better concentrate by focusing on another task simultaneously. Some experts have found that forced eye contact reduces cognitive functioning in autistic people, which may explain why socialization is more difficult for those pushed to make eye contact. Additionally, eye contact may have different meanings, or interpretations, in various cultures.
Understanding all that contributes to communication, including body language's role, may increase your ability to empathize and determine what someone else may be feeling. However, it can be helpful to distinguish between biological instincts that cause certain behaviors and learned social norms. For example, someone in one culture might interpret behavior differently than someone from another culture. An example is bowing, which might be seen as a sign of respect or greeting in some Asian cultures. In the US, bowing when you meet someone might be seen as sarcastic or strange.
How Is Body Language Used To Read Others?
Reading body language signals often involves observing facial expressions, body positioning, gestures, eye contact, or movement. Some of these body language signals are not conscious. The tone of someone's voice and involuntary muscle movements are also considered body language signals. Slight changes in facial expressions and posture can give insights into how someone feels, and they may not realize they are making these expressions.
If someone is lying, for example, you may be able to pick up on the signs by observing their body language. Detectives and law enforcement officers use knowledge of these involuntary language cues to help them read situations and people during investigations. A person lying may dart their eyes to look away quickly, fail to look into your eyes, or play with their hands.
However, detectives don't rely 100% on body language, as each person is unique and may not be comfortable with direct eye contact, especially if they are neurodivergent. When using body language to read others, use it as a stepping stone to more complex and direct communication.
How Body Language Helps People Understand Each Other
Learning how to read body language can be a valuable tool in understanding the subtle ways humans communicate. This non-verbal form of communication involves using physical movements and behaviors to express feelings and thoughts through gestures, posture, facial expressions, and other non-verbal movements. These expressions and postures may sometimes reveal what someone else thinks about a situation or a person. Attention to these body language cues can be part of developing relationships with others.
For instance, you may be interested in someone romantically and want to develop a deeper connection with them but are unsure if the feelings are reciprocated. Their body language may give you clues. For example, they might find reasons to put their hand on your shoulder or sit closer to you. In addition, they may express love to you more frequently through acts of service or quality time together.
A person with a crush may express it through how they position their body relative to yours. They might turn to face you and "open up" their body by uncrossing their arms or leaning toward you. These signals can be a sign they believe they are safe with you and are interested in getting to know you. When they emotionally move towards you, you can reciprocate their action by taking the conversation deeper.
Anxiety And Body Language
Anxiety and anxiety disorders can cause difficulties in understanding the body language of others and showing body language that adequately expresses your thoughts. Body language may also show when someone is anxious. For example, if you are in a crowded area and notice your friend is tense, shaking, or agitated, their body language may indicate anxiety.
If you notice anxious body language in another person, ask them how they feel. Let them know you've noticed a change and want to support them. If the person is about to have a panic attack or already has one, they may struggle to answer your question. Take the opportunity to get them a glass of water or direct them to a quiet area. Asking what a person needs, rather than assuming, may also be helpful.
The Benefits Of Learning About Body Language
Body language is a core component of communication. When you pay attention to someone else's non-verbal body cues, you may gain insight and moderate your own verbal and non-verbal communication accordingly.
If someone has their arms crossed and is scowling, they may be angry or frustrated. In some cases, when a person is angry, they may want to have space. If you push a person when agitated or angry, they may become more irritated. Observing their body language can warn you when to distance yourself from the situation. If you notice that a person is angry or entering a state of rage, know that you do not need to argue or discuss the matter that is upsetting them immediately. You can take a break from the conversation or leave the area and take a walk to give them a chance to regulate their mood.
Body language can also tell you if a person is sad. Others may pick up on this behavior if you appear lethargic or scowl often. Caring for your mental state and picking up on your own actions can help you pursue healthy connections with others.
You might benefit from speaking to a therapist if you struggle with communication or any other mental health challenge. When you work with a therapist, you can learn how your actions impact yourself and others. In addition, you can practice body language and reading facial expressions in therapy.
Some people may struggle with body language due to social anxiety, which can also be a barrier to meeting an in-person provider. In these cases, you may try online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp. If you meet with your counselor during a video call, they may pick up on your body language and help you identify what you communicate non-verbally in conversations.
Online counseling has been proven to be a convenient and accessible option that can help you learn more about yourself and develop your mind-body connection. You're not alone, even if you struggle with social anxiety. Through an online platform, you can talk to a therapist in a way that fits your needs.
Body language covers a wide variety of non-verbal behaviors. Understanding body language may help you understand humans more profoundly. However, if you struggle to do so, you're not alone. Consider contacting a mental health professional online or in your area for further support and guidance.