Today we’re looking at the second of the six factors involved in the way Dobby communicates his status to others; his body language.
Body language is the collective expression by various body parts, communicating in unison a person’s emotions in any given moment. It is hard to fake body language and deliberate attempts to do so can result in a person appearing false and untrustworthy. A person’s eyes, lips, facial muscles, posture, arm and hand movements, leg position and even skin tone collectively communicate what you’re feeling at any moment, especially when the emotion is a strong one. You can exude confidence or shame, dominance or subservience, anger or gentleness, happiness or abject misery, all without saying a single word.
To gain respect and status it’s sometimes necessary to express negative emotions in your body language, for example, subtle aggression signals can be useful for leaders – a tightening of the jaw and piercing eyes, communicate you can’t be messed with. It shows determination, not to the extent of open hostility though, more the attitude that Margaret Thatcher had when she said ‘you turn if you want, the lady’s not for turning’ – it expresses forcefulness, determination, it makes it clear you’re not a pushover or in this instance up for negotiation.
When you’ve spent a lifetime being submissive because you’ve accepted the lie that was your place to be subordinate, then controlled aggression can be a hard skill to acquire. When you’ve not acquired the skill of emotional self-control, aggression expresses itself as passive-aggressiveness or as an eruption into open and sudden hostility, both of which come from a place of weakness, not strength and is accompanied by not listening to the opponent, which means that any conflict will be escalated rather than resolved by such aggression. Becoming aggressive due to an inability to control your emotions is weak; using restrained aggression in a manner limited to a level that is just sufficient to command respect in a situation is a strength and indicates self-mastery. Restrained aggression is subtle and does not belittle or harm others, it is assertive and not dominating, it is respectful and yet forceful, it inspires respect and does not need to demand it.
If you look at some clips of Dobby or the other house-elves you’ll see eyes that are always looking for reassurance, ears that show submissiveness in the same way that dog’s ears do, muscles that flinch in anticipation of abuse, a posture and facial expressions that imply a belief in their own subservience, a neediness that betrays an inability to find meaning in life apart from in the approval of their masters, a fear that they could never cope with being free-elves and such deep identification with being unworthy of freedom that the very thought of it induces intense feelings of shame.
Given that it’s hard to fake body language, how do you start to change once you are made aware that your body is telling the world what you feel, and it’s at odds with what you really want to be? It’s going to be impossible to control the micro-emotional signals that sweep across your face, but the bigger things, like the way you stand or hold your arms can be changed more easily and with less potential for looking weird or false. Although some recent images of political leaders adopting what is meant to be a powerful way of standing, with feet wide apart, look for all the world to me like they’re trying to take a wee in the woods without letting it trickle down their legs. Not the look they were going for I’m sure.
Perhaps the easiest way of changing your body language is to focus on changing the emotions that fuel the body language. I find meditation enormously helpful for me in this respect, you do whatever works for you.
There is so much more to body language than just learning how to utilise aggression for good, but I’ve focused on this aspect because I recognise that my dislike of confrontation stems directly from my struggles with making aggression a carefully controlled and useful tool for commanding respect. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in my desire to avoid confrontation too.