Mime artists show us amazing stories without uttering a word, they transport us to different worlds, take us through every emotion possible and can leave us with tears of joy and aching sides.
It has come a long way from Marcel Marceau and now features shows like Britain’s Got Talent. At another level sign language allows people who have speech problems to communicate and Justin Fletcher aka Mr. Tumble is every child’s hero. This is only a fraction of what I’m talking about. My focus is really on body language and how other people can know a lot about us without asking anything or hearing anything and the problems that can occur when our body language doesn’t match our verbalisations.
That is where people who are living with depression or coping with addiction often have problems dealing with joe public.
A few days ago I was walking through a local town and passed two policemen trying to talk to an obviously disturbed person who was also in the throes of coming off a ‘high’ from whatever cause.
He was asking verbally for help but his body language was pushing them away and aggressive. I would love to be able to say I waded in and sorted it all out but that would have been foolhardy.
Mixed messages and frightening not only for the police, but also for the person involved. It was interesting the number of people who crossed over and walked on the other side of the road not wanting to get associated with what was going on.
How many times have you had to explain yourself when people have misread the non-verbal clues? Think about opening presents at Christmas and that parcel that is very obvious, even though you’ve not taken the paper off yet, the very thing you don’t want, but have to pretend to be happy with as it’s Great Aunt Ethel who’s given it to you and under no circumstances can you upset her.
Trying to smile and be jolly, but often the eyes portraying your real feelings of not another whatever. If you are already battling depression this can be devastating to try and do and may well result in a dressing down by someone about how you behaved to the present giver. This, in turn, does nothing to alleviate a depressive time, in fact all it does is push you down deeper into what seems an ever-increasing abyss.
Does this mean you should avoid all situations where you may be put under stress or misread? Many people do and then face another of the consequences of depression and/or addiction, that of isolation and loneliness.
This, in turn, doesn’t help as you become out of practice of using body language and it being read correctly, so when in future situations ask for it, mixed messages follow.
So here is an exercise that will help no matter how you feel when you wake up in the day to be able to communicate without uttering a word. All you need is a reflective surface that you can see your face in, a window or a mirror maybe. Later you may need something you can see all of you in.
First, pull lots of faces to wake your face up, this may well mean you end up laughing uncontrollably, which in itself makes you feel in a better place.
Next try going through the following list of words and pulling a face, making an expression that evokes them.
At first, you may well think there is no difference in some of them, but within each group of three, they are different levels of the same emotion. Why do this? I hear you shout. It’s about getting used to what we can convey with just our face.
Once you’ve tried this you may well like to try adding somebody positioning alongside the facial expressions. Actually, being able to see these and consciously knowing what you are trying to portray you start to understand why, perhaps other people sometimes misinterpret what you are actually trying to say especially when body and voice don’t match. It can also mean that you acquire a new skill to cheer yourself up when feeling down or just fill some empty time.
It may actually make your communication skills a lot better.
Annoyance Acceptance Distraction Boredom
Anger Trust Surprise Disgust
Rage Admiration Amazement Loathing
And these opposites
Happy Hungry Pleased Proud
Sad Full Annoyed Angry
Think about how you feel when using the opposites.
Which ones give you a positive vibe for the day and which don’t?
How will being able to know how to convey how you feel without words be useful to you?
Once you have done some of the above exercises you can go and face the day a little more aware of how just being in society and among people can influence how they react to you.
Go back to the story from earlier about the policemen. You will probably not be surprised to hear that the person concerned got arrested and taken away for disturbing the peace. But the question that runs through my mind is who was really at fault? Was it the person or was it the policemen for not being able to read the situation better and have the skills to really find out what that person needed? Questions we shall probably never have an answer to.
Self-awareness is a useful ability when dealing with a world that is full of non-verbal conversation but deaf to what is going on all around unless someone actually verbalises what they want or need.
Even babies have to cry before some people take any notice, although some of us pull faces on them at any given opportunity and think we have had really good conversations.
It is said that 90% of our communication is non-verbal so what you may have thought of as being nothing important takes on a different meaning.