How do we know when someone is in the grip of an inner conflict between how they wish to be seen and what their body is doing?
Of our four emotion categories this is the one perhaps most revealed by movement in body and face. It is usually rapid movement – quick nodding, blinking or shaking of the head, changes in the direction of the gaze and changes in the angle of the head.
One of the signs of stress is a dry mouth, and we see signs of this in working the mouth or licking the lips. Other signs of physiological changes are deep breaths to bring oxygen, or gulping and swallowing.
Confront someone with an uncomfortable thought and we see signs of the flight response – looking for a place of escape (rapidly looking away in different directions), shutting out the world (closing the eyes), self-comforting (cradling or stroking the head), or reducing the threat by making oneself a smaller target (turning side on, or sinking the head into the neck).
At its most powerful, the person briefly loses control of their body movement, particularly visible in rapid changes in the direction of gaze; at its mildest we see subtle twitches and nervous tics.