Friday, February 5, 2016

How to Feel More Powerful

Picture a bully standing over a little child. Notice the bully with hands on hips and a larger than life presence. Now look at the one being bullied. The body looks small and almost curled into itself. What made the bully think he or she could pounce on the intended target? Did vulnerability play a role?

Bullies sense insecurity and vulnerability. They actively pursue victims they perceive to be weaker than they are. No better example exists of a coward than one who finds somebody weaker and chooses to victimize the weak.

Forget for a moment about bullies and victims you witness from afar. How many times do you or your children suffer from insecurity? How many times do you allow life to beat you down? One major upset to the life you’ve been living could cause the world you used to know dissolve around you and make you feel as if you’ve been swept up in a tidal wave. Maybe your husband left you for a younger woman or you just discovered that your best friend or sibling seduced your spouse. 

Maybe you were looking forward to retiring with the pension you’d been building for the past 50 years but the plant closed and went bankrupt, you lost all of your future income, and now you have to work an extra 20 years at a place similar to the one you’ve hated for the past 50.

However you interpret nonverbal communications of others, you act in response to your perceptions. With your response, what message – about you – do you give to the world? Do you look defeated, battered, and bruised, or do you look confident and in control of your life? Do you walk around with your shoulders slumped and your chin on your chest, or do you walk with your chin held high and your shoulders upright? Take a peek into the studies of phrenology and physiognomy, where facial expressions and body language reveal character – and lack of character to discern truths from lies. 

Years ago, I wrote the following article that discussed facial expressions and body language (the site where it appeared no longer exists): 

"Lie to Me" and Paul Ekman: Physiognomy and Phrenology Exposed:

Lie to Me was a television program about a group of experts in the field of face and body analysis who assisted local and federal law enforcement agencies in discovering the truth. Even something as seemingly innocuous as a slight facial movement, nearly imperceptible to the untrained eye, held secrets that surpassed even the most sophisticated lie detectors. The contention was that facial expressions revealed character.

The show also contended that character and the ability to ascertain truth were revealed not only through voluntary and involuntary facial expressions but also through body movements as well.

Dr. Paul Ekman, the inspiration for the show, wrote several books about the subject of physiognomy and revealed that truths can be found in what he terms "micro expressions" and involuntary body language. Together with Wallace V. Friesen, and Joseph C. Hager, Ekman developed and wrote a manual and investigators guide to understanding facial behavior entitled, The Facial Action Coding System (FACS), revised in 2002. (This nonverbal communication guide costs $260 plus shipping and handling, but the comprehensive guide offers an outstanding array of tools for researching and studying the face, including tools for artificially aging a face to aid in the recovery of missing children.)

Lie to Me was more than just a show about physiognomy (the study of facial expressions denoting character); it was also a show about phrenology (the study of skull formation and its relationship to character).

The practice of physiognomy has been around for at least 2500 years. Aristotle speculated on the relationship between external appearance and emotion, claiming that passion could be seen in the face. In the 17th century Charles Le Brun influenced the scientific community to further explore the benefits of physiognomy by comparing animal characteristics to human characteristics. Even before Charles Darwin introduced the subject of natural selection and evolution, phrenologists were comparing animals to humans. Like the movie, 101 Dalmatians, cartoons and television commercials sometimes depict people whose animals demonstrate a peculiar likeness to their owners.

Orson Squire Fowler and his publishing firm, Fowler and Wells, published many books on the subject and promoted his beliefs to the general public. His Phrenology Proved, Illustrated and Applied, convinces readers of the absoluteness of his beliefs. It was not until the 19th century, however, that the term "phrenology" was utilized.

Mary Olmstead Stanton in her book, Physiognomy, A Practical and Scientific Treatise: Being a Manual Of Instruction In The Knowledge Of The Human Physiognomy And Organism" (2nd edition, 1881), wrote that understanding physiognomy would enable man to understand himself.

While not widely practiced in the 18th and 19th centuries, phrenology and physiognomy were resurrected in the 20th century when Dr. Edward Vincent Jones compiled a list of physical traits which he believed correctly identified human character and behavior. As a United States Superior Court Judge, Dr. Jones tried criminal cases that included every type of personality and, based on his experience, was convinced that his findings were correct.

Phrenology, a study closely related to physiognomy, concerns itself mostly with characteristics of the skull, specifically size and structure of the skull, nose, eyes, ears, etc. and the angles of those structures. Physiognomy, on the other hand, is a study that relies on characteristics of the body, and in particular, the features of the face, the shape of the forehead, chin, cheeks, nose, lips, and eyes, and their relativity and distance to each other.

Our faces pout, ponder, smirk, smile, and wince. Through our expressions, we express joy, sadness, fear, and courage. Sometimes our expressions betray us when we try to hide behind a fa├žade. Lie to Me would have helped identify and explain terms we use, like "stiff upper lip" and "high brow," characteristics that define a person's personality and emotions.

Hiding from the truth might have become more difficult if Lie to Me hadn’t been canceled. We might have been able to explore the truth behind our expressions. People who willfully suppressed their emotions and concealed their fears would have found themselves exposed. Subtleties of expression that previously went undetected are all revealed in the Facial Action Coding System. By watching Lie to Me we might have been able to save ourselves $260 and learned something valuable.

Maybe Lie to Me would also have helped us discern truth from lies in our most significant relationships. And maybe, after watching Lie to Me, we would have known exactly what Mona Lisa's smile actually revealed.


And now I would like to introduce you to a TED Talk video, conducted by Amy Cuddy, who studies nonverbal communication, particularly as it relates to power and dominance. In the video she shows you, not only how to look more powerful, but also how to feel more powerful. Trust me. This video is worth the time it takes to watch it:

By watching the video you'll learn not how to fake being powerful, but to become powerful!

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