Tag Archives: emotions

Emotional Deception

My partner and I have been watching Lie To Me, a television series that ran on Fox from 2009 to 2011. The show is based on the work of Dr. Paul Ekman, the world’s greatest expert on facial expression.

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

I am absolutely fascinated.

All my life I’ve been extremely aware of body language and what I’ve always called the “energy” of the people around me. I’ve frequently had the experience of picking up the hidden emotions of others and taking on responsibility for them, a result of ineffective boundaries. When I was trained in emotional intelligence I cleaned up my poor boundaries and many other destructive habits. I also began to openly and unapologetically trust myself after a lifetime of cognitive dissonance caused by the difference between words and nonverbal cues.

Now, at last, I have real world validation for the way I can sometimes “read” others. It’s not magic, and I’m not a freak, a fantasist or crazy. Science now recognizes the universality of human facial expressions for basic emotions (fear, surprise, contempt, happiness, sadness, disgust, shame), and technology allows us to slow down video footage and capture microexpressions, which occur in much less than a second, as we speak and interact with others.

Our words can lie, but Dr. Ekman’s work reveals that our bodies give away our emotional experience in all kinds of ways of which we’re not even conscious. The way we hold our hands, a slight shoulder shrug, the way we move our heads, how we direct our gaze and small, fleeting expressions that pass across our faces with the help of 42 complex muscles can contradict our words.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

We know that some people have a great deal of difficulty reading and interpreting body language and subtle cues, while others are skilled at it. Paul Ekman’s work and research makes it possible for anyone to consciously learn how to detect emotional deception. Every episode of Lie To Me incorporates not only a story line told by actors, but also footage from real people — politicians, leaders and other famous and infamous folks — displaying exactly the same facial expression or body movement. It’s amazing.

Some people are difficult to read. I’ve worked hard to develop a stone face and have often been told I’m opaque. My oldest son is extremely provocative, and my expressionless countenance stood me in good stead when he was a teenager and woke me in the middle of the night to tell me he was going to ski naked at midnight with a girl in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other. Any show of outrage or upset only egged him on, so I learned to control myself. I’ve also had some exposure to narcissists and other Cluster B people, who feed on emotional energy, and I know the best way to deal with them is to become a grey rock, that is to be so completely flat, uninteresting and uninterested that they move on, a technique far more effective than trying to get rid of them directly. Yet even though I may be harder to read than average, I know my body language gives me away every time, or would to a trained observer.

(Fortunately, my teenage sons were not trained observers. Let us be thankful for small mercies.)

Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash

Sedating substances and Botox injections can interfere with or blunt muscle movement and smooth out microexpressions, but eventually we all give our truth and lies away. We can’t help it. Microexpressions and body language are often totally unconscious on our part.

I’ve been told I have an intense gaze that can make others feel uncomfortable. I suspect this is a function of the focus and presence necessary to evaluate how the people around me present themselves as I compare what they say with what their expressions and bodies tell me. If I feel confused or receive a mixed message, I always go with body language. Words lie too easily and too frequently. We lie to ourselves and we lie to each other. When I experience cognitive dissonance as I observe and interact with others, now I no longer tell myself I’m making things up. Even more importantly, I don’t allow other people to make me feel bad and wrong. Nobody likes to have their cover blown, and someone with things to hide is naturally not going to appreciate feeling exposed. Rage, denial, projection, gaslighting and other abusive behavior can all be effective distractions from the truth.

A lie comes with a cost. The truth may come with a cost as well. We navigate our lives between the two, making the best choices we can. I have no desire whatsoever to uncover the secrets and lies of others, but I am interested in being able to evaluate if there are secrets and lies. I don’t believe we owe others 100% of our emotional truth, but every healthy relationship and connection requires some level of trust, and I don’t want to be with people I can’t trust. I think of mixed messages as a red flag.

It’s amazing to learn, after all these years of mysteriously and often uncomfortably picking up more information from others than I ever wanted to know, that inconsistency is a red flag. Words that are incongruent with facial expressions and body language are untrustworthy. My ability to recognize concealed emotions is not hateful or crazy.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

Frequently we don’t seek to deceive others as much as we wish to deceive ourselves. The lies we tell ourselves are perhaps the most powerful of all, and we protect those kind of lies the most ferociously.

It’s important to understand that recognizing the presence of a lie does not mean we know the substance of the lie or why it’s being told. As a writer, I find that why infinitely interesting in its possibilities. What kinds of things do we conceal? What motivates us to do so? What are the consequences of our various lies, great and small, to ourselves and to others? How do our bodies unconsciously communicate our emotional deception? If we spot emotional deception in someone we’re close to, what do we do with that information? What kinds of lies are terminal in relationships, and what kinds survivable? How do we forgive ourselves and others for emotional deception?

The looming presence of social media in our culture means many of our daily interactions, perhaps most, are not face to face, which greatly diminishes the complexity and depth of human communication and makes emotional deception easy. Body language is invisible. Tone, pitch and other verbal clues and idiosyncrasies are unheard. We use sanitized little emojis to represent our meaning, or at least to represent what we want others to believe our meaning is.

Paul Ekman has written several books I’m looking forward to exploring, and one can take online classes and learn more. I intend to learn a lot more.

Detecting emotional deception. My daily crime.

Photo by Joshua Fuller on Unsplash

 

All content on this site ©2018
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Boundaries 2: Furry Pickles

This is the second of I’m not sure how many blogs about boundaries.  See last week’s blog for the beginning of the discussion!

Today the aspect of boundaries I want to explore is the one I have the most trouble with.  This aspect concerns managing boundaries with people we love.

Continuing with our metaphor of food on a shelf, last week I was comfortable with my identity of strawberry jam.  I know who I am, I’m in an intact container (most of the time) and I intend to be labeled accurately and effectively.  That’s all INTRApersonal start-where-you-are work.

However, there’s other food on the shelf.  The universe doesn’t revolve around strawberry jam, alas!  In fact, next to me is a jar of dill pickles.

Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash

We’ve been together as long as I can remember, sitting side by side on the shelf.  We’ve watched other food in other containers come and go.  The eggs in particular have quite the turnover rate.  We’re companions, friends, and in fact it’s not an exaggeration to say I love Pickles.

But one day I notice something has changed.  The clear green juice in the jar with floating bits of herbs and spices is getting cloudy.  And is that—could it possibly be—grey fur along one side of a pickle?

Disaster.  Catastrophe.  It can’t be true.  My beloved Pickles is beginning to grow fur.  Everybody on the shelf knows what this means.  Sooner or later, the refrigerator/cupboard/shelf Gods will cull Pickles.  Gone forever.

I can’t imagine my life without Pickles.

Naturally, I want to help.  No kind of food could possibly want to wear grey fur.  There must be something I can do.

If I love Pickles, I must be able to fix this.

If I really, truly love Pickles, and my love is real and unselfish and unconditional (and Pickles is worth that kind of love), there’s a way for my love to fix this.

If I fail to fix this, my love is at fault.

That, ladies and gentlemen, eggs and bacon, is where I lose my boundaries.  It’s all very clear and self-evident when it’s laid out in black type on the page, or in this case, screen.  Love can’t fix everything.  Love isn’t always enough.  Sometimes we can’t “help” other people.  Bad things happen to good people all the time.  Loss is part of love.  Right?

My brain understands this.  My brain functions pretty well.  My brain is not the problem.  It’s my heart, my emotions, my stories, my beliefs and my expectations that are unruly and stubborn.

Photo by juan pablo rodriguez on Unsplash

Perhaps I haven’t explained it well, my connection with Pickles.  I know him better than anyone.  I understand him.  He’s the most important person in my life.  He’s part of who I am.  If I lose him, I’ll lose part of myself.  I thought nothing could ever part us, or damage our respect and trust in one another.  In fact, we’re so close we don’t need boundaries.

(Naturally, he feels the same way about me.  He doesn’t say so, but one doesn’t expect pickles to emote like strawberry jam.)

Loving fully and unconditionally means no boundaries, right?  Isn’t that what we learned?  If we love unselfishly, completely, without reservation, then boundaries are unnecessary and we can count on getting that same kind of love in return.  Loving well equals being well loved.  Isn’t that the way it works?  Only a selfish bitch maintains boundaries, an unloving, cold woman, a ball breaker.  Only an indifferent, unfit mother maintains boundaries between herself and her children.  Only a judgmental, critical, power-hungry female protects herself with boundaries.  Generous, attractive, truly loving people have no need of boundaries.  They don’t count the cost.  They always say yes.  They give freely of their resources to whoever is in need without expectations or strings attached.  They never keep score.  They have no needs, these lucky, healthy, beautiful, abundant people.  They feed and nurture the world.

Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

Boy, does this world need people like that.  That’s the kind of woman/friend/mate/mother/daughter/sister I want to be.  If I want to save Pickles, that’s the kind of person I have to be.

Here’s the thing.

I can’t be that.  I’m not sure anyone can be that.

I’m not talking about ideology here.  I’m not qualified for or interested in religious debate.  What I’m saying is that I can’t be a bottomless, endless nurturer and giver with no needs, and I’m not convinced anyone else can, either.  I know some who say they can, pretend they can and/or expect others to be, but I’ve never met anyone who really lives like that—at least not long term.  Not successfully and not happily, anyway.

But aren’t we supposed to?

Did I learn this wrong?  Did I misunderstand?  I can’t point to any one person who taught me this, after all.  Did I make it all up?  Or, alternatively, am I not the woman I think I am and aspire to be?  Am I small, mean, petty, hypocritical and selfish?  Am I unable to love the right way?  Am I a fraud?  Am I self-deluded?

Why am I in such chronic painful confusion about something my intellect sees so clearly?  Why does it seem that managing boundaries INTERpersonally carries such a negative connotation?  Why can’t I reconcile loving someone with all my heart with effective, appropriate boundaries between that person and me?  What is the source of this cognitive dissonance?

Which is more devastating—people who have no boundaries themselves and bitterly resent mine, or people who maintain boundaries between us when I have none?

In the first case I feel trapped, resentful and intruded upon, and in the second I feel hideously rejected, unappreciated and used.  Neither feel like healthy connection, but I call both love.

So here I am, side by side with Pickles on the shelf.  We look at each other through the glass sides of our boundaries.  I want to climb inside his container and take him in my arms, love him back into clear green juicy health, but if I do that I’ll start growing gray fur myself, and I know I can’t fix him at the same time I believe I should be able to.  I want to run away, turn away, not know what’s happening, but I can’t.

There’s nothing I can do.  My love is not enough.  Grey fur is creeping over Pickles and I can’t avoid it, flee it or stop it.  I can only wait and watch and sit here in my container, while Pickles sits in his.

RIP, Pickles.

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted