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The Face of Feeling
By Kare Anderson   Printer Friendly Version

While most of us were taught growing up that working hard, being nice and learning some skill or knowledge were the keys to a satisfying life, we were never really told how likeability, above all else, is the determining factor. In fact, our family, teachers and friends may not have known how essential it is.

Yet, if you dislike someone, you may resist their help or advice, even to your detriment. You may literally shut down around them as you reduce your peripheral vision and ability to hear in instinctive resistance to them. On the other hand, if you like someone you will go out of your way to help them, even unasked and even when it may be to your detriment. Among public figures, for example, consider how the different charms of presidents Meagan and Clinton have smoothed to way for each , even over the bumps of their mistakes or unpopular decisions.

Simply put, getting along is essential to living among others. Getting along very well, is the key to having more opportunity, adventure, gifts, success and love in your life. Why didn’t anybody expressly tell us that? Because few people know how, except, perhaps by example. To begin to learn about likeability, we must with the center of most communication, the face. After all, what would life be like without the raised eyebrow, wrinkled nose or flared nostrils? Here’s some highlights of the research on how to recognize emotions earlier in others and in yourself so you can adjust your verbal and non-verbal communication toward better mutual understanding.

Researchers, Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen have found that there are biologically universally expressed emotions. That is, whether you are in New York or New Dehli, you can know that the same expression means the same thing for love (interest/excitement), fear, anger, hurt, disgust, shame and surprise.

We are wired to feel in ourselves and respond to in others the emotions of fear and anger faster than any other. This is out of our instinct to survive. The most frequently experienced positive emotion is, of course, interest-excitement, usually expressed on the face by wide eyes and a slightly open mouth provides much of the motivation for learning. Joy is the most desired emotion. Together with interest, it guarantees that human beings will be social creatures. The smile of one person elicits the smile of another. A beaming face expresses an active state of joy and is characterized by a sense of confidence. The more you and those around you are in these variations of positive states, the more effortless and happy your life will be.

Therefore, instead of attempting to accomplish something (content) when they are in one of the other, less positive states (feeling) seek a way to move them towards well-being before returning to “content.” You have not been trained to take the time to do this. Just know that nothing you “accomplish” with others while you and or the other person(s) are in an unhappy state will stick: an agreement, new understanding, anything, unless there is continued coersion. Then the retaliation will just be delayed.

Following are descriptions of how the other emotions are expressed in the face. I describe them because, as we get older and more “educated” we become more removed from awareness of our own feelings in the moment, and of what we may be projecting to others, and less observant of what others are signaling to us in their faces. We have numbed out. The sooner we notice what we or others are feeling and expressing, the more options we have to change, and change others, before feelings become hardened into permanent beliefs about each other. For example, people who are frequently stressed in their life, lose the capacity to recognize it when it appears. Since an early sign of stress is lowering of skin temperature, we are teaching some harried executives to feel the top of their hand in meeting, to see if it has become cooler, so they recognize the increased stress earlier and thus have a better chance of reducing the stress by making a change sooner.

Surprise is a reaction that is novel, unexpected, and sudden and is accompanied by raising the upper eyelid and dropping the jaw. It also helps you clear your nervous system so that you can respond appropriately to the sudden change you have experienced.

Distress or sadness indicates that one is discouraged and downhearted. Sadness serves the highly useful function of communicating to others, as well as to yourself that that all is not well.

Anger is intended to disturb and frighten. Often it results from physical or psychological restraint or from interference with goal-oriented activity. Anger can cause you be destructive, but it can also energize you to have the strength and courage to change.

Disgust is elicited by anything spoiled and may have originally been a signal to the group or community of this fact. Disgust can literally make one feel nauseated.

Contempt is the “cold” emotion that is the next step of extremity from disgust. It depersonalizes the individual or group you hold in contempt. It most removes you from empathy and connection. When you feel contempt from someone else you will probably never trust or like them again, and may feel a prolonged desire for revenge.

Fear is an emotion that affects every individual in a deep, profound and long-term way. It motivates the avoidance of danger situations and is characterized by raising the upper eyelids and tightening the lower lids and by a horizontal stretching of the lip. It is actually possible to be frightened to death. An expression of fear suggests an impending disaster. Once felt, such as in war or a traumatic accident, any situations that are remotely similar to the one where you experienced fear -- even a movie -- will evoke a renewed fear response.
Sounds and smells are the most directly emotional reminders of that fearful situation.

What do we do to connect with others? The same, most crucial skill to be likable. It is also our first instinct: to smile.

A smile is the most universal expression of friendliness and approval. We smile in several ways. For example, the “social smile” which is unique to humans, is a way of acknowledging others, even if we do not feel warm to them. We are being polite. It says “I am not aggressive.” or “Excuse me.” By contrast, a “true” smile, with heightened eyebrows, reflects genuine joy or fondness. Ironically, most people know how to put on their social smile but less than three percent of the American population knows what, for them, is their true smile.

If someone who is familiar with you will take the time and has the talent to observe you closely, you may ask them to literally show you, mimicking back, what your true smile of joy looks like. By six months, most infants can tell the difference between the posed “social smile” and the genuine one, and clearly prefer the later. Some people also have what is called a “body smile”, that is their entire body has a friendly quality to it, not just when they are “on” but as they are walking through the candid moments of their life.

Our eyes are the second most powerful indicators of emotion. For most primates, the duration of a gaze indicates the hierarchy of the situation. The more submissive looks away or down first. Because we have whites in our eyes, unlike other primates, we more obviously signal gaze direction and thus can shift attention of others. Most people talk, with a mutual gaze, then periodically break eye contact, not understanding that the length of the gaze is an indicator of attentiveness.

If two people look into each other’s eyes for more than six seconds they are probably either going to kill each other or make love. We call the latter “making eyes.”

Eyebrow movement signals mood change for displaying the emotions of surprise, sadness, fear and anger. Anger involves lowered brows that are drawn together combined with tightened, lowered eyelids and pressed lips. Surprise involves widened eyes and raised eyebrows.

The mouth also signals emotion. As we grow older the lips increasingly reflect the emotional state that has dominated our lives. The corners of the mouth are drawn back in fear and pushed forward in anger. When sexually aroused, lips become swollen and darker.

Opening the mouth is a universal sign of curiosity, such as when you are listening.

Cheeks communicate emotional changes such as the blush of shame or embarrassment and heated in anger except for a truly aggressive person where the cheeks become pale as the blood drains away from the skin in preparation for immediate physical action. Similarly, if one is scared, the cheeks will blanch, as the body prepares to meet the challenge.

While less expressive than other facial features, the nose signals disgust when it wrinkles and flares in anger and fear.

We are irrevocably bonded to each other by our instinctive facial responses. A smile triggers other smiles. A sad or unhappy face tends to make others look sad and unhappy. A face with dilated pupils will attract more people than one that is not.

As you become more familiar with facial signals as early warning signs, you can often anticipate when conflict is looming and literally face it down with your increased warmth. For example, you might widen your eyes, thus raising your eyebrows, soften your lips and avoid prolonged, direct stares. Its a start, anyway.

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