On a good day, I would say that my face is saying I am easily mistaken for Hugh Jackman. 🙂
But, on a bad day, it is definitely saying I am getting close to retirement.
In this article, I am not talking about the natural ageing of our face, but more the messages that it gives to others.
We are social beings and our face is one of the primary non-verbal ways we communicate with others.
Here are three messages our face communicates.
- Our feelings: Certainly our face can communicate our emotions. Even across cultures, primary emotions of happiness, sadness, and anger are communicated in remarkably consistent ways. This phenomenon, first suggested by Charles Darwin, is called the Universality of Facial Expressions.
However, facial expressions are surprisingly diverse and we can easily misread the emotions behind even simple expressions. Psychological researcher, Paula Niedenthal, for example, says that of 19 different types of smile, only six occur when we’re having a good time. The rest happen when we’re in pain, embarrassed, uncomfortable, horrified or even miserable.
The key point I am making is that we need to be alert to what our face may be communicating.
Here I am reminded of an occasion when, at the end of a counselling session, I asked a client if there was something I could do differently in the future. He said, quite seriously, that I could frown less. Obviously, my face was communicating a different message to what I intended. We all need to be open to feedback. And perhaps I need to book myself in for some Botox.
- Our health and well-being: Stress, or the absence of it, certainly can show on our face and affect our health in general. Cardio-vascular exercise, healthy eating, and sufficient sleep are some of the best ways to counter stress. Referred to in the resilience research as ‘protective factors’, these have a positive effect on our appearance and health in general.
The opposite is also true. When we neglect our health, fail to address or reduce our exposure to ongoing stress, or live our life out of balance for too long, these also can show on our face and health in general.
I recall when I used to counsel people in private practice. At the beginning of the week, I thought I looked pretty good. At the end of the week, after over 30 counselling sessions with people dealing with trauma and entrenched conflict, I was not a pretty sight. I am sure that more than a few of you can relate.
- Our intentions: According to a recent study by psychologists, Fridlund and Crivelli, our faces also communicate what we are trying to achieve in our social interactions. Fridlund and Crivelli say this is is not done intentionally to manipulate others, though sometimes we might be trying. It is mostly instinctive, done sub-consciously to influence the direction of a social interaction.
It helps when we see faces as not always mirroring hidden emotions, but rather as actively trying to speak to us.
Many of us can relate to trying to smile nicely at a colleague we may not have the most positive feelings towards. Here our smile is communicating a desire for the relationship to go in a more positive direction.
Our face is not just the product of our age, genes or life experiences. It serves an important function in our relationships.
For some of us, our face is saying we are stressed, exhausted and frustrated with colleagues or loved ones.
What is your face communicating to others? And, is this the message you want to give?
Quote of the week
“The face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart.”
– St. Jerome, Priest and Theologian