There are nonverbal signs of happiness or fear, boredom or pain as well as love or hate. In this post I am having a closer look at the body language components of vulnerability. If you think of a person who is vulnerable, what picture comes to your mind? Can you see a child or an old person? Do you see a man or a woman? Is it in a hospital, in an office or in a street? What does "being vulnerable" mean to you? By the Merriam-Webster dictionary the definition of vulnerable is (1) capable of being physically or emotionally wounded; (2) open to attack or damage. My goal with this post is twofold. First, raising your awareness for the clusters of vulnerability. In other words to help you recognize when someone around you is in a vulnerable situation where chances are he or she is going to become a victim. If you recognize this, you can do something to avoid the attack or harm. Second, raising your awareness for pre-attacking signals. Many times we can find ourselves in situations where we are vulnerable without being aware of it. Unfortunately people can take advanage of that and they can attack or bully us. If you are sensitive enough for the nonverbal messages of potential attackers, you can reduce the risk of becoming a victim.
Unfortunately both of these areas are really valid so I think it is a value to improve your nonverbal skills at this area. Just to highlight the importance of my topic, have a look at the following examples.
Example #1: You meet one of your acquaintances and you ask how she is. She says "Everything is fine" but her voice is trembling and she is looking down when answering. Then she quickly changes the subject. You have a look at her face and see something like this:
What will you do? She said "Everything is fine". The overt verbal message (that is called the Social Level of the transaction in TA) has information you can decode easily. But the covert, nonverbal layers (that is called the Psychological Level of the message) says something like "I am suffering. Help me. Do something." So let me ask again: what will you do?
Example #2: You met some friends in a pub after work and had a great time. You said goodbye to one another and you are heading home in the dark desetred streets of your town. Suddenly you realize you are being followed. How do you know if you are in danger (real danger) or it's just your imagination you are projecting into the context but actually it is just an innocent fellow who is also going home to sleep?
Example #3: Your child is born. You are still in hospital with him. You were said he is fine but when the doctor mentioned some latin expressions he did not look too optimistic. You have the feeling you are not told the truth. You are left with a feeling that can bring you no peace. What will you do?
Example #4: You are travelling on the crowded underground. The train suddenly slows down. Then it speeds up again. It just downs on you that you felt something, something strange 2 or 3 seconds ago. Somebody touched you. Someone came too close. Or was this just because of the traffic conditions? You hate the whole situation. What will you do?
As for this example, I recommend you this site and its contents. And watch this short video on the topic:
Now I will give you the typical signs you can see when someone is being vulnerable (or already a victim of a situation). Please note that these are just possible signs and they don't necessarily mean that the person is really hurt (just like the lack of these signs don't mean that the person is OK). So what to do then? I suggest that you should carefully dig deeper when recognizing some of these signs on someone. Ask some polite questions, keep an eye on that person or talk to his or her family members - depending on the situation or on your relationship with that person.
You can see defensive, reclusive or indecisive behavior. He or she can hesitate to tell you things straight and maybe they can be puzzled themselves too.
A vulnerable person may try to appear as small as possible and avoid making "much noise". To pretend they are "invisible".
If you have a look at the person, you can see the body will cringe (to appear smaller), the head bows slightly, the chest caves in. You might see doe eyes (widely open with an innocent gaze) or just looking into the air, hunched shoulders (expressing sadness) and usually crossed and defensive postures. It expresses the inability to move or leave the situation. It is the signal of "I am passive. I am stuck." conditions. Look at the following examples:
Shortly I am moving to my second topic (which is about how to detect dangerous persons around you) but first I want to highlight something. Do you know this guy?
His name is Ted Bundy. He was an American serial killer, kidnapper, rapist, burglar and necrophile. Before his execution he confessed to 30 homicides committed in seven states between 1974 and 1978. Why am I mentioning him here? It is because he once said "I could tell a victim by the way she walked down the street, the tilt of her head, the manner in which she carried herself ...".
Psychologists based at Brock University, Ontario, Canada, and Westfield State University, Massachusetts, USA, found that psychopaths are practiced in paying attention to body language clues relating to attack susceptibility.
Psychopaths are more accurate than you or me at judging victim vulnerability simply from viewing how their targets are walking. What does this mean? To put it simply, if you change the way your walk, and possibly other body language features, you could protect yourself more from attack (perhaps particularly if you are a woman).
What are these "vulnerable" features? If someone seems smaller, and has certain motions within their walk. These are: slower walking and shorter strides, weight shifts and feet lifting. In other words: less synchronous movement in the walk. These persons seem less confident that makes them a potential target for social predators.
So what is the lesson here? Be more confident in these vulnerable situations and your body language will be changed.
There are some other factors that can make you more vulnerable and a potential target. What are they?
If you are drunk. If you use your mobile phone (as using your phone distracts you), downward gaze, and slumped posture.
Now let us see how you can recognize a potential attacker?
Again, you can search for significant clusters of body movements. I will group some movement families below:
(1) FACE. It can show much aggression. The face can be red, twitching, jerking. A disapproving frown, pursed lips, sneers, full snarls. The lips can be pushed forward bearing teeth. Staring eyes, holding the gaze for a long period of time. Or thousand mile glare. Fidgeting movements, constratly checking out the surrounding area (even to the signs of paranoia). They can look around for witness as well. The following example shows this very well. Check the guy in the blue baseball cap and red T-shirt. To start the video, please click here.
(2) GESTURES. Finger pointing at you. Head pecking. Clenching fists ready to strike. Insulting gestures. Sudden movements to test your reactions (provoking). Exaggerated gestures (to seem bigger and stronger). They may start removing glasses, hat or shirt (as a ritual expressing "I am going to fight"). Grooming or wiping the hands off on the clothing or hair (sweaty palms). Directing anger towards other inanimate items (table, chair, wall etc.). Stop all movements, freezes in place. Watch this:
(3) POSTURES. Lowering and spreading of the body for stability. Exposing oneself (it has the message that "Come on, man, I am more dominant than you"). It can be paired with not looking at you, turning away or clotch display. Shrugging the neck and/or shoulders to relieve tension. Shoulder drops. Bobbing up and down, or rocking back and forth on feet. Fighting stance (like in boxing). This CCTV recording is a good demonstration of this:
(4) PROXEMICS AND TOUCH. Invading the space of the other person (fast transition). Stepping into your intimate zone with no permission. Touching (or pushing) can be a sign of aggression.
(5) TONES. Shouting, yelling. But whispering can be provocative too. Listen to this argument:
(6) PHYSIOLOGY. Bulging veins, increased fast and shallow breathing, pupil dilation. Extremity tremble (knees and fingers are most significant). It is because of the increased adrenaline in the blood. Beads of sweat appear about the face/neck. Face goes from red to white.
(7) DIALOGUE CUES. Words and sentences used in an effort to distract, challenge or threaten you and perhaps as a cue to the other members in the pack (if they attack together) like "Look who is walking here". One or two syllable replies or commands like "What?" "Stop" "Nope" "Sit" "Shut up" "Nice try" "No way".
(8) CONTEXT. The environment itself can be dangerous (like a dark, deserted street) but everyday situations might bring unexpected challenges turning your day a nightmare. Once you detect suspicious signs of potential attack, try to find the position where you can reduce your vulnerability. One of these typical sites is when standing at an ATM machine. Watch this:
As you see, it is quite easy to become vulnerable. I am very hopeful that with this brief post I could help you to be more aware of the signs of dangerous situations. Use this knowledge wisely and take care of yourself.
If you have any questions, comments or stories, share them with me via email. We can publish them here.
(c) NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION COACH - www.nonverbalcommunicationcoach.com
by Bali Polyanki
(c) All Rights Reserved 2017