One of my favorite novels is by Jean Hanff Korelitz. Titled, You Should Have Known, it’s about a family therapist/psychologist who has recently written a book that describes the relationship theory she has come to after years of practice: namely, that people share who they are with others in a hundred different ways. From the very beginning of a relationship, actions, words, beliefs, choices, relationships, and interactions serve as clues to who a potential mate might actually be.
Problems arise when, however, when, in their zeal to be with that person, her patients overlook or choose not to “see” the things their potential mate might be telling about themselves. As she helps her patients deal with the aftermath of their failed relationships, she notices over and over that, if attention had been paid at the beginning to these clues, ill-advised pairings might have been avoided, saving all parties a lot of suffering.
This is proven in her own life when her husband disappears after the brutal murder of the mother of her son’s classmate. As she unravels what happened and who her husband truly was, she learns that very little of what she’s believed about him is true. For years, she’s been married to a sociopath, who had “encouraged” her to become gradually estranged from family and close friends. She has to come to terms with what all of this and go on to create a new life for herself and her son.
Now, I don’t believe that most of us are in relationships with sociopaths – that’s a little drastic – but I do believe that the basic premise is really true. I also suspect that it applies to all sorts of relationships, not just romantic. What if you could tell what someone all about before you got in a relationship with them?
People very rarely just come out and tell us about their secret selves, but they do have “tells” that give away a lot, and not just through words and actions; we can also tell a lot about people through their physicality.
I started my SPRe training in September, and although I know a good deal about how it works already, I am amazed all over again. People display so much about themselves through their bodies; their backgrounds, beliefs systems, families of origin, and events that have happened to them. There is so very much to see, and I am learning how to see and interpret it; looking at the body as a whole, and connecting that to someone’s actions and words.
Consider the woman who is permanently hunched over, shoulders rounded, chest caved in, eyes rarely looking at anything but the ground; chances are good that she is shy and withdrawn, used to being overwhelmed or taken advantage of. Or the man with his shoulders pulled back and chest inflated, jaw jutting out, physically overpowering and intimidating, eyes always scanning for opportunities, threats, or those weaker than himself. The person with thin, undeveloped legs who seem undeveloped themselves – unmotivated, financially unsuccessful, who can’t seem to “get their legs under them” so they can succeed.
Recently, a good friend of mine allowed a woman with whom she had been close for years stay in her home during a rough patch in this woman’s life. When I met her, I could see immediately that her legs looked weak and underdeveloped – spindly – while her torso was bloated and thick, her shoulders were up around her ears, and she never stopped moving and sat quietly.
It was uncomfortable just to be around her and I was not surprised to learn that she had emotional problems, addiction issues, and no home of her own. It was evident that this woman had no real foundation – physically, financially, or emotionally – something that was reflected in her structure. Although we felt compassion for her and her situation, she was toxic and didn’t hesitate to take advantage of my friend as much as possible.
Actors are practiced at creating and embodying different forms to represent the characters they are playing. That’s really all that most of us are doing through our bodies; playing the character we’ve chosen – or been given. With practice, we can potentially “read” what each person’s formative experiences might have been and what their current belief systems are in the physical forms they have developed. (Just take a look at Donald Trump and what his physical structure and actions are telling you!)
I can think of several people I’ve been in relationship with – both romantic and not – that “told” me very clearly what they were all about: it was up to me to pay attention to those things and I didn’t, which led to a fair amount of pain and suffering. I’m hoping that my training will only improve my ability to see others clearly – with compassion and care, of course, but also with an eye toward self-preservation.
But you don’t have to a SPRe practitioner or psychologist to use these techniques to your advantage, you just have to be willing to really pay attention to what you are seeing and feeling from a person. Develop your abilities to see, hear, and feel what others are conveying; physical structure and how the person makes us feel when we’re with them can give us most of the clues we need to tell whether they’re going to be a good person to be in relationship with.
Your own physicality can also give you clues about other people. What does your gut say when you are with them? Do you feel comfortable or uneasy? What does their shape tell you? Does it look like they have no legs – no foundation – or are they solidly on the ground? Do they have an over-inflated idea of themselves, reflected in their over-inflated chest? Pay attention to the feelings you get from your body – and from theirs.
Don’t just dismiss these important observations and intuitions – coming from both your bodies and theirs – add them to what you hear people say and see them do. The more fluent you become as a body language translator, the better your relationships can be; paying attention to physical structure is just another tool in your tool belt for building good relationships.
Emotional Anatomy, by Stanley Keleman.