How powerful is the body language in our relationships? By Magdalini Agrafioti, M.A (psy)
I was getting ready to meet someone I had an issue with. I was sure I could apply everything I ‘preach’ to my clients re-communication skills. I had some self-talk re-connecting on the needs’ level: “guess his needs, focus on my feelings and needs. I thought I could be calm during the meeting. Little did I know! I had a look in the mirror just before I left and what did I see? A perplexed and tense face, far from being calm. If I had believed that I was calm and I saw him with tense expression, I would have no idea that I could probably have triggered his reaction by what he would see as my body language. (Everything during the meeting turned out to be fine, by the way).
Amanda (not her real name) is a single mother of two, 8 and 10 years old. She does most of the household chores. At the end of the day she wanted to have time to herself and charge her batteries. The kids stayed up playing. The next day they had to get up early for school. She expressed this need to her children not just very strongly. The volume and the pitch of her voice was very high. Later, she experienced guilt for her way of talking to her children. She was aware of her body language and the impact it had on her children: What they saw and heard was that they are “bad and naughty”. I can see she was exhausted. I asked her if she could notice her need behind her raised voice. She replied: “I am not sure I have the right to have time to myself. There is a voice inside me that I should always be available. I end up using a body language that comes across as blaming. I am concerned that my relationship with my children is getting sticky even though there is tremendous love between us”. The mother with some practice, was able to go back and discuss with her children at a time where there was no friction between them. She mentioned how sometimes she yells at them and that’s not what she wants. She asked for their help for her to be calmer. She expressed in a firm and friendly way that she would like them to go to bed on her agreed upon time so that she’d also have time to herself. “I love you and I want you to know that mommy has needs too.”
Benefits: The kids were not always going to bed on time but the mother won her relationship with them and her own self esteem that she is not a bad mother.
Next time you have an issue with a person significant to you, would you pay attention to your body language and how that affects your relationship? Would you do that without self-blame just observing what the other person might see or hear in you while you interact with each other?
Magdalini Agrafioti, M.A (psy), is a Registered Member of the Ontario Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. She has been practicing individual, couples and family counselling for many years. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org