Fear-Based Somatic Responses

Over the last few years I have been carrying a lot tension in my face. In my jaw, lips and eye sockets mostly. It looks unpleasantly contorted and often confusingly unrelated to the context. I also have a generally uptight way of carrying myself, with very stiff shoulders and (I’ve been told) awkward movements. Walking sideways or moving very slowly whilst dining. Sometimes I’d these wear these as a badge of pride, thinking they demonstrated an active mind – a hallmark of high intelligence. However I now believe that it’s rather undesirable and something which ought to be addressed if possible.
So this week starting a few days ago, I decided to start carrying myself with more confidence. That means not looking down so much, holding eye contact more, and consciously remembering loosen muscles when I feel them tighten. At first it was challenging; it felt incredibly vulnerable. It made me feel like I was being aggressive or elitist. It made me realise something important: we use muscular tension and mannerisms in response to a sense of vulnerability, and ultimately fear. It’s the body’s physical manifestation of nonacceptance and defence.
When you try to release muscular tension in situations where you usually carry it, the emotion which underlies it is feels completely out of control. Thus by practising conscious relaxation of muscles in these triggering situations one can both gain knowledge of our unhelpful emotional responses (it’s easier to name an emotion than a muscular tension) and also to practise letting go of them. I believe that emotions come in waves and amplitude lessens when we let them freely wash over us. Fear is diminished when you let your guard down in a situation and nothing bad happens. Confidence improves. less energy is wasted in muscular tension. The gaze softens. The voice becomes like honey. As the prefrontal cortex quietens down a richer and more noble intelligence blossoms, newly patient without the impetus of fear.
I’ve noticed clearly that how a man carries himself is linked essentially to his attractiveness and respectability. Survival and reproduction value. Same with women but not so much. With women I find that relaxed, upright posture despite vulnerability is the ultimate in feminine gracefulness – super attractive. Nervous gestures and defensive posture are tantamount to submissiveness or retreat. On the other hand confident body language inspires respect. Confidence correlates with leadership and status. There’s a beautiful phenomenon in humans: you can fake it until you make it. Improve the way you carry yourself and how you feel will follow.
I believe that a completely relaxed, slumpy posture is undesirable. Generally you want something that’s confident whilst situationally appropriate and congruent with who you are – “normal” for lack of a better word. It seems to me that the best way is to simply avoid defensive and nervous mannerisms. Notice what things you’re doing to pacify yourself and stop doing them. When you feel yourself tense up in response to a situation consciously try to relax those muscles and deal with the emotions instead. When you find yourself looking down around others, bring your gaze up. Stop nervous or protective gesturing. Hold peoples’ eye contact. Sit comfortably rather than making yourself small. What all of these things have in common is that they feel risky at first. That riskiness is the seed of feeling more confident and the willingness to deal with those social fears at all is an attitude of confidence. Although it’s rare it does shine through and I find it quite admirable and endearing, inseparable from courage.