About the Book


Over the years, my work as a psychiatrist has given me the best possible opportunity to observe the significance and symbolism of the unspoken language communicated by the body, so-called body language. This nonverbal communication, spoken through facial expression and body motion and posture, often conveys more than the spoken word and is more honest than the spoken word. In fact, unless done consciously with the intention of deceiving others, body language is highly accurate and specific.

The numerous and extensive studies of body language have primarily focused on interactive communication between individuals, particularly facial expression and gestures in humans and animals, as well as the context in which they occur, both behavioral and social. Facial expression is the most evident body language, as the face is the principal communicator of our emotional state. Individuals may express, purposefully or not, a pure (single) emotion, mixed emotions, or may modify or even feign the emotional response. Gestures with the hands convey a body language that is intentionally directed toward others and communicate with varying degrees of specificity; thus they constitute an interpersonal (social) language. (President Clinton gestures in the photograph on page 6.)

This work, however, calls attention to the spontaneous, relatively discreet, usually brief body motions that occur in response to cues from one's inner self. These actions constitute a personal body language, a private communication that is manifested in most instances by touching oneself, primarily with the hand, although other parts of the body may be used such as the teeth biting the lower lip. Head and foot movements may also serve the same purpose. These particular body actions are intrapersonal (within oneself), occurring as a person responds to internal cues that are triggered by thoughts, memories, and emotions, and reflect inner conflict often referred to as intrapsychic conflict. Another way to put it is that most aspects of self-touching are a form of personal dialogue, part of me communicating with another part of me when experiencing internal conflict. (Note the hand position of Vice President Al Gore and his facial expression in the same photo below.)

Clinton and Gore

President Clinton gestures to the press about the Lewinsky matter. Vice President Gore indicates conflict about belief. (See the section on Head.) (AP/Wide World Photos)

While gestures comprise a nonverbal language that appears to be understood by everyone in that culture, our personal body language is most often not consciously understood even by the one who is speaking. And while gestures occur almost exclusively in a social setting, our personal body responses are as likely to occur when we are alone as when we are in the presence of others.

These intrapersonal body responses differ from gestures in that the movements are not only primarily involuntary, but they are also usually unconscious and not intended for communication to others. While these movements may appear random, they have a purpose arising from the unconscious. An understanding of personal body language can provide valuable information on elements about a person's unconscious mental and emotional activity.

The internal conflict that prompts these body responses is often the result of the two different points of view of the two hemispheres of the brain. Each hemisphere provides a different angle of viewing, so to speak, analogous to the two different angles of viewing that the eyes provide to give us binocular vision.

As each eye can operate without the simultaneous functioning of the other, so can each hemisphere of the brain, for each hemisphere has its own sphere of consciousness. Thus, when a person says "on the one hand" and presents a point of view, and then indicates a differing or even oppositional point of view "on the other hand", we see a manifestation of the position of the two hemispheres in respect to the matter being considered. Because each hemisphere serves the opposite side of the body, the right side and hand represent the view of the left brain, and the left side and hand represent the view of the right brain. These disparate views and operating modes are equally important. If they can be experienced and integrated simultaneously, we have whole brain thinking. Ideally, the integration of these opposite sides of our brain provides us with a multi-dimensional view, allowing for the fullness and richness of experience. However, these perspectives can be, and often are, so opposite that an internal struggle ensues, which is evidenced by motions of personal body language.

If the disparity between these points of view is sufficiently great, a gross imbalance develops between the brain hemispheres. At this point, the person will be prompted internally (and unconsciously) to attempt to resolve this discomforting imbalance. The most effective motion in the effort to aid hemispheric integration is that of bringing a hand to the forehead, as can be seen in the photographs of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and retired quarterback Dan Marino on pages 10 and 11. The situations confronting these two individuals were extreme; lesser degrees of imbalance are often accompanied by a less dramatic positioning of the hand to the forehead, such as if one were covering the eyes to focus one's view.

The photos on these two pages show one of the most important and useful Kinoetic responses the hand to the forehead. Overwhelming stimuli traumatic thoughts, memories, or feelings cause this spontaneous response to conflict in an attempt to regain internal hemispheric balance.

Dan Marion

The great quarterback Dan Marino reacts after a big loss in an important playoff game. He retired soon after. (AP/Wide World Photos)

Madeleine Albright

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright confers with top brass and aides about Bosnia, a conflict that seemed to have no resolution. (AP/Wide World Photos)

An interesting historical note that is pertinent to this material is the significance of one of Freud's early, and overlooked, observations documented in the book Psychological Conflict and Defense (Mahl, 1971, pp. 8-11). In October, 1885, Freud traveled to Paris to study under the great neurologist Charcot, whose pioneering work in hysteria helped Freud formulate his ideas about the unconscious mind. While in France, he also visited Hippolyte Bernheim, a prominent professor of medicine, and watched him work with a patient who was experiencing difficulty remembering certain suggestions made to her while she had been under hypnosis. Freud wrote that Bernheim "laid his hand on her forehead to help her recall them. And lo and behold! She ended up describing everything". Later, working with his famous patient Lucy R., Freud experienced a similar difficulty and, remembering Bernheim's action, he pressed her head with his hand, and Lucy R. did, in fact, remember some of her repressed memories and emotions. Although this hands on approach to accessing unconscious material appeared to be highly effective, for various reasons it did not become a significant component in Freud's psychoanalytic process nor in that of his successors.

The importance of the action of placing a hand on the head, in a religious blessing for example, has been universally understood at the intuitive level. Empirical reason indicates that the energy within the hand, when placed upon the forehead, facilitates the cooperation between the two brains, bridging the gap between them in the same way the internal bridge (the corpus callosum) allows the two hemispheres to communicate and transmit information. Interestingly, not only does the corpus callosum consist of the nerve fibers that allow the two brain hemispheres to correspond, but it also has the ability to block communication between them through inhibitory pathways. Today, there is awareness of the utility and implication of touching the forehead to aid hemispheric integration among a wide range of health professionals, particularly kinesiologists and chiropractors.

The aspect of self-referential touching to which I am referring is related to this imbalance between our brain hemispheres (caused by or resulting in a sense of conflict) and has not, to the best of my knowledge, been presented from the perspective I offer here. The spontaneous and quite specific body motions explored in this book are characterized by their frequency and relatively short duration. It comes closest to a few types of self-touching that have been defined and labeled by previous investigators and authors, and these categories will be discussed in Chapter 2, Body Language: A Brief Overview.

This work is the result of my observations of self-touching and other body motion, primarily in the therapeutic setting, as well as the associated expressed or implied emotion occurring in conjunction with the subject matter under discussion.2 I have been encouraged by the usefulness of the interpretive symbolism of personal body language, as the process markedly facilitates psychotherapy. It was this noticeable efficacy in therapy early in my work that prompted me to pursue this line of inquiry.

Observing the readiness with which individuals in therapy learn to recognize the cues and symbolism of self-referential touching and become aware of the significance of the motions, I realized also the potential usefulness of understanding personal body language to anyone looking for assistance on the road to conflict resolution and personal growth.

This work has not been validated in structured studies by other researchers, but, if it is found to be useful, I hope this information will enhance and expand the study of self-referential touching. To this end, I welcome observations made by others.

2. The descriptions of the inherent symbolism of the motions were supported by unconscious signaling while a person was in a mild trance. The unconscious readily signaled meaning, and the interpretation of the meaning could then be used consciously by that individual.

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