Body Language

In the scene in Atlas Shrugged where Jim Taggart was introduced, Ayn Rand wrote, “James Taggart seldom raised his head; when he looked at people, he did so by lifting his heavy eyelids and staring upward from under the expanse of his bald forehead.”

I was immediately reminded of that scene the other day, as I watched South Carolina’s Senator DeMint question Tim Geightner, Obama’s Secretary of the Treasury. Geightner appears to habitually hold a posture similar to Taggart’s. As he speaks, his head tilts down. He looks up from under his brow, with his forehead creased by multiple wrinkles. When a desk or podium is present, he tends to use it for support, bent forward and resting his elbows on it while making his hand gestures.

As an experiment, try assuming this posture Notice how you feel in this position. Do you feel confident, outgoing, optimistically eager to take on and solve problems? Or do you feel threatened, fearful, expecting to be disapproved of, or even attacked?

For examples (from different situations), see:

I have been too long away from the clinical psychology field to know what an expert at interpreting body language might say. And I only saw Geightner in this one admittedly uncomfortable situation — Sen. DeMint was asking him questions he was clearly unprepared for. I believe, though, that personality shows up in one’s habitual posture and approach to the world, and that Ayn Rand may have captured much of Geightner’s personality in her descriptions of Jim Taggart.

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There was a comment in NoodleFood the other day, in a thread about lying. The poster told of a girl at college who lied to her parents over the phone. The parents did not believe her lies, and the girl later complained to her friends that her parents treated her like a liar.

The comment ends with the sentence, “Her assessment of her own moral character was totally decoupled from her actions.”

That quoted sentence hit home for me. I used to do psychotherapy with criminals and drug addicts. My clients frequently complained about not being believed, while brazenly denying the actions that had gotten them into trouble.

How does the “assessment of [one’s] own moral character” get “totally decoupled from [one’s] actions?

Liars want to be seen — to be esteemed — as honest people. The importance of this desire is shown in their often outsized anger when a listener shows the “disrespect” of not believing them.

But why is it so important to them to be seen as “good?” Because self-esteem is an important need of human beings. The liar lacks self-esteem, so he tries to make up for the deficiency by influencing others, through lying, to appreciate him, all the while his actions are not estimable. His worst fear is that others won’t think him honorable or worthy; i.e., will see him as he truly is. Hence, his anger at not being taken at his word. He hopes to hide the real him by distorting his audience’s perception.

“Practice makes perfect,” according to the saying. After a time of practicing such deceit, it becomes “second nature” to the liar, and he eventually reaches a point at which he hides himself from himself. At that point, his actual actions have no connection in reality to his self-evaluation.


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