When we were babies, our caregivers gave us pacifiers to calm and soothe us…now, as adults, we still continue to use body language pacifiers!
We may not even realize when we engage in body language pacifiers because these behaviors are done primarily at an unconscous level to soothe our nervous energy. The following examples are common pacifying behaviors:
- lip licking, biting, or sucking
- nose / neck / body / hair touching or stroking
- scratching / tugging
- deep breathing / air blowing / puffing
- hand wringing / finger or toe tapping
- hair twirling or pulling
- skin picking / pinching
- leg / chin / ear rubbing
- eye glasses pushing up the nose
- self-grooming / preening / picking lint or hair from our clothing
- adjusting / readjusting
- rocking / bouncing / wiggling
- fidgety hands / legs / feet
- humming / singing
- excessive masturbating or sexual release
Pay close attention and notice if these pacifying behaviors are part of someone’s normal baseline behaviors. Or, do these pacifying behaviors increase within seconds after you have just asked the other person uncomfortable, difficult, or probing questions! The higher the level of distress, the greater the intensity of the pacifying behaviors. Look for these ‘hot-spots’ and other indicators of potential distress or clusters of deception.
The amygdala in the brain is always scanning the environment for perceived danger. When we are anxious, fearful, or distressed, our brains prepare our bodies for action. Energy, oxygen, and blood are directed to the heart, lungs, legs, and arms in order to prepare for fight or flight. If this elevated energy is not needed for actual physical exertion, the energy still needs to be dissipated or released. Self-soothing pacifying behaviors attempt to:
- calm the limbic brain
- de-escalate the sympathetic nervous system (i.e., fight or flight) and the release of norepinephrine
- activate the parasympathetic nervous system and the release of acetylcholine and endorphins
- and, return the body to a calmer, more balanced state
- Navarro, J. (2008). What Every BODY Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People. New York: Harper Collins.