Body language must be observed! You can learn so much by observing someone’s body language. Before getting violent, perpetrators will sometimes do the following to mess with your space and get you rattled:
Any kind of interaction with your belongings. They push aside your beer. They jangle the strap on your purse. They nudge your backpack with their foot. They take a sip of your drink. This is a way that they get in your space and invade your limits.
Any kind of non-welcome physical touch. They flick the side of your lapel. They fluff your hair. They give you a shove on the shoulder or a non-friendly pat on the back. This is meant to be invasive and to see how you will respond.
Hopefully, you will never be exposed to these yourself or see them aimed at a friend. But knowing the predictors of violence are extremely helpful tools to have in your skills-set for whatever situation you may find yourself in.
Also known as a chin jut or a jaw clench, this is when someone grits their teeth and then shoves their jaw out in your direction. When we are feeling angry, we naturally grit our teeth—sometimes to control an emotional outburst and sometimes out of pure frustration. This is also a territorial gesture.
When someone chin juts at you they are threatening your space with theirs. It’s a nonverbal way of saying, “Back up!” Another reason the jaw thrust is confrontational is because it forces the person to look down their nose at you which is a very standoffish gesture.
A nostril flare is when we fan out the outer lobes of our nose, so they are as wide as possible. It’s sometimes called ‘wing dilation’ flaring our nostrils before a fight is a very important survival mechanism, because when we open up our nostrils, we are able to take in more oxygen.
This fills up our lungs and loads our blood with oxygen, so we have the energy to fight. It is possible our nostrils flare before a fight to take in more of the opponent’s smell as some experts think we can subconsciously smell adrenaline and pheromones. Before a fight it is good to know as much about your opponent as possible.
Before getting into a fight our bodies want to get as big as possible. This happens for 2 reasons. First, when we are bigger, we look more imposing to our opponent—and could possibly scare them off. Second, the more space our bodies take up, the more testosterone we produce.
Testosterone (for both men and women) is the strength hormone. It not only makes us perform better and think faster, but it also makes us feel more confident—essential for winning a fight. So, someone who is about to act out with violence will often puff out their chest and hold their head high to look as big as possible.
This is a hard one to catch, but I wanted to point it out. When we are under stress our brain goes into fight, flight or freeze mode where it needs to assess the environment incredibly quickly to decide what to do next. If someone is feeling threatened and is considering getting violent with you, their pupils expand to take in as much of the surroundings as possible—do you have friends with you, could you be carrying a weapon, what’s the escape route? This might even be happening totally subconsciously, but you can be aware of this subtle change to predict aggression.
When someone is preparing for a physical altercation the brain wants to protect vital organs. The way the body does this is by creating a muscular armor around soft tissue. Have you ever seen those videos of magicians getting punched in the stomach?
They are able to do this by clenching their stomach muscles which protect the sensitive intestines. When someone’s entire body tenses up, they are protecting their vitals and getting increased blood flow to their limbs in order to fight or flight faster.
Clenching fists is another type of tightening that happens around anger. When we are angry, we often grip our hands tightly into tough fists. If you are speaking with someone and notice they have just tightened their grip, tread carefully.
Ocular Orbital Tension
The ocular orbital muscles are right around your eyes. When people are suspicious (or at best intensely curious) their ocular orbitals will tighten. You might think of this as a glare or ‘narrowing your eyes’ at someone. This is the best one to prevent escalation, because when suspicion or dislike is addressed early, it can prevent a fight.
Many times, when someone is being threatening and about to lash out or do anything dangerous, they’ll say so through their shoulders. It can be easy to tell when someone’s shoulder is relaxed or raised, and as animalistic as it sounds, it’s something people do instinctually.
The upper chest area is a good spot to look at and examine someone’s breathing. Many times, when we are relaxed, we will breathe through our stomachs, but almost all people who have their adrenaline pumping will breathe through their chests very hard. Be careful around people who seem to breathe rapidly as they are more than likely not relaxed.
Arms and hands
Police officers are trained to keep their eyes focused on suspect’s hands just in case they suddenly reveal a weapon, and this is good advice for anyone in a threatening situation. It may seem obvious to watch out for balled up fists, but it’s a telltale sign someone is thinking violently. Also, it’s important to understand that even crossed arms and hands in pockets could be threatening within certain context.
Feet and legs
This deals with overall stance, and someone’s stance definitely tells a lot about an ensuing threatening situation. The entire concept of blading comes into this type of body language reading, and it’s something that people naturally do when they are threatened. Keep in mind that many people who do carry weapons will blade their weapon side away from someone in order to protect and hide their weapon.
If another person comes into your personal space that’s of course a moment to feel threatened, and there are several ways in which someone threatening could invade your space that you need to be aware of.
Sometimes an invasion of one’s personal space may seem very friendly at first, kind of like what you would see in a Mafia movie, and someone may act very friendly and enter a friends-only space while not being invited to do so. This of course makes people react in a defensive way or submit to their dominance in the space between you.
The closer someone gets to your comfort zone the more they are risking you putting in the ‘first-strike’ that makes detrimental differences in assault cases. They may know this and be baiting you into fighting.
Touch can always be invasive in certain situations and if someone you don’t want to touch you touches you it can always be perceived in a form of threat.
There also many other gestures you should take into consideration as to when body language can be threatening, and these include things like insulting gestures, sudden movements and mock attacks.
So, use these tips to avoid threatening people, but remember to be smart with this type of knowledge as well and avoid threatening situations!
Body language must be observed! And your instincts are a good warning sign. Did your instincts warn you of a possible attack? Did you put yourself in a situation where you had to fight someone off by ignoring your instincts of danger? Do you think you could have avoided the situation if you had been thinking wisely and listening to your instincts first?
Sometimes fighting back is the only option, but at times it can be avoided too. Learn to really pay attention to your instincts and others body language, both could save your life!