What Our Faces Reveal

No legacy is so rich as honesty.
                                                                 -William Shakespeare

There are so many ways to look at faces. We can look at the color of our eyes, the shape of our lips, and the length of our noses. We can also look at our coloring, our ethnicity, the shape of our faces, and the pallor of our skin. These are all literal ways to look at each other. The Chinese and Japanese have ways of analyzing our health through the lines on our faces, the marks on our skin, the colorizations in our eyes, and the shape of our lips. There are many other ways to see each other through what our faces reveal. 

Have you noticed that we know when someone is sad without saying or hearing a word? We know through a feeling and what our faces reveal. There might be downturned lips which usually are slightly curved upwards. There might be a sad caste in the eyes. There are ways to know each other at a deeper level through our faces. 

I have written about how my father was a wordsmith and understands people more fully through listening to their words. We can do the same with our faces. Sometimes someone has one eye that looks sad and one that looks more open. We look for the asymmetries in the face and what is incongruent. This could be a lifted eyebrow on one side, or one side of the mouth in a slight smile, and the other side in a firm line.  On another level, we can also see how people respond to us through their faces. So often I hear patients say that they are afraid to say something to someone in their lives because the other person gets angry; but they dont lift their voice. What are they aware of?  They can be aware of a feeling that is exuded, and also a facial expression.

Listening to another is more difficult than it sounds. It involves putting aside everything else in our minds and opening ourselves to another. It involves listening beyond words, and to the feeling that is expressed. As a listener, it involves being aware of us and our inner experience upon hearing what the speaker is saying. How often do we listen and register disgust, anger, happiness, distrust, surprise, or pity, and so on? We are used to looking at others and what their faces reveal, but what do ours reveal? How do we look when we are listening to another? 

As a facilitator in my work of Chiropractic and family systems work it is important that I am aware of what my face is showing. I need to be aware of what I am feeling, and also what I also convey through my facial expressions is very important. In my work I was taught to sit with an open face and not reveal a smile or nod at what the patient is saying. That may be a bit extreme. What is important though is to not lead a person on or give them a reaction, which affects them and their perceptions of their story and words. We can be so influenced by others and their reactions to us. So often we develop feelings about ourselves based on how others react to us and how we perceive their reactions. What do our faces reveal as we respond to others? 

An example of this happened to me. I had been going through some life changes and re-thinking how I wanted to live. Through my course of changes, I was able to witness others reactions. I had temporarily moved to give myself some space to know myself better as I recreated my life. Some folks that knew me, friends and family members, looked at me with pity in their eyes and sadness in their eyes as they reacted to me through their own perceptions of what I was experiencing. They looked at me through the lens of their own past traumas, yet, not consciously knowing that they were in fact projecting their own experiences on me. That was a powerful thing for me to witness. How often do we do this? Do we know how our faces reveal our own past life experiences, and also have the ability to influence others? This influence is difficult because we dont know we are doing this, and the other person doesnt always know what they are seeing in reaction to them most likely doesnt have anything to do with them. These are tacit ways we are influenced by our families and our communities and our culture as we are growing up. These influences are very powerful and affect our own belief systems. We could even call it unconscious brainwashing.

Here I am talking mostly about what our faces reveal in the opposite context of what we usually think about in what our faces reveal. I am talking about what we reveal about us when we listen to others, and the consequences. When we are little and we tell our mothers or fathers about our day, how influenced are we about us and others by the look on their faces? When we talk about our feelings and others look at us with pity, or with disgust, or sadness, or anger, or disbelief, how does that make us feel about ourselves? If we are not conscious of us and we arent able to know ourselves and our feelings very well, the impact of such facial expressions on us can be significant. We may try to please the other based on how we interpret the look on their face. We may begin to think less of us or that we made a mistake by the look on their face. What our faces reveal is a very important thing for us to become aware of for us and for others. Recognizing the power of our facial expressions on others helps us also to understand the ways we were impacted in our lives by our parents, family members, teachers, friends, etc., and also to help us to be aware of what we communicate to others whether we mean to or not.

Small Changes that Promote Big Results:

For this little exercise, you might want to enlist a friend or family member. This involves two people. One of you tells the other a short story; this could be a true story or a made up one. You will tell this story twice. The first time, the other person, the listener, just listens and keeps their face impassive. The second time, the listener lets their faces reveal what they are feeling in the story. For the purposes of this exercise, the listener can exaggerate their expressions. Afterward, both parties talk about what they experienced. This is particularly important for the talker to talk about their experience through the listener. Pay particular attention to how the talker felt and was influenced by the listener; or not. How did it feel to them and how did they respond inwardly when the listener facially revealed their experience in the story.

Next, change roles so both parties are listener and talker.

I would love to hear from you regarding your experience in this exercise.


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