Observing Body Language: A Quick Glimpse Into One Patient

I have a patient who is emotionally unstable, at times unpredictable and erratic. She suffers from depression, mostly due to tragic events that have happened in her past including a family history of drug abuse, sexual abuse and incest.

She holds tightly onto her tragic past, often choosing to become a victim, rather than a survivor or a thriver.

Because she carries around all this emotional baggage that she refuses to deal with and start letting go, mostly because she is comfortable in the role of playing the victim where everyone is to blame for all of her problems except her, she often feels miserable, cuts her self and can not enjoy the present, because she is stuck in the past.

She also always carries around an over sized book bag stuffed with books so heavy that when she walks, she has to walk hunched over, although she has a locker. She also carries around even more books, usually books she checked out from the library in her hand, yet doesn’t read any of them.

I think subconsciously  she just likes carrying things around.

The other day when talking to her, I told her that I was worried about her posture and asked if there was a way she could minimize the amount of stuff she carried in her book bag and in her hands.

I gave her a task to try to de-clutter herself so that she didn’t have to carry so much stuff around.

And then it hit me, the way she was carrying so much stuff physically, reflected how she was carrying around so much baggage emotionally, and the way she walked, hunched over, head down, slow as if she was carrying the world on her shoulders, was exactly how she was feeling inside.

Her outside appearance and body language were representative of her emotional and mental states. This isn’t uncommon, we all due this to some extent, but hers was a prime example.

Amy Cuddy did a great Ted Talks lecture on body language where she discussed how when we carry ourselves (or sit) in certain postures, it no only affects our mood, but also our hormones, raising or decreasing testosterone and cortisol.

I can only imagine how this girl, walking around all the time, hunched over, looking small, is making her feel inadequate and disconsolate. I am wondering if I can get her to improve her posture, will that also improve her mood.

Now I am sure there is a fancy psychological term for this that is eluding me right now, but I found that insight fascinating and wondered if I could get her to stop carrying so much junk on her persons, would she start letting go of some of that emotional baggage that is holding her down as well.

So far, she has been resistant to letting go of some of her physical baggage just like she has been very resistant in letting go of some of her emotional baggage, but I will keep working with her.

It’s important that we pay attention to our body language. It’s something as a psychotherapist I do all the time, pay attention to other people’s body language, and if you have 20 mins, it’s worth listening to Amy Cuddy drive home the importance of body language and how changing it can affect your mood.

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