What Isn't Said: An Empath's Guide to Body Language
Updated: Jul 4
“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
I admit it. I am a huge fan of “Criminal Minds,” the television show about the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU). The BAU uses behavior analysis and ‘profiling’ to apprehend serial killers. My favorite character is quirky, nerdy, Dr. Spencer Reid-the impossibly brilliant boy-wonder with an I.Q. of 187. Not only can he read 20,000 words per minute, Reid holds three PhDs in Math, Chemistry, and Engineering. Beyond impressive, if it weren’t a TV show. One Reid’s greatest strengths, however, is his ability decode the body language of UnSubs (Unknown Subjects, commonly referred to as ‘perps’ in police shows). In other words, he is a “psychological sleuth”.
Psychological ‘sleuthing’ requires extraordinary intuition and the ability to decode non-verbal behavior. It is generally accepted that a mere 7% of communication is verbal. The remaining 93% is non-verbal (55% body language, 38% voice tone).
Emotional and intuitive empaths are particularly adept at psychological sleuthing. Why?
Human beings radiate energy, and empaths are “energy detectives.” We are exceedingly sensitive to people’s energy fields, and the emotions embedded in these fields. We are able to tune into the energetic frequencies emitted by other individuals. We pick up on the emotional atmosphere/energetic incongruence of a place or person. This is like eating and breathing to us. An automatic human response, pre-wired in us from birth. We notice and feel everything. Nothing ‘gets by us.’
This is not always necessarily an appreciated skill. We make people uncomfortable, either consciously, or unconsciously. We ‘see through’ people. We may appear suspicious, paranoid or oversensitive. We stare at people, deciphering minute body and facial ‘tells.’ Awkward for them, and exhausting, distressing, and uneasy for us. On a good day, we may not be 100% accurate. On a bad day, we may score in the 60% percentile.
Yet, we know when someone inauthentic. We are able to see through facades. We are able to discern covert (hidden or secret) versus overt (shown openly or apparent) behavior. We are highly aware of the subtle nuances in behavior, speech, and energy. What are these nuances?
Words and body language don’t match
We easily detect incongruences between verbal and non-verbal communication. We immediately sense if a conversation isn’t authentic. For example, a person may appear warm and friendly, yet cross their arms, frown, or roll their eyes. Our eyes transmit strong energies. Studies indicate that both the brain and eyes project electromagnetic signals extending well beyond the body. Empaths are electromagnetic field dectectors.
Tone of voice
Empaths are sensitive to voice tone, pitch, and volume. According to research the tone of voice we use is responsible for about 35-40 % of the message we are sending. Tone involves the volume you use, the level and type of emotion that you communicate, and the emphasis that you place on the words that you choose. We notice any deviation between what is being said and the tone, pitch, and volume of these words. We feel vocal vibrations and the intention behind them.
We can sniff out ‘pretend’ behaviors. In other words, acting non-authentically. Often, a person’s laugh is a dead giveaway. A hearty, authentic laugh is considerably different than a fake one. In a genuine laugh, laugh/crow lines appear at the corner of the eyes. There is an upward movement of the mouth and cheeks. A happy smile. Fake, or social smiles do not extend to the eyes, which often appear expressionless. The lower lip may pull down, exposing the bottom teeth. I term fake smiles “frozen smiles.” As frozen as botox lip fillers gone horribly wrong.
Hiding things, and lying
Never try to lie to an emotional empathy. Not much gets past them. We immediately sense if a person’s body language is incongruent with their words. We pick up the most subtle clues. Empaths can spot facial guilt, blushing, or an embarrassing expression a mile away. We notice darting eyes, thinning/folding lips, fidgety limbs, hiding one’s hands, and/or adding excessive detail to a story, etc. We observe posture (we generally lean towards those we like and away from those we dislike/distrust), lip biting, and cuticle picking. We notice it all.
Although we detect everything, we mainly stifle our observations. Polite society dictates certain behavioral ‘protocols.’ This can be very off-putting and frustrating for us. We dislike small talk and interacting with superficial, fake people.
Dr. Spencer Reid is a highly gifted, albeit tv profiler. Would an empath be an effective behavioral analyst? In some ways yes, and others no. As Reid, we are insatiably curious, intuitive, and wired for investigative psychology. Yet, we are too right-brained to be as precisely organized or as analytical as a skilled BAU agent.
Our ability lays in our innate, highly developed intuition, and ability to sense energy fields. We “sleuth” with our gut, rather than rather than heads or professional training.
“If you want to understand someone, what counts the most is who the person is, not their outer trappings. Intuition lets you see further than the obvious”.
-Dr. Judith Orloff, Empath and Psychiatrist
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