How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Defensive Body Language
When a person is feeling threatened in some ways, they will take defensive body postures.
The basic defensive body language has a primitive basis and assumes that the other person will physically attack, even when this is highly unlikely.
Covering vital organs and points of vulnerability
In physical defense, the defensive person will automatically tend to cover those parts of the body that could damaged by an attack.
The chin is held down, covering the neck. The groin is protected with knees together, crossed legs or covering with hands. The arms may be held across the chest or face.
Arms may be held out to fend off attacker, possibly straight out or curved to deflect incoming attacks.
Using a barrier
Any physical object may be placed held in front of the person to act as a literal or figurative barrier. This can be a small as a pen or as large as a table. Straddling a reversed chair makes some people comfortable in conversation as they look relaxed whilst feeling defensive.
The barrier may be static, such as a desk or may be carried, from a pen held in front (maybe with both hands) to a hugged cushion or crossed arms. This is one reason why children may carry toys around, held close in front of them.
Barriers can also protect the other person and if I am powerful, I may use a simple barrier to make you feel less defensive. It also means I control the barrier.
One way of defending against attack is to reduce the size of the target. People may thus huddle into a smaller position, keeping their arms and legs in.
Another primitive response is to tense up, making the muscles harder in order to withstand a physical attack.
Rigidity also freezes the body, possibly avoiding movements being noticed or being interpreted as preparing for attack.
People who are feeling vulnerable will tend to move to safe places, for example walking on the inside of the sidewalk, away from the road, or just staying indoors in familiar environments.
When they are in vulnerable positions, they may be seen to be using more protective body language, hunching down, wrapping arms together and so on.
Flicking the eyes from side to side shows that the person is looking for a way out.
Pre-empting the attack, the defensive person may reduce the, generally using submissive body language, avoiding looking at the other person, keeping the head down and possibly crouching into a lower body position.
Aggressive body language may also appear, as the person uses 'attack as the best form of defense'. The body may thus be erect, thrust forward and with attacking movements.
Where attack and defense both appear together, there may be conflicting signs appearing together. Thus the upper body may exhibit aggression whilst the legs are twisted together.