How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Submissive Body Language
A significant cluster of body movements is used to signal fear and readiness to submit.
This is common in animals, where fighting (that could terminally harm each animal) is avoided by displays of aggression or submission.
The body in fearful stances is generally closed, and may also include additional aspects.
Hunching inwards reduces the size of the body, limiting the potential of being hit and protecting vital areas, for example hands covering crotch, or chin pushed down to protect the neck.
In a natural setting, being small may also reduce the chance of being seen. Arms are held in. A crouching position may be taken, even slightly with knees slightly bent. This is approaching the curled-up regressive fetal position.
Putting the body in a lower position shows the other person that you are not a physical threat. This can include hunching down, bowing, kneeling or even prostration. It is no surprise that these are typically used in formal greetings of a superior person.
Even in sitting, a submissive person will choose a lower chair or slump in order to be lower that others.
By staying still, the chance of being seen is, in a natural setting, reduced (which is why many animals freeze when they are fearful). When exposed, it also reduces the chance of accidentally sending signals which may be interpreted as being aggressive. It also signals submission in that you are ready to be struck and will not fight back.
Turning the chin and head down protects the vulnerable neck from attack. It also avoids looking the other person in the face (staring is a sign of aggression).
Widening the eyes makes you look more like a baby and hence signals your vulnerability.
Looking attentively at the other person shows that you are hanging on their every word.
Submissive people smile more at dominant people, but they often smile with the mouth but not with the eyes.
There are many gestures that have the primary intent of showing submission and that there is no intent to harm the other person. Hands out and palms up shows that no weapons are held and is a common pleading gesture.
Other gestures and actions that indicate tension may indicate the state of fear. This includes hair tugging, face touching and jerky movement. There may also be signs such as whiteness of the face and sweating.
When the submissive person must move, then small gestures are often made. These may be slow to avoid alarming the other person, although tension may make them jerky.