Tag Archives: flat affect

Blog 9 – Love & Anxiety Series: If you are happy, tell your face!

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The last blog was on spirituality and early world views. This blog about facial expression, or its lack, is a small part of how our sense of self can be reinforced or stunted.

When I was a child we used to sing a little song with this chorus…”if you are happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it…”

For most of us, this is true. When we are happy, we beam, we smile, we grin. And, this information is transmitted via mirror neurons, and our Nervous systems, via body language and facial expressions, to those that encounter us. In response, they immediately know that we are happy. This impacts the way they interact with us. Thanks to mirror neurons in human brains, we are “reading” each others emotional states, and our Autonomic Nervous systems (ANS) are pinging off each other all the time.

However, there are some people whose face does not broadcast their mood, happy or otherwise. The fancy term for this is called ‘flat affect’. This defines people who show little or no emotions on their faces. They look blank or “flat”, most of the time. If you recall the last time this occurred for you, there is probably a touch of discomfort connected to this memory. Because at a body level, we count on being able to read each others’ emotional states in order to know how to engage them.

So how what does this have to do with love or anxiety, quite a bit it turns out. People with flat affect, who show little or no facial expression, generate subtle anxiety in those they encounter. Granted it is often a vague and underlying sensation rather than outright fear, but when we cannot read another person’s mood on their face, our body and ANS responds with anxiety. If I don’t know if you are happy or angry with me, how do I engage with you?

Some of you might be in love with, married to, and/or a parent of, someone with flat affect. (This is one of the struggles for parents of autistic children. They receive no facial gestures of love and reciprocal affection and it takes a toll on the relationship.) While you have little hope for change with an autistic person, with anyone else, you can tell him or her how hard it is for you when their face is blank. People can learn new habits if they are motivated, including how to put a welcoming expression on their face. Or if you are the one that has flat affect, work on expressing an emotion with your face and voice rather than just experiencing it and moving on or hiding it.

If you are happy tell your face because it will help the people that you are in relationship with to feel safer and to connect more deeply to you.

GOING Deeper

1.) Think of anyone in your life that may not show much or any expression. Can you remember what you feel when you are in their company? If it’s anxiety but you can’t pinpoint that emotion to anything they did or said, then you are experiencing the discomfort of flat affect.

2.) Think about your own face. Go to the mirror if you dare and make your happy face, then a sad face and then a mad face. If there are very little differences in facial expression, you may struggle with flat affect. Become aware of the impact you may have on other people. Practice working on bigger facial expressions. Your relationships will improve.

To learn how to evict the anxiety in your life, join one of my 3-week anxiety reduction workshops. Go to http://www.sdtraumatherapy.com for more information. Mention this blog when you sign up and receive a 10% discount! Happy Loving.