Submissive Behaviour Patterns:
Submissive body language is very distinctive, and in an habitually submissive person can usually be identified by posture and head position. If we look at submissive animal behaviour it’s easy to see where these physical patterns come from. An animal bows to the superiority of another by exposing itself as weak. The most visible sign of this is often an exposed belly, the most vulnerable part of the body. Lowered eyes and avoidance of eye contact is another clear sign, as is a general slinking, tail between-the legs gait. The submissive human is also bowing to the ‘superiority’ of another, and exhibits similar visible signs. There is an avoidance of eye contact, and a hunched posture, probably in an effort to be lower than the other as a parallel to the animal lying on the ground, belly up. It is interesting to watch this behaviour in others or ourselves in this context and to realise where and when we engage in it. We may act this way in response to a specific person, such as a parent figure or a boss, while at other times we walk tall, and respond in more assertive ways.
Sometimes the messages of our inadequacies are so pervasive that we become habitually submissive. We adopt a hunched posture, and find eye contact difficult. We feel uncomfortable in the presence of others, and fidget and shuffle and mumble. But even in this ‘lowered’ state, we have needs – in fact our needs are probably more extensive and greater than the needs of others. So, with the pragmatism and resilience characteristic of the human spirit, we may learn to adapt our submissive behaviour to get others to fulfil our needs. In time this pattern becomes comfortable and normal for us, and we manage to get by. We enjoy the fact that we never have to take responsibility for anything, because after all, we are inherently weak. This weakness compels others to ‘help’ and ‘protect’ us, and takes away the need to be anything but ‘weak’.
Manipulation by guilt is one of the tools often employed by habitually submissive people, and this immediately brings to mind the elderly relative, confined to bed with some infirmity, real or imagined, who has hoards of people jumping to their every whimper. Taken to this extreme, it is unlikely that this represents truly submissive behaviour. It is more likely that the originally submissive person has discovered the tools for aggressive domination, and is applying them with relish.
Attractive though this model may be to those needing to exert power and control over others, there is a significant down side. The submissive person is totally dependent on others for the fulfilment of their needs. This means that their needs will frequently be subservient to the needs of the ‘other’. This can result in a ‘martyr’ complex, with consequent rejection and resentment by the original carer. Someone is usually habitually subservient because of a basic sense of unworthiness, and negative responses from others such as resentment or rejection will only make matters worse. It can get so bad that the individual looses all sense of self, and may even loose total contact with what they need to ensure their physical survival.
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