Effects of Toxic Relationships - A Body Language Expert's Insights

Three nonverbal effects of a toxic relationship and how being in a toxic relationship affect your body language and your health.

There are many costs of being in a toxic relationship that are caused by the toxic partner’s body language. A healthy partner can be contaminated by an unhealthy partner’s body language by matching and mirroring his or her body language. They can do this matching and mirroring subconsciously or consciously.

Research on Isopraxism (matching and mirroring) shows that when we are with someone in a bad mood or who has any strong negative emotions his or her behavior has a pulling effect that can make us feel bad as well. If you have ever had to work in an office with someone who is in a bad mood you know you can catch that mood like you do a cold.  This is a scientifically verifiable phenomenon.
Our mirror neurons see the person’s body language and if it is emotionally strong and or if we care about them we mirror their behavior and begin to feel what they are feeling, so in the case of toxic body language we can feel bad as well. I have a paragraph describing the “bottom up” scientific process that occurs with mirror neurons that shows we can do this matching consciously or subconscious. Another possible harm that occurs in a toxic relationship that has a nonverbal communication link is equally as stressful for the healthy partner. We have an angry, dangerous or sick partner sometimes we CAN NOT mirror to empathize with them or we can come to harm. For example, typically we can’t match anger with a very angry person or we escalate the emotion. We can’t mirror a more powerful person’s body language as we may threaten their alpha status and escalate the emotion. Lastly a dangerous behavior from a partner can make a healthy partner go into a stress response, or a combination of stress responses. They can freeze in place or tension and his or her limbic brain response prepares them to flee fight or feel faint. That heighted stress response can do things like keep cortisol levels high and make the person feel exhausted and sick.

Solid empirical evidence
that suggests that our brains are capable of
mirroring the deepest aspects of the minds
of others-intention (at the fine-grained
level of a single brain cell). This process is
effortless, or what’s called “bottom-up” (just
knowing), rather than “top down” (having
to consciously figure it out). In a “bottom
up” process there is no need to draw complex
inferences or even think about it. Instead,
we use mirror neurons to know.
Further studies of mirror neurons have
indicated that when a mirror neuron is
activated, it also will activate motor neurons
that in turn activate muscular activity in the
viewer. In other words, when our mirror
neuron system perceives a physical (e.g.,
grasping) or emotional (e.g., happiness)
intention of another, it will activate the
same muscles in the observer that are being
activated in the subject sending the message.
This is important to know, because the
latest findings in the neurosciences suggest
that the way we know we are having an
emotion is by first identifying a change in
our body. The prefrontal cortex specifically
identifies bodily changes and labels them
as happy, sad, angry, etc., a “bottom-up”

Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at www.PattiWood.net. Check out Patti's website for her new book "SNAP, Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language and Charisma" at www.snapfirstimpressions.com. Also check out Patti's YouTube channel at http://youtube.com/user/bodylanguageexpert.