Do you want to understand what’s submissive body language and submissive behavior?
You have come to the right place.
By the end of this article, you will know clearly how submissive body language and behavior look like in real life.
- What’s Submissive Body Language
- #1. Deferring to Leaders
- #2. Defensive & Reassurance-Seeking Signs
- #3. Signs of Social Insecurity
- #4. Signs of Low Self-Esteem
What’s Submissive Body Language
Submissive body language signals our position relative to others by placing ourselves lower down in the dominance hierarchy.
Submissive body language and behavior communicates that we accept the leadership of someone else over the environment and/or over ourselves.
It a nutshell, submissive behavior relinquishes control and gives power to others.
Is Submissive Behavior Bad?
No, it’s not.
There is nothing inherently wrong with acting submissively.
As a matter of fact, sometimes acting submissively is the most powerful thing you can do.
Once you understand the social dynamics of submission, its pros and its cons, you are free to decide when to avoid or when to engage in submissive behavior.
However, if you are submissive too often during most of your life, then chances are that you are not (fully) conscious of it.
And that you can improve your life by developing your assertiveness.
The Problems of Too Much Submission
Submissive behavior can also be an issue for those who can’t manage to behave any other way.
I quote Robert Bolton here, author of People Skills:
Submissive people do not express their honest feelings, needs, values, and concerns.
They allow others to violate their space, deny their rights, and ignore their needs. Some submissive people do express their needs but do it in such an apologetic and diffident manner that they are not taken seriously.
(…) Nonverbals like a shrug of the shoulder, lack of eye contact, hesitating speech, and other factors may undercut their expression of a need or the defense of their space.
What Bolton is referring to is submissiveness as a lack of capability in defending one’s needs and rights.
If that’s the case, submission has the following harmful consequences:
- Bottling up of anger frustrations
- Passive-aggressive behavior
- Falling (extremely) short of one’s life potential
- Opens the door to possible abuse
- Lowering of one’s own social status
The last is particularly important for the angle of this post and website.
Let’s see now how submissive behavior actually looks like.
#1. Deferring to Leaders
The core of submissiveness is deferential behavior towards leaders and more powerful individuals.
Deferring takes many forms, including:
1.1. Looking at leaders for decision making
Submissive people aren’t sure what they need to do and what they can do.
They look around because they need cues from the social environment.
They need confirmation that they’re still in good standing with the group and that they are toeing the line.
Most of all, they look at the leader.
Here is an example from The Wolf of Wall Street.
Notice how the underlings look at Di Caprio, the leader, for several times during this scene:
And here is another interesting one from the movie The Break Up.
It’s a split of a second, but notice how he keeps looking at her after he delivers his dominant line:
He sounds like he is dominant and in control.
But pay attention at how he keeps looking at her after he delivered his line and while he’s still sipping on his beer. He is staring at her to glean what her reaction will be, which suggests that she has a strong influence on him.
He is not highly submissive, but he’s not the leader either.
If you want to learn more about relationship control read: female relationship control tools.
Real Life Check:
There are many situations in life in which you are not the leader. And that’s totally fine of course.
However, looking at the leader too often sends the message that you might not have much leadership qualities at all. And that doesn’t bode well for your future, both from a career perspective and from a social power point of view.
In that scene from The Wolf of Wall Street they all look like eternal underlings, no matter how much money they make or what their official title is.
And in real life 95% of the times, the eternal underlings are not the ones who make it into upper management.
Hence, I recommend you avoid looking too often at the leader both at work and in life.
Learn quickly the rules of socialization, what you can and cannot say, and then avoid seeking constant confirmation.
1.2. Rotating towards the leader
Dominance is a bit like electromagnetic charge.
It can repel people who are afraid or not comfortable with the dominant person (equal charge), but it will attract all the rest (opposite charge).
For example, submissive women, or women who are extremely into their men, move towards their partners with their body (or even hide behind them when they’re feeling shy and nervous).
Similarly, they will angle their bodies towards the person they are either most attracted to or who has the most social power (which is often the same person).
Notice the meeting between South and North Korean representatives and how the women move right after the meeting:
Kim Jong Un’s sister doesn’t rotate towards him.
We can speculate she is very independent, she doesn’t respect him much or she does not like him much (but it’s heavy speculation with so little footage).
On the other hand, we can guess that Lee Nak-Yeon’s wife recognizes his leadership over her because she rotates towards him.
1.3. Following the leader and group’s laughing-patterns
Patterns of laughter and smiles are a great, great indicator of social power in a group.
The social dynamics of laughter are very telling for two reasons:
- Laughs are a sign of friendliness, so who smiles at whom is a good indicator of who is deferring to whom
- Laughing decides what topic is a serious one and what topic one can laugh about.
The latter is an important decision in the group’s social dynamics and submissive people are often scared of taking it by themselves.
When non-leaders start laughing only to realize that the group or the leader is not laughing, they will often stop.
She doesn’t really like the joke and he quickly lets the joke die.
He doesn’t do it too badly because it’s not an abrupt ending, but you could guess from this behavior that he has no strong leadership in that relationship.
For men, it’s particularly important that they don’t let the women they want to seduce dictate what they can or cannot laugh about. Because that will likely kill most of her attraction.
Training Day has one much more obvious example when it comes to leadership and patterns of laughter.
1.4. Laughing at leader’s joke even when not funny
Submissive people will force themselves to laugh when the group is laughing and, of course, when the leader is cracking a joke.
Real Life Check:
If someone around you has done a poor joke, I recommend you arch your lips up just a little bit without showing your teeth as if to say “that wasn’t really funny but I’m being polite”.
Then move on.
#2. Defensive & Reassurance-Seeking Signs
Do you remember in the body language of dominance we said that submissive people tend to make space for dominant individuals and to close their bodies to protect themselves?
We go back to that concept, which is expressed in many ways during real-life socialization:
2.1. Walking backward
Walking backward is an example of giving space to the person whom we perceive as being the leader.
You can see this in seduction as well, where it replicates a dominant/dominated body language which can be the precursor of sexual submission:
Real Life Check:
This a great seduction power move for men.
A “predator-prey” dynamic is extremely seductive when she’s attracted and primed for sexual intercourse.
However, men must be conscious to only pull it in situations where the woman is attracted and feels safe. Because in all other environments it’s outright scary and rape-y (and not in a good way).
Women can also consciously use a fake-scared prey dynamic to communicate to a man she’s submitting and she’s attracted and ready for sex.
2.2. Rushing away
When you rush away from someone you communicate that you’re overly worried about bothering or taking too much of their time.
And that in turns communicates that their time is so important because they are so much more important than you are.
This is very common in workplace environments.
Alternatively, it can also communicate that you’re intimidated or you’re afraid of them, like in this Godfather’s scene:
2.3. Covering your mouth
People who don’t believe in themselves will also cover their mouths, as if to hide what they believe and think.
Sometimes it’s not as obvious, but any movement of our hands in front of our face is often a sign of protective, self-effacing behavior. Keep your hands as far as possible from your mouth.
for women covering their mouths can be a highly seductive coy signal. It’s very feminine and it attracts most men.
Women can keep covering their mouth as a strategic tool of attraction, but should avoid doing so when they want to be more assertive and be taken more seriously -ie.: on the workplace-.
2.4. Averting leader’s gaze (during criticism)
People with power -or people who feel powerful- are not afraid of looking at people’s eyes when they voice disagreement, when they criticize or when they are making a controversial pitch.
People who feel strong enough to criticize but not strong enough to look into people’s eyes are communicating fear but with personal drive of combating that fear.
Look at Schumer:
He comes across very solid and confident in the interview.
His voice his strong, his opinions are obviously backed by fervor and passion of what he believes in.
The moment he says “lemme just say something mister president” though he does not look at Trump but his gaze is fixated ahead of him and it goes lower.
Right there and then he communicates two things: one that he probably doesn’t like Trump and is not very comfortable with him. And two, that he is in a submissive position relative to Trump, who instead keeps looking at him straight on like a predator.
Keep watching and notice the body language. It communicates strong disagreement, possibly dislike but, ultimately, that Trump is in charge.
Yes, Schumer is confident and also looks powerful, but ultimately he shows signs of the typical “rebellious kid” attitude here (ie.: “I voice disagreement but we both know I’m not in charge”).
Real Life Check:
If you express your disagreement fairly and if your criticism is well founded to the point where you can say it, then you must also back it with your eye contact.
Politely express your opinion and stand behind it with your body language.
Same for when receiving criticism: keep eye contact and don’t close your body language.
2.5. Moving towards the leader
In the case of intimate relationships or in seduction the partner who is more into the other will usually move towards the leader, grab the leader’s arm or even seek protection behind the leader.
Who moves towards who is also an indicator of who needs who the most.
Sexy picture, but it’s him who leans into her.
#3. Signs of Social Insecurity
Insecurity and submissiveness are not the same.
But there is a strong overlap between them.
Insecure individuals rarely are leaders, and submissive people tend to be insecure.
Submissive individuals tend to be particularly tentative and insecure around more assertive individuals.
They are focused on threats and they are fearful of causing the ire of the more socially powerful individuals.
Some examples of insecurity signals:
3.1. Looking away after a “risky” comment
When submissive individuals say something racy they are afraid that they put themselves “too much out there” and that they are risking too much.
Fearful of the group’s judgment, they don’t have the strength to back up their remark with a confident body language, so they look away, look down or close themselves up.
This is similar to when people lie and then they move away.
Look at Nixon here and see if you notice anything:
See what Nixon does right after he says “I’m not a crook”?
He moves away.
He can’t stand there because, deep down, he knows he’s a crook.
That’s the same with people who feel like they have just said or done something too socially risky: they feel the need to escape and defend. And they do so by moving away, looking away, nervously laughing or closing up their body language.
Look how James Bond does the exact opposite instead: he looks away before delivering the witty remark and then stands behind it by looking straight into his eyes and holding the pause.
That’s social power right there:
3.2. Angling your face away
This is a bit like the ostrich move -which doesn’t really happen in nature but you get the point-.
Instead of facing the issue, we’d rather move away and hope the issue goes away by itself.
Milton in Office Space does it twice:
Lowering your head down instead of sideways is even more submissive.
Some body language expert, including Allan Pease, say that blinking is a way of blocking messages we don’t feel comfortable with.
The more we blink, the more we get to remove ourselves from situations and people that make us uncomfortable -or afraid-.
I’m not sure the explanation is true but too much blinking does indeed make you come across as more insecure.
On the other hand, a longer blink-free gaze makes you look more confident.
Note on Blink-Free Stare:
Don’t overdo the blink-free gaze though or it can become overwhelming the same way psychopaths‘ stare can be overwhelming (but also note that the psychopath stare can be highly intoxicating for women in the right seductive environments as Adelyin Birch explains in 30 Emotional Manipulation Tactics).
#4. Signs of Low Self-Esteem
Low self-esteem often looks like insecurity externally.
But while insecurity is situational and changes depending on the environment, low self-esteem is a character’s trait and tends to be “stickier” (but you can change that too).
If you recognize the following in yourself, it’s a sign that you might want to address the root causes of low confidence:
Guys, it’s only fair that I keep some in the tank for the customers of Social Power.
This is a preview lesson from Social Power. Check the course for the full lesson.