The Body Language of Targets

Bullies bully many of their targets long term, most over a period of years. Imagine what that does to the targets’ confidence and self-esteem. And sadly, it comes out in the targets’ body language.

Therefore, many targets of bullying are very nervous people, especially in social situations. And why not? Bullies have beaten them down- stripped them of their confidence, vibrance, their entire personhood. Is it any wonder they’re constantly walking on eggshells and monitoring every action and every word that comes out of their mouths?

It’s a crappy way to live when you’re always on guard.

Are they nervous and afraid or are they lying?

Consequently, many targets of bullying get accused by authority of lying about the bullying they suffer. Why? Because people all too often mistake nervousness and anxiousness for deception. If you’ve ever read “Othello,” by William Shakespeare, you’ll get a clearer picture of this heartbreaking scenario.

Many targets are often afraid to even look people in the eye, especially those with Asperger’s and on the Autism Spectrum. And being bullied to the point of lacking eye contact is a terrible thing. Although bad eye contact or complete lack of can, in fact signal deception, it’s usually not the case with targets. When a person is suffering from bullying or any type of abuse, it usually conveys nervousness and terror.

Therefore, we must look at context. Have we witnessed others consistently bullying and abusing the target? It’s too easy to confuse fear with deception if we aren’t careful.

Other signals of nervousness and fear are shaking, sweating, lip-licking and touching the face and neck. Again, targets of bullying are anxious. Who wouldn’t be if they were relentlessly bullied?

Before we make the snap judgement that the target is lying or has something to hide, we should always look for other nonverbals that go with it. Moreover, we must look at context- the circumstances in which the nervousness comes about.

Submissive Body Language

Many targets of bullying also display submissive body language. No surprise there. They have encountered bullies who have abused them so badly and for so long that they feel helpless. They bullying these targets have endured has rendered them powerless.

Therefore, these poor souls tend to be overly forgiving. They want to stay as far away from conflict or criticism as humanly possible because they already get enough of it in their bullying environments, be it at school, work, or home.

These targets will usually have a sheepish look on their faces. They also stay motionless to keep from drawing attention to themselves. Moreover, they tend to hold their heads down and look down all the time.

Protective Behaviors

Targets of bullying often have closed body language, such as crossing the arms in front of them crossing their legs or hunkering down into the shoulders and hiding the neck. This signals self-protection. Another thing they do is display bad posture by slouching.

This body language that targets display is so easy to spot, yet most people in authority either ignore it or don’t consider it. Worse even, it attracts bullies, users, and abusers!

Bullies can read this body language from a mile away and they will instantly think, “target!” and take full advantage.

It won’t be easy. However, if you’re a target of bullying, it is imperative that you watch your body language. And if you catch yourself displaying any of the above nonverbal cues, you must do your best to correct it.

How do You Stop Looking Like a Target?

When you catch yourself slouching, sit or stand up straight. If you see that you’re looking down, hold your head up and look ahead. Uncross your arms and legs, start making eye contact with people, and stop being overly forgiving. Begin seeing your worth and setting boundaries. Lose the sheepish look and replace it with the look of confidence.

With knowledge comes empowerment!

11 thoughts on “The Body Language of Targets

  1. 80smetalman says:

    That was one positive I learned from the Marines. I learned to stand up straight and when I walked, I would lean back and strut. True, some said was deliberately acting tough but I knew the alternative.

    • cheriewhite says:

      I hear you, Michael! The service will make men out of their recruits. They want their servicemen and women to look, act, and be confident. And your bullies were only threatened by your newfound confidence. That’s why they said those things.

  2. Watchful Navigator says:

    I learned a lot from this post. It took most of my life to do it, and here it is all in one post. If you’re reading this at a young age, read it again! It’s a whole lot of wisdom in one small package. It is the secret to ending your victimization to bullies.

  3. Tamara Kulish from says:

    When I heard about men being rude and saying hurtful things to their first date and wrapping it up as a sort of backhanded compliment, I was disgusted.

    Now I see this is a ploy utilized to separate out women who are self-aware and self-confident from those who deep down aren’t, because our micro-expressions and our body language won’t lie. They look for these. They see our weak spots even when we can’t. They choose us because they need to have a victim to further exploit and demean, for they feel so badly about themselves they need to have a built-in companion who will make them feel better about themselves, even if they say to themselves “at least I’m not as weak as her”.

    When a man is demeaning on a 1st date and wraps it up as a joke or worse, as a compliment, RUN! Don’t stick around for more. It’s not you, it’s him!

    • cheriewhite says:

      That’s absolutely right, Tamara. They look for the slightest little micro-expression of self-doubt. And they test you by subtleties- backhanded compliments and insults disguised as jokes. Thank you so much for your thoughts, Tamara! You are dead on right!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *