Long before RBF became a thing and then, basically, a personality type, the body-language signal of folded arms worked as the universal sign that you’re closed off and maybe a mega shrew. I know this because I’ve spent many years perfecting the art of folded arms. I’m, like, basically the Michaelangelo of arm crossing, and the Picasso of appearing incredibly intimidating in a way that makes certain I won’t make friends in a new office for a full month.
Thing is, I’m not a mega shrew (mostly)! I’m just mega anxious and mega shy, So I felt incredibly #seen when a Wired video debunked the notion that crossing your arms means something quasi negative.
“There are a lot of myths out there,” former FBI agent and body-language expert Joe Navarro says in the video. “The one that stands out is that if you cross your arms, it is a blocking behavior. That’s just nonsense. Even when you don’t like the person in front of you, this isn’t to block them out, it’s actually to self-soothe. Because, in essence, it’s a self-hug.” Wait, a self-hug?!
First of all, I love it; such a positive rebrand. Second, that actually makes a lot of sense. Navarro points out that we do this behavior a lot more in public than we do by ourselves, like when we’re anxiously waiting for people or watching a movie.
So where exactly does the myth of folded arms being a defensive move originate? Well, it’s not so much that it isn’t or can’t be defensive. Instead, there are simply many nuances regarding what folded arms might mean. Depending on hand placement, in fact, it may simply be your way of calming yourself down.
“There are over 50 different kinds of arm crosses. Some have an element of self-soothing…to maximize touch and to self-hug.” —body-language expert Patti Wood
“There are over 50 different kinds of arm crosses,” body-language expert Patti Wood tells me. “Some have an element of self-soothing. Typically that means that the arms are folded, and the hands are wrapped around the arms to maximize touch and to self-hug.”
And even when folded arms is an intentional protective or defensive gesture, “defensive” doesn’t necessarily have to mean moody or closed-off. Rather, you could just be shielding yourself from bad energy in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable or overstimulated.
“There are arm crosses that help you block out extraneous stimuli that are used, for example, with people with ADD,” Wood says. “There’s also arm crosses that close you down in negative situations as self-protection. The list goes on and on.”
So if you feel like your co-worker, friend, partner, or whomever else is giving off rude vibes, or you feel like you’re the one who looks super grumpy on the reg, pay attention to where the hands are being placed. Because folded arms is among the most majorly misunderstood form of body language out there, and knowing that it’s really just a self-hug in disguise could make us all just a little bit kinder.
Something a little less cute? Your eye-rolling habit, but luckily we got some insight on what frustration-releasing moves can replace it. And if you’re out in the dating world, here are the negative body-language gestures to try and avoid.
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