Heeeeere's ShadePlant! How to better conceal my feelings?
April 26, 2010 9:36 AM   Subscribe

How can I better conceal my feelings? My face gives away every thought I have... Whether I'm angry, delighted, anything!

I worry about it because I need to camouflage my feelings sometimes. I am a social worker and obviously I can't have my clients see my every reaction pass over my face. I also work at a bakery/coffee bar and I need to not look like I am going to kill the person who orders a lemon bar cut up into 16ths. This also obviously affects my personal relationships. E.G. What I say: "Yes, you can wear your Pink Floyd tie when we meet my mom." What they see: "Hell no!"

I cognitively understand I am "giving that look" but even when I try to look normal it comes off as weird. My brother compares my attempts to smile when I am uncomfortable to rictus.
posted by ShadePlant to Human Relations (18 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Often an inability to conceal body language stems from a tendency to form conclusions about what you're hearing before you have had a moment to think about it. Try to step back from the situation and de-personalize, and you will be less likely to show a reaction.

Something that may help you is to take acting classes. A large part of acting is being able to consciously manipulate your body langauge. Practicing this may help you.
posted by jehsom at 9:40 AM on April 26, 2010 [4 favorites]

Focus on your breathing and just stay relaxed. That's what I do in poker, anyway. :-)
posted by callmejay at 9:49 AM on April 26, 2010

Go to your local casino and start entering yourself in poker tournaments. When you're putting in $50 per tournament to play you will learn to conceal your feelings quickly.
posted by Cosine at 9:50 AM on April 26, 2010

You're actually further down the road than most people - you realize that you need to change something about your behaviour, you know what you have to change, and you know how you want to change it. 50% of the battle has been won.

The next step is to figure out what an ideal "poker face" looks like. Your eyes - where you're looking - tell a lot about what you're thinking.

Learn what body language you do not want to use, and then don't use it.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:54 AM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

The idea of a "poker face" helps but I can't play poker and have no intention of learning right now... And now I have that Lady Gaga song in my head! Can't read my can't read my barista face my barista face...
posted by ShadePlant at 9:55 AM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Bite your lip, or the inside of your cheek, or anything that forces your mouth into a frozen position. That helps me a lot; it keeps a lot of those expressions hidden.
posted by Melismata at 10:00 AM on April 26, 2010

My two favorites are to stare at a screen (laptop or cell), which may not work for you as you don't have the kind of desk job I do, and covering the bottom of my face with my hand. Eyes alone tend not to give as much away.

Also, jokes are a great way of dealing with anger . . . you may want to trot some out when you start feeling irked.
posted by bearwife at 10:15 AM on April 26, 2010

Riffing on the acting suggestion, it might be easier to practice a set of emotions that you can call up on command instead of working on hiding your emotions in general. Basically, you want to train up a few habitual responses that you can recall when you need them instead of acquiring a large repertoire of false emotions. For example, in social work putting on a convincing happy & cheerful face may not be appropriate, but showing rapt attention while expressing a hint of concern and interest in the others' well-being would be highly useful. It's not just the face either. Taking the example I just gave, you'd also want to maintain eye contact, keep yourself from idly moving other body parts, staring out the window, etc.

One thing you may consider doing is videotaping yourself while you do something else, like watch a favorite tv show. This way you can see what you, specifically, look like when you are attending, laughing, horrified, or very sad (depending on the show of course). Hulu or some other internet tv while recording from a webcam could work. Pick the emotion you want to copy and then try to do it consciously.
posted by scrutiny at 10:49 AM on April 26, 2010

What's actually helped me a lot is that in karate class, the instructor will call us out if we react too visibly to our own mistakes, or make other weird faces. (I kept my eyes closed about 50% of the time when I started out, and I could NOT tell I was doing it! It was so weird.) That feedback helped me tell when I was making those faces, and once I knew that, I could control them better.

So I'm not saying "take up a martial art," just get a trusted friend to call you on it regularly until you can sort of feel what your face is doing.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:16 AM on April 26, 2010

People close to me call me out on it a lot... It's a running joke. Watching me react honestly to 99% of things is practically a spectator sport for my family and friends. Or better yet, if I don't blurt something out, people will say, "Tell me what you just thought!". Teachers especially used to do that. "I can tell you're thinking something devious/funny/inappropriate, Ms. Plant. Is it something you'd like to share with the class?"

Suggestions so far are all helpful. I may do the acting class thing this summer once I have more free time. "In-the-moment" suggestions like breathing, etc. are also great. I will atempt to try many!
posted by ShadePlant at 11:24 AM on April 26, 2010

I'd say to also try some mirror training; pay attention to how your muscle move when you're thinking sad, etc. (e.g. my brow moves in this fashion) and in the future try to avoid moving them in that way. It'll be hard, no doubt, but if you take it slow and practice enough, I think it may help. scrunity's suggestions are excellent as well.

One other option - try purposefully thinking of something else to mask your emotions. So in the case of the annoying customer, the second it looks like they're going to be annoying, start thinking sunshine and kitties/puppies and smile away.
posted by Sakura3210 at 11:48 AM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can't play poker and have no intention of learning right now

You want to learn how to stop displaying your emotions? If I said "you can go to this class, and for $100 and eight classes, once a week, you can learn to stop displaying your emotions" you'd probably jump on it.

So go learn how to play poker, with friends; have them over, cook 'em dinner, and all learn to play together. Keep a small mirror in front of you, and if someone asks why, say "because you know me, I have the world's worst poker face, so I'm going to try to stop showing you my cards with my face." When you've lost about $100, you'll have also developed some skills.

It's not about poker; it's about PRACTICE and the ability to do so in a setting that rewards your success.
posted by davejay at 12:25 PM on April 26, 2010

Oh, one more thing: your fake smile looks like rictus? Everyone's fake smile looks that way, unless they've learned how to smile for real when they're faking it (either mechanically, or by thinking of something that makes them happy.)

So, until you learn to do that, stop lying with your face and body. Don't try to communicate something else, because that's master class level stuff. Just try not to communicate anything. Hold your body still. Hold your face still. You can't fake it until you've learned not to make it.
posted by davejay at 12:27 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I see why a poker face is valuable, but I'm balking at poker itself because I currently have two jobs, an internship and two grad school classes. I can't eeek one more thing into my brain! I will graduate at the end of May... Poker might be fun in the future. If I'm good I can hide my emotions and get money... WIN.
posted by ShadePlant at 12:56 PM on April 26, 2010

I have no help to offer, perhaps some thoughts on accepting and coping with your situation.

It cost me hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, to learn that I couldn't play poker. I've heard people say, "I know what you're thinking." throughout my life and people tell me that I'm transparent. All because it's almost impossible for me to mask what I feel. That also makes me a terrible liar. I've learned to accept that as a part of who I am.

Strive to accept the fact that you can't get away with being deceitful. People who know you will learn that they can trust you completely because you are incapable of deceiving others. Try to allow that flash of irritation, anger or frustration roll across your face and let it disappear. Move on to more positive thoughts.
posted by X4ster at 1:09 PM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Quickly think of something really bland and boring, like lots of cardboard or a 5000 page book on paint or whatever bores you a lot. Don't move your eyes though!
posted by meepmeow at 1:26 PM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Practice. Practice. Practice.

I used to be like this and I still do betray what I'm feeling sometimes but it really just took mentally focusing on this in order to overcome it. Similar to you, I'd have people just watching my face in social situations because my every emotion just came out on it. This is so not great in a service or office environment, obviously.

You need to think consciously about not judging. You need to focus on listening without drawing conclusions. I also find that cocking my head to the side and putting on a very slight smile can connote an air of "I'm listening and waiting" and that seems to defuse my natural reaction to react. You know the situations that cause you to react, go through them in your mind, rehearse them and your reaction.

I do play poker and I'd say my poker face is fair to middling. But I still keep practicing!
posted by amanda at 2:37 PM on April 26, 2010

Strive to accept the fact that you can't get away with being deceitful. People who know you will learn that they can trust you completely because you are incapable of deceiving others. Try to allow that flash of irritation, anger or frustration roll across your face and let it disappear. Move on to more positive thoughts.

Yes, I wholeheartedly agree. I'm an open book. So it is. Mostly my friends don't seem to mind, and it saves having to bring up my feelings on a topic; mostly people know already anyhow so there's no big disclosure event.

I did learn to at least have neutral facial expression (playing poker did help, so did playing other deceiving-based games such as Mafia), but I can only hold it for a short time, and I can't fake an actual expression. I only use it when I really feel trapped (e.g. in professional situations, or with personal interactions when I didn't choose to be there), and I don't even know how well it works there. Well enough, I think.
posted by nat at 11:26 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

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