I want to forget how to face…

Jason,
I need advice. I don’t want to give myself away through my microexpressions. And I have several. More than most. How do I be more… stoic? Similar to [our stoic friend]? I’ve [learned to control my emotions, I stay away from drugs], I’ve done all of that except tried logic. Do you know of any books on [our friend’s] shelf, or should I library? And honestly, I think there is something wrong with me on a professional level only, I can get emotional about work, and it’s been hard to hide lately. It’s causing slight stress but more of a disturbance in my flow, and my effectiveness.
– [Left to be unnamed.]

I have neither attempted to, nor come across a means to, or desire to, stifle microexpressions. As far as I’ve always understood; a microexpression occurs on account of having to attempt to conceal an emotion in the first place. In other words, a microexpression is a form of a “tell,” as they call them in the poker world. They, microexpressions, occur because the personality, perhaps the id, requires truthful information to be conveyed. If I were to, say, lie about something and I was a person that was apt to convey microexpressions; then a microexpression (a full blown facial expression) would flash upon my face in, approximately, 1/10 of a second.

(And the timing, of 1/10 of a second, is no guesswork. When I decided to study microexpressions, I asked friends to lie to me while I filmed them. One friend specifically was, as I knew, disgusted by, and abhorred, cigarettes. I asked her to convince me, on film, that she loved them. When I’d spot a microexpression I would cut that single second out and put it into my computer. The second of footage was able to be broken down into 30 frames. A microexpression of theirs lasted for 3 out of the 30 frames. 1 frame was the initial onset, the 2nd frame was a full blown expression, the 3rd frame was the offset of the emotion. 3/30 frames, in other words; 1/10 of a second. And the expression was full on disgust. To be technical it had a Facial Action Coding Score (FACS) with the Action Units (AUs), 9 (the levator labii superioris alaeque nasi), 15 (the depressor anguli oris) and 16 (the depressor labii inferioris) Amazing! Full blown disgust in one 10th of a second! It’s staggering. Back to the point… I agree…)

I’ve been spending a few days now trying to think of a way to conceal something that manifests as a result of concealment and what I have come up with is that, simply, you don’t.

On the one hand, the more prominent one in this metaphor, there are, theoretically, one is my theoretical and the other is, so to speak, Ekmanomical… Paul Ekman, the one who is widely credited as discovering and working with microexpressions (though technically it was E.A. Haggard and K.S. Isaacs in 1996 who called it “Micromomentary.“) has developed a training tool to learn how to spot microexpressions. (I have taken all of the courses and each are worth it.)

The point is, if it is something that people need to practice at or take a training on; the chances of someone who is of the, for lack of better terms, average individual having taken such a course is, likely, pretty minimal and they will miss them (microexpressions) when they occur.

Remember, we’re talking about 1/10 of a second here!

On the next hand we have those pesky little buggers called mirror neurons. And these are a problem, why? In this case they are anyway… Mirror neurons are what promote and manifest empathy. When I yawn, you yawn– mirror neuron. When you frown, I grow saddened– mirror neuron. When you show anger, I become afraid– mirror neuron. And they exist for a beautiful evolutionary reason. Mirror neurons are where empathy comes from, how we can feel sympathy. So, if a person exhibits a mircroexpression then it is quite reasonable to expect that, since the brain notices more information than we can possibly imagine, the person who sees a microexpression will have a mirror neuron effect from the cause of you making such a grumpy face.

It’s a pickle. No doubt.

(Not to mention the growing probability that thoughts and feelings may be less private than we think or that we are cluttering the noosphere with all the muck and entrails of what we think and feel. Enough hippy side tracking… Back on point…)

Now that we have a bit of an understanding as to what and why a microexpression is… Let’s consider their control. It is reasonable to suggest that you will have to, instead, learn to control your emotions and not your microexpressions at all. Honesty is, as I always say, the best route. Once a friend said to me, “lying–it is something that you can do to all people or no people; your choice.” And, quite frankly, I agree.

Now, sadly, if you attempt to conceal microexpressions there is, then, a good possibility that you will be given away based on three principles–

    1. A Simulated Expression is when a microexpression is not concomitant with a natural expression which will lend suspicion to your conversationalist pal.
    2. A Neutralized Expression occurs when the one emoting attempts to neutralize an emotion (quite like you are doing) and, consequentially, no emotions, where one should, appears causing a non-microexpression-microexpression…
    3. A  Masked Expression is when the microexpression truly rears its head; that is when you attempt to mask a natural expression then another expression can, and most likely will, give you away.

In other words; you will most likely be fully incapable of repressing your microexpressions and if you do/try you will only lead to more. Not to mention the amount of damage it will do on your psyche. On the path where you are heading I would beg to ask the question, “if you would not do this job for free, then why are you doing it?” Instead is it time to change professions?

If, however, this is a necessary job for the time being I would work on practicing keeping your “cultural emblems, subject manipulators and object manipulators,” at a minimum. These are things that really do cause an affective effect in the person who views them. And these are things that people don’t even need to study in order to spot…

Pesky mirror-neurons…

I hope that answers your question and I hope that I can convince you to watch a video before you leave. The video is a Ted.com lecture by a woman named Brene’ Brown. She talks about allowing yourself to be vulnerable to your emotions and compassionate towards yourself to a point where things like you are trying to do–are no longer relevant. She explains a simple method to trusting yourself and others with whatever emotion is given or received… And furthermore she talks about the power one receives by becoming, of all things, as vulnerable as one possibly can become.

I hope this helps…

If not, you can always hit up a Byron Katie, “Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet.”

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