Body Language of the Personality Disordered

Uploaded 9/19/2011, approx. 3 minute read

My name is Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.

Patients with personality disorders have a body language specific to their personality disorder.

The body language comprises an unequivocal series of subtle and not-so-subtle presenting signs.

A patient's body language usually reflects the underlying mental health problem or pathology.

Consider, for instance, a patient with avoidant personality disorder as opposed to a patient with narcissistic personality disorder, the two diametrical opposites.

Of course, both of them will comport themselves differently.

The narcissist's body language is pretty unique. It's haughty, it's arrogant.

The narcissist adopts a physical posture which implies and exudes an air of superiority, hidden powers, mysteriousness, amused indifference, etc.

Though the narcissist usually maintains sustained and piercing eye contact, he often refrains from physical proximity.

The narcissist maintains his personal territory and does not allow anyone to invade it.

The psychopath, on the other hand, is likely to be expansive, is likely to dominate and invade other people's personal territory.

He is swaggering and vaguely menacing.

The narcissist's manifest equanimity is bound to be mixed with an underlying streak of agitation and violent impatience, hypervigilance and an impending doom, a lack of impulse control that is evident yet not fully there.

The general impression is of a wound time bomb bound to explode.

The avoidant, for a patient with avoidant personality disorder, is reticent, and she maintains a clearly demarcated personal turf to which she often withdraws, for instance, by folding her legs underneath her.

Her body posture is tense and defensive, shoulders stooped, arms folded, legs crossed.

Avoidants usually avoid eye contact. The borderline is all over the place.

Her body seems to not be fully under her control. She is irritated, fidgety, manic, alternates between displaying empathic warmth in a demanding, sulking and even threatening position.

The schizoid is robotic, slow and deliberate. The patient with schizoid personality disorder moves reluctantly, maintains great distance from the therapist, and is passive but not aggressive throughout the encounter.

The schizotypal is hypervigilant but friendly and warm.

The patient with schizotypal personality disorder does not hesitate to gesture his emotions, affection, anger or fear.

Similar to the obsessive compulsive, the schizotypal has small, private rituals which he uses to reduce his level of anxiety.

The paranoid patient with paranoid personality disorder is called a defensive, hypervigilant and has a startled reaction.

His eyes dart, he fidgets, sometimes sweats and his difficulty is breathing.

Outward manifestations, panic attacks.

The paranoid speech is likely to be idiosyncratic and he maintains eye contact only when trying to prove a point to gorge his interlocutors reaction.

In itself, body language cannot and should not be used as a diagnostic tool. But in conjunction with psychiatric interviews, psychological tests, it can provide an additional layer of diagnostic certainty.

We speak through our bodies.

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