8 body language signs someone is nervous around you and finds it hard to open up

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Ever walked into a room and instantly known who’s out of their depth without hearing a word? 

It’s not magic; it’s the power of non-verbal communication. A staggering 55% of our messages are delivered not through words but through the language of our bodies. 

Whether it’s a high-stakes negotiation, a first meeting, or a public speaking gig, our body language doesn’t just speak; it shouts. Being able to read it is a key skill in communication. 

With this in mind, we’re diving into the eight unmistakable signs of nervousness and reluctance to open up that you might be missing. 

1) Lack of eye contact

Ever noticed how engaging eye contact can draw you in, making you feel genuinely connected

It’s not just a feeling; research has revealed that we’re more drawn to those who maintain eye contact, finding them more attractive and trustworthy. 

On the other hand, when someone avoids our gaze, it’s often a red flag of deeper emotions at play. The Center for Hyperhidrosis notes this behavior as a classic indicator of nervousness.

A reluctance to maintain eye contact can also suggest a difficulty in opening up. Eye contact is a bridge to personal connection, and without it, that bridge can feel like it’s missing a few crucial planks. 

It’s a silent admission of, “I’m not quite ready to let you in,” serving as a protective barrier against perceived judgment or rejection.

So, next time you notice someone shying away from eye contact, understand it might be more than just social awkwardness. It could be a sign they’re finding it hard to truly open up.

2) Closed body posture

I’m sure you’ve been in a discussion where the person across from you seemed encased in an invisible shell, arms crossed, legs intertwined. 

This posture, often perceived as merely a comfortable position, can carry a weightier message beneath its surface. As highlighted by Psychology Today, it’s a telltale sign of “Masking Insecurity.” 

Such body language serves as a shield, a non-verbal declaration of, “I’m bracing myself against potential threats.” When someone assumes a closed body posture in your presence, it’s as if they’re saying, “I’m not fully ready to engage.”  

It’s a defense mechanism, one that speaks volumes about their current emotional state and readiness to be truly open and receptive.

Understanding this body language can give you insight into the unspoken struggles someone might be facing. It can be a silent plea for patience and understanding, a sign that they might need more time or reassurance to feel secure and open in the conversation.

3) Fidgeting

I don’t know about you, but for me, there is little more irritating than someone fidgeting with their accessories or clicking a pen incessantly.

This isn’t just a quirky habit though; it can be a window into their inner emotional state. 

According to The Center for Hyperhidrosis, fidgeting ranks among the most prevalent signs of nervousness. 

When someone fidgets in your presence, it’s often a sign that they’re wrestling with inner barriers, finding it challenging to lay bare their thoughts and feelings. This nervous energy, channeled through fidgety movements, underscores a deeper reluctance to be vulnerable, to fully engage without holding back.

If you notice this, rather than becoming irritated, consider extending empathy and patience.

4) Fake smiles 

Fun fact: The authentic smile in science is often referred to as the “Duchenne smile,” It takes its name from Guillaume Duchenne, a French physician renowned for his exploration of facial expression physiology back in the 1800s.

This authentic smile isn’t just about the upward curve of the lips; it involves the eyes, lighting them up in a way that’s hard to fake. We all know it when we see it. 

A forced smile is mostly, if not all, in the lips. 

Here’s where it gets even more fascinating: genuine and forced smiles don’t just look different. They’re actually orchestrated by distinct parts of our brain. 

While a genuine smile is a spontaneous, emotional response, a forced smile is a conscious, deliberate act, often employed as a social tool.

In many social scenarios, people resort to using forced smiles or even fake laughter as a way to conceal their true feelings of discomfort or nervousness. 

Keep in mind that while it feels insincere, it could simply be a mask meant to cover up unease. 

5) Touching the face or neck

It may surprise you to learn that the average person touches their face about 23 times every hour. Yes, that’s almost once every two minutes. 

But why?

As clinical psychologist L. Kevin Chapman explained to CNBC, face-touching serves as an emotional regulator, a physical connection to our inner feelings, particularly in moments of discomfort.

Expanding on this idea, Joe Navarro, a former FBI Agent and author renowned for his expertise in body language, explains how our brain responds to stress by activating nerve endings. This, in turn, drives us to seek solace in self-soothing behaviors, like a gentle graze of a hand against the neck or the subconscious caress of the face. 

In a nutshell, observing someone frequently touching their face or neck can be a telltale sign of more than just physical irritation; it’s often a silent testament to their struggle with the situation at hand.

It hints at an underlying tension, a signal that the individual might be grappling with feelings of insecurity or pressure.

6) Constant foot movements 

So you’re in a meeting or waiting for an important announcement, and you notice someone’s foot tapping rhythmically or their leg bouncing restlessly. It’s a common scene, isn’t it? 

Such movements, often dismissed as mere habits, can actually be a telltale sign of the nervous energy simmering beneath the surface.

The Williamsburg Therapy Group sheds light on this phenomenon, explaining that such behaviors often stem from situational nervousness or underlying anxiety. 

But unless these movements are making a noticeable sound or causing visible vibrations, they can be incredibly easy to miss, especially on soft surfaces like carpets.

Next time you find yourself in a subdued setting, take a moment to observe the feet and legs around you. Those subtle shifts and shakes could be quietly whispering secrets about someone’s comfort in opening up.

7) Rapid blinking

Imagine you’re deep in conversation, and you notice the other person blinking more often than normal. 

You might think they are tired or their eyes are sensitive. This could be the case.  

But it’s also a widely recognized signal of nervousness. As highlighted by Very Well Mind, rapid blinking is often observed in individuals who are feeling distressed or uncomfortable. 

Frequent blinking can serve as a barrier to genuine connection and indicate an individual might be struggling internally and finding it difficult to open up fully.

If you notice someone blinking more rapidly than usual, it’s worth considering the underlying message. This subtle cue might be their body’s way of coping with the pressure, signaling a deeper unease that makes it challenging for them to let down their guard and truly open up.

8) Minimal or exaggerated gestures

So this is the final point, but it’s by no means the least significant. 

Have you ever found yourself nervous and so tense that you can hardly move? 

You know that stiff feeling where even a small movement feels huge, and you are almost painfully conscious of it. What did you do? 

Like many, maybe you tried to overcompensate by either minimizing or exaggerating your gestures.

Minimal or exaggerated gestures offer profound insights into an individual’s emotional state, particularly in the context of nervousness and openness.

Minimal gestures, those restrained movements or a noticeable lack of expressiveness, can be a clear indicator of someone holding back, a physical manifestation of internal restraint. This might be due to a lack of confidence or a subconscious attempt to reduce visibility in a situation.

On the flip side, exaggerated gestures might be overcompensations, attempts to fill the silence, or assert presence in a setting where someone feels out of place or anxious.

Both ends of this gestural spectrum suggest a discomfort with genuine, open expression. 

Whether it’s through barely noticeable nods or overly animated hand movements, these gestures can signal an underlying struggle with nerves, a hesitancy to fully engage, and difficulty in opening up.

The bottom line 

To sum up, our bodies often reveal much more about our emotions than we might consciously express. 

From the nervous tapping of a foot to the protective crossing of arms, each of these non-verbal cues can be a sign of nervousness or a struggle to connect.

Keep an eye out for them. 

As always, I hope you found this post valuable. 

Until next time. 

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Mal James

Mal James

Originally from Ireland, Mal is a content writer, entrepreneur, and teacher with a passion for self-development, productivity, relationships, and business.

As an avid reader, Mal delves into a diverse range of genres, expanding his knowledge and honing his writing skills to empower readers to embark on their own transformative journeys.

In his downtime, Mal can be found on the golf course or exploring the beautiful landscapes and diverse culture of Vietnam, where he is now based.

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