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Kelly J. Cooper

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Reflection [Aug. 13th, 2007|04:55 am]
Kelly J. Cooper
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An explanation here...

Set-up Part One: I've never really practiced control over my facial expressions. It just wasn't high on my list of Stuff To Do.

Set-up Part Two: I have periodically been surprised over the years by people who have confessed to me that I intimidated them and they were honestly frightened of me or of seeing me angry. One of the loudest, angriest people I know (an ex-boss, in fact, from back when I was a college student) told me that he was afraid to see me angry.

I find this all puzzling because while I do have anger issues and have been known to get quite vociferous when frustrated, annoyed, or pissed-off (which I consider emotions below the level of anger; i.e., when I'm frustrated, I'm not angry per se), I've never been violent toward anyone. Well, actually, I think I punched Eric P. in the arm once after he dragged me over the couch and I experienced a tremendous amount of pain from a fabric staple that had come loose and scraped my abdomen as I was pulled across it. That was, um, 10 years ago now? A few years before that, I'd gone a little berserker on the phone at someone who was threating my life and that of my friends, but that was entirely verbal.

Upshot, years pass between the times when I get angry, actually well and truly angry, and I can count the total number of times on one hand that I feel like I actually hit that emotion.

Set-up Part Three: About a week ago, someone told me something. It was a legitimate complaint about my behavior and I felt bad (upset with myself) that I'd let it go far enough that he felt he had to speak up. He asked me to change the behavior. I acknowledged his criticism. Then we did something else and a few minutes later, he (unknowingly) undid a bunch of work I'd just done and I asked him to stop. He backed off and we had a weird non-communicating miscommunication and an uncomfortable day.

I saw him again today and we hashed out the issue (which went awkwardly because I was exhausted; once I calmed down, though, we were able to talk it through, which is a good step for me in handling conflict, one of my weak points). He'd made assumptions about my thoughts based on his reading of my facial expression (which he told me frightened him); based on my perception of his past behaviors, I'd made assumptions about his behavior being punitive (when they were actually in response to what he thought I was projecting).

Thus, my question: To those of you who've seen me upset: am I really so thunderously frightening looking?

Should I work on my unconscious facial expressions? If so, how would I do that, given that being upset is a pretty rare state for me?
linkReply

Comments:
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-08-17 06:18 am (UTC)
Well, you can be even more imposing than I am!

But thanks for the thoughts.
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[User Picture]From: louiseroho
2007-08-13 01:29 pm (UTC)
I agree that your face "at rest" is intimidating. I have always felt intimidated by you which is why I have never sought you out in a social situation despite the fact I know you are an intriguing and intelligent person.

I do not know if endeavoring to change your normal facial expression. Would it be unconscious if you are conciously trying to make it a different face? What kind of face would you try to display instead? How does one change one's face short of surgery or bacterial injections?
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2007-08-13 02:22 pm (UTC)
So, couple of things.

First, I utterly sympathize with you here... I have been well acquainted in my life with the problem of people seeing me as more hostile, intimidating, etc. than I intend to be/see myself as/expect, and it's a difficult thing.

Second... well, I'm not sure I've seen you when you're upset, but you're certainly several sigmas out (relative to people I know) on the negative-projection scale. Shortly after meeting you I had to learn to "divide by K" to avoid the perpetual sense that my very presence was annoying you.

This isn't a complaint, btw; there's lots of people I've had to calibrate to in various directions upon meeting them.

I'll also add that you have a great smile... when I see you pleased or cheerful it's obvious that you are genuine about it.

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[User Picture]From: drwex
2007-08-13 02:25 pm (UTC)
I agree on all of these points. Sorry I can't provide concrete suggestions. Just one datum.
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[User Picture]From: foomf
2007-08-13 04:49 pm (UTC)
I've never seen your expression.

I had a similar problem though. Part of it was a slight grimace from being in low grade pain, part of it was a learned threat attitude to keep bullies away when I was a kid. I sort of stopped it by deliberately relaxing, and smiling on purpose. Although then I had people wondering what I was gloating about.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-08-17 06:21 am (UTC)
Hmm. I've been making a serious effort in the past couple of years to smile at clerks, security guards, assistants, servers, etc. All the people who seem to get ten shades of shit dumped on them.

I don't know if it's helped my overall expression, though.
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[User Picture]From: jason237
2007-08-13 06:59 pm (UTC)
I run into the same thing; people that don't know me that well often find me intimidating, and even people that know me well can think that I'm upset about something when I'm really just thinking about it.

Elizabeth wrote about this in her LJ a while back: http://lillibet.livejournal.com/63305.html

I don't remember having this reaction to you, which I suppose is probably because I understand what it looks like from the inside.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-08-17 06:23 am (UTC)
Thank you for that pointer. A very interesting set of guidelines.

I do a LOT of pondering. WAAAAAY TOO MUCH pondering. I definitely think too much. Sometimes, when I look faintly constipated, it's because I'm trying to figure out some new angle on handling world poverty.

Other times, I'm trying to decide whether I want to eat a cookie or a potato chip.

Sometimes I wish my brain had an off switch. Or at least a low idle.
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[User Picture]From: lionsburg
2007-08-13 07:07 pm (UTC)
Generally I would describe you as very expressive and you tend to have a larger personality than average.

It can be a double-edge sword, very fun to be around but maybe a little intimidating, to some, when you are hurt or angry.

For me, it isn't a bad thing. I've always enjoyed your company and never have felt intimidated by you even when you have had a bad day.

To quote socially-clueless dress-up Barbie - "Emotions are hard!" (sadly, I still own such a doll.)

-- Michael
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-08-17 06:25 am (UTC)
Hmm. I was so shy for so much of my life it's sometimes hard to imagine that I have a big personality. But all evidence points toward it.

I know that when I've had a bad day, I can be quite vociferous. It's mostly a decompression thing, where I'm just venting. But I think, in retrospect, that I may have scared the shit out of any number of people doing that...

Hmm.

Thank you.
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[User Picture]From: istemi
2007-08-13 08:12 pm (UTC)
Babe, I'm the wrong person to ask.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-08-17 06:25 am (UTC)
*grin*
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-08-17 06:26 am (UTC)
This was an infinitely cheering post.

Thank you very much, Bill!
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[User Picture]From: miss_chance
2007-08-15 01:38 am (UTC)
There are three different responses your post has me wanting to make.

The first, in answer to your actual question, no, I've never felt that you had an off-putting demeanor of any sort. Or, if I did, it was so long ago that I can't remember, but really, what I read off you when I see you from a distance at parties and social gatherings is that if you are feeling well, you give off a very supportive and non-judgmental air, making people feel safe talking to you. I always guessed that was part of why children take to you instantly: you never appear to be judging. If you're not feeling well I read that on you, too, and get the feeling that I shouldn't approach if I'm not in a head space to help. NOT that you are off-putting in any way then, either, just that I will feel bad if I don't feel I can stay with you and help you feel better, because I will feel guilty. I suspect that, like me, you show your emotions more honestly to the outside world than to yourself, so perhaps you show your anger and frustration, even when you don't know you are feeling them. I know I do.



The second response, which is completely not at all what you were asking, has to do with the scenario you described. As I read it, I immediately wondered if the companion in question has any history of "retaliatory" or "passive-punishing" behavior. He complained to you and you handled it in what sounds like an even, adult manner by apologizing and acknowledging. If he had been angry or internally frustrated when he came to you, and you responded in such a reasonable manner, his anger might have had no where to go. He can't get mad at you, because you've just accepted the criticism. So it sits there. Then, a little while later, you mention something that he had done in error. Now it's up to him to reply with the same level of even-keeled maturity, by acknowledging the error and apologizing. But, perhaps his emotions are still off balance from earlier. Or perhaps he's just not as emotionally mature as you. So he's awkward, and all jangled-nerves inside because the right thing for him to do is to behave in a manner in which he's not prepared to behave. The day is awkward for both of you, and maybe he's going back and forth between feeling like it's his fault for saying something the first time, feeling like it's his fault for making an error later, or not responding well to it, and feeling like it can't be all his fault and looking to you. Finally you have a chance to talk, and he tells you that the way you act unconsciously makes him uncomfortable. ... In my reading of the scenario, it's all too messy to take any one part of it and blow it up out of proportion. It seems that the exchange has to be read holistically, and not that this "incidentally" happened to best be the best juncture to mention a long-standing behavior. It seems that in this kind of complex situation it's hard to take the criticism at face value, (so to speak... ha, ha, "face," get it?) because the person making it might have been feeling defensive when making it.


Thirdly, in the classic LJ manner of "enough about you, let's talk about me," ;-) I'll say that recently I've been struck by the horrifying expressions on my face in candid group photos. I saw one from Baitcon that showed three people sitting together, two smiling and relaxed, and one, me, scowling like I had never been happy in the history of this green earth. I know when I see a person looking like I did in that image I think "what a sour person!" so I've been making a new effort to keep a smile on my face. I'm sure I have weird neutral-face most of the time, but whenever I think of it I smile absent-mindedly (kind of like doing kegal exercises while driving). I try to imagine there's a kitten on my lap, or on the chair in front of me, and work to hold that smile. If you see it working on me, let me know and I'll keep it up. If you see me looking constipated, though, I'm probably just doing kegals. ;-)
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-08-17 06:29 am (UTC)
This person and I are on different wavelengths and it's taking quite a while for us to tune into each other. I think we're managing it, but it's slow going. I suspect that we'd be unlikely to be friends if we weren't working together, which is an entirely different and thought-provoking topic.

I look horrible in photographs in general. I've always suspected it's because so much of whatever attractiveness I have is in my personality, not in my appearance, and since most photographs can't capture movement/energy, I just look like a no-chin cranky bitch.
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From: (Anonymous)
2007-08-15 07:31 am (UTC)
If somebody finds your mad-face scary then they need to get out of the House of Usher more or something. -RWK
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-08-17 06:29 am (UTC)
This made me laugh. Thank you, my dear. See you at the Picnic.
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[User Picture]From: kimberlogic
2007-08-16 01:44 am (UTC)
I keep not having enough wakefulness or enough time when my laptop is actually functioning to type the reply I've been composing in my head. So I'm going to write it up at work tomorrow and try sending it from there. The short form is that a) I'm listening/reading and b) I've never felt like you had any sort of scary expressions. I found you intimidating before but that was about your superior brain and sense of humor :) I am a person who can be overly-sensitive to things like tone-of-voice or expression so I might be a good test-subject for such worries but again, in the 12 or so years that I've known you, your facial expressions haven't really worried/scared me. I have to wonder a bit about the other person's experience with others - something that makes him read into your expression ...
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-08-17 06:30 am (UTC)
My superior brain and sense of humor? Yikes.

Thanks for thinking about this for me...
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[User Picture]From: allessindra
2007-08-18 05:17 am (UTC)

Yet Another Data Point


Any caution I ever had around you had more to do with my chronic inability to feel comfortable around females than anything else. I've never found you intimidating, or scary, or anything other than friendly and comfortable.

*hugs*
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-08-18 05:27 am (UTC)

Re: Yet Another Data Point

Huh. I don't think I ever noticed you having an issue of comfort around females, although I do know that you've mentioned it before.

Anyway, thank you!
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