Breaking Free – June 2010 – The Contemptuous Eye Roll


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The Contemptuous Eye Roll

This is an encore newsletter from a couple of years ago that I wanted to send out again because I’ve noticed a lot of contemptuous eye rolls lately… especially in American politics and current events.

We’ve been talking about expectations and perfection in the last few newsletters and that can often lead to devaluing of the human being (because our mind is overvaluing the idea or expectation).

The green text, like this text, is new information that I’ve added to the previous edition.

What I’d like to draw your attention to in this issue is how you can recognize when you are devaluing others. If you can learn to recognize a key component to this transposition of value, you will be one step closer to being able to bring positive value to those around you.

In my coaching practice, the key goal is to basically shorten and eventually eliminate the time between when you recognize you’ve messed up and when you actually messed up. If you, at this Pivotal Moment, can choose a different response, YOU will be able to be on your true path to success. If you don’t choose to respond differently and ignore a sabotaging thought, you will greatly hinder your success.

Let’s learn about a commonly overlooked (devaluing) expression…

World Famous Face Reader

Paul EkmanHave you ever heard of Paul Ekman? Dr. Paul Ekman is a professor of psychology who has become the world’s most famous face reader. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and state and local police forces have turned to Dr. Ekman for help learning to read subtle emotional cues from the faces, voices and body language of potential assassins, terrorists and questionable visa applicants. The detailed knowledge of facial expression has earned Dr. Ekman a supporting role in the movie industry, where he has consulted with animators from Pixar and Industrial Light & Magic to give lifelike expressions to cartoon characters.

Dr. Ekman’s work is also featured on the Fox show “Lie to me*”. You can watch full episodes by going to

Dr. Ekman’s expertise is very unique and can be very helpful when understanding when you are de-valuing others. For instance, Dr. Ekman is able to accurately predict whether a couple will divorce in the next 4 years simply by watching (not even hearing) a couple’s conversation. He doesn’t even need to see the whole conversation… he only needs to see 3-4 minutes to make his prediction.

He is right 94% of the time!!

How does he do it?

ContemptDr. Ekman understands that we have micro-expressions that are exposed on our faces that represent how we REALLY feel. These micro-expressions are brief (lasting just a few milliseconds) and contain emotional signals regarding our internal thoughts.

Dr. Ekman studies show that there are many facial expressions that can predict when a relationship will fail but one of the most telling is the contemptuous eye roll!

Paul Ekman discovered this contemptuous facial expression which involves pulling one lip corner to the side and creating a dimple usually accompanied by an eye roll. Just counting how many times somebody did that facial expression when conversing with their partner was an excellent predictor of whether they would get divorced or not.

Let’s look at this expression and see if you can recognize this in your life…

We don’t talk about contempt much in our society unless, of course, we’re talking about courtrooms and lawyers. So, what is contempt? Contempt is a feeling of being better than another person, of being superior, usually morally superior but it can also be felt toward some who is weaker in intelligence, strength, and so forth. Basically, contempt is devaluing another person and overvaluing your ideas and expectations or your self.

During that moment of contempt, your mind is convincing YOU that by devaluing another, you are some how gaining value. That simply is NOT true! Value is not a zero-sum game.

Your “contemptuous eye roll”

Many times contempt comes from an emotional experience earlier in your life that you have been trained to respond to.

As Dr. Ekman says, “We may find ourselves responding inappropriately to things that angered, frightened or disgusted us earlier, reactions that we now deem inappropriate to our adult life. There is a greater likelihood that we will make mistakes in our early learning of emotional triggers simply because our learning mechanisms are less well developed. Yet what we learn early may have greater potency, greater resistance to learning, than what we learn later in life.”

The powerful thought habits that you have inadvertently obtained may now be sabotaging your relationships, your effectiveness, your productivity and your creativity. They are causing you to have a skewed perspective or a distorted view of reality.

It is YOUR feelings of threat, danger or other emotions that are the true causes of contempt NOT the actions of another person. In that moment, your ideas and expectations that YOU created in your own mind are more important than the other human being. When you expect someone to act or behave a certain way and they don’t measure up to what your brain created, your brain is threatened by not being right or able to correctly predict what was going to happen… then, the contemptuous eye roll can appear.

There are many reasons for our feelings of contempt. Here a just a few:

  • low self-esteem or self-appreciation
  • a need to be right
  • a need to feel superior
  • unrealistic expectations
  • assuming intent of others’ actions
  • fear

Some common times when this contempt may happen are perhaps when a person jumps in line or cuts you off in traffic or breaks one of your rules or name-drops. How about when someone tries to explain something to you do you assume they are being condescending? In all these instances your brain is assuming INTENT and triggering your feeling of contempt. And, where there is contempt there CAN NOT be intrinsic or positive value.

Helpful Hints

First of all, let’s talk about children and teenagers…

When you allow them to say “Whatever” (usually pronounced wuht-ev’-ah) to our requests or comments, you are inadvertently promoting contempt. The next time you hear that, stop and take a true interest in the person. Ask them questions about their emotions. Did something you say make them feel threatened? Instead of you being offended that they were offended or disrespectful, could you step into their world and look at your actions from a different perspective? If so, was it something that was a true threat to them or could your actions and words be seen as an apparent threat? Can you help them think of any other way to react that might be more productive for THEM?

Now let’s talk about you…

In order to change your behavior and begin to live a life filled with intrinsic (greater) value, you should follow these steps:

  1. Identify the behavior: Catch yourself as you roll your eyes. Ask others for help in this area. You may not even recognize it until minutes or hours after it happens. That’s ok!
  2. Identify your thought or expectation or threat: Why, at that moment, was it so important for you to devalue the other person? Are you feeling threatened? Are you feeling the need to be superior? Take the time to understand what expectation (internal or external) has caused the feeling of contempt.
  3. Apologize for the behavior (if you are in front of the person): This is not only for the other person’s benefit, but for you as well. The other person needs to know that the eye roll was not meant to devalue them but was a product of your own internal dialogue and inappropriate emotional triggers that you are trying to change. Your mind needs to hear your voice saying that it is not how you want to be served by it.
  4. Focus on changing your expectations and emotional triggers: Yes, this will take time so make sure one of your personal expectations isn’t perfection! Know that you CAN change your expectations (your thought habits) over time which will lead to a change in your behavior.
  5. Focus on your strengths: Understand that the quickest way to change a habit isn’t by fixing and focusing on the bad habit. The quickest way to change is by focusing on your strengths!

Think About It…

There are many other devaluing expressions and emotions that you may have learned inadvertantly that are now restricting your success. I only focused on one here. Can you identify others? (maybe sarcasm, cynicism, disdain, etc.) Do these have facial expressions that can help you ‘catch’ those thoughts and feelings so that you can change them?