Body language: Clenching and clasping of the hands

By Hanan Parvez

Clenching hands in front of the body

This gesture has three main positions: hands clenched in front of the face, hands clenched resting on the desk or lap and, while standing, hands clenched over the lower abdomen.

When a person does this gesture, they are exercising some sort of 'self-restraint'. They are symbolically 'clenching' themselves back and withholding a negative reaction, usually anxiety or frustration. The higher the person clenches his hands whilst standing, the more negative he is feeling.

This gesture is usually done when a person feels that they are failing to convince the other person or are anxious about what they saying or hearing. While talking to a person holding this gesture, you should try moving the conversation in a different direction or ask questions so that you can, if not understand, at least break the negative attitude of the person.

clenched hands

Clasping hands over the lower abdomen/crotch

When a person finds himself in a position where he feels vulnerable but is required to display confidence and respect, he clasps his hands over the crotch or lower abdomen.

By covering up the crotch or the lower abdomen, the person feels secure and confident. This is why this gesture is commonly confused with confidence. Confidence is the product of this gesture, not the cause.

This gesture is usually done by football players while they are listening to their national anthem in order to pay their respects to the anthem as they feel a bit vulnerable with thousands of eyes on them. This gesture is also commonly observed when leaders and politicians meet and stand to pose for the photographs. You might also see this gesture when a priest delivers a sermon or any other social meeting that is presided over by authoritative figure.

respect gesture

Clasping hands behind the back

This gesture is done by a headmaster inspecting the school premises, a policeman patrolling the beat, superiors giving instructions to subordinates, etc. In short, it is displayed by an authoritative person to display authority.

This gesture communicates the message, “I feel confident and secure. I’m in charge of the affairs here. I’m the boss”.

hands clasped in the superior position

The person exposes his full frontal portion of the body, not feeling any need to protect the throat, vital organs and the crotch. In evolutionary terms, the person has no fear of attack from the front and is therefore displaying a fearless and superior attitude.

Clasping the wrist/arm behind the back

This is again a gesture of self-restraint, which implies that it is done in a situation where the person is trying to hold back a negative reaction. By clasping the wrist or arm behind the back, the person obtains some degree of self-control. It is as if the gripping hand is preventing the other hand from striking out.

So we can say that this gesture is done by a person when he needs to ‘get a good grip on himself’. The person doesn’t want to display his negative and defensive attitude to people and that’s why thus gesture happens behind the back. If the person brought his hands to the front and crossed his arms around the chest that would be too obvious a reaction for people to figure out.

In other words, it is an arm-cross defensive gesture but behind the back. The higher the person clasps his other arm, the more negative he is feeling.

hands clasped behind the back
Even though the person on the left is transferring his negative energy to the innocent pen, the person on the right is feeling more insecure
Suppose a boss is giving instructions to some newly employed juniors. He is likely to be seen clasping his hands behind the back. What if a colleague arrives on the scene and also starts giving instructions?

The boss who was already present on the scene may feel a bit threatened and his superior position might be challenged. So he may start holding the wrist behind his back and not his hand. Now what if the president of the company arrives on the scene and rebukes the colleagues-the instructors, saying something like “Why are you wasting time giving instructions? They already read them in the job profile. Start assigning them some actual projects.”

At this point our superior who was gripping the wrist might clasp his arm on a higher position because his superiority has been further threatened.



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