Smiling and Biting
By Kathi Whitten, LCSW
No. VA Psychotherapy Associates
Smiling and Biting
The theme of this issue is dental health. I thought it might be a good idea to stay with that theme, but with a twist. From a psychological perspective, our smiles and our “bite” are also important.
Smiling is a social connector. We like being smiled atit brightens our day. New parents are thrilled by their babys first smiles, friends and lovers enjoy smiling at each other, and we feel affirmed if a teacher or boss smiles at us.
We dont feel so good when we have the perception that someone is smiling or laughing at us when we are vulnerable though. If we feel embarrassed, scared, anxious or worried, seeing someone laugh may not be comforting. Yet, there are times when people fail to understand how hurtful it can be to act amused at someone elses discomfort.
It happens a lot in familiesstories get told for years about how someone did something embarrassing everyone laughs as it gets retold. Even the person involved will laugh, as that seems the best way to deal with it. I suggest that we all could be more aware of what things we laugh at. If it is at someone elses expenseit is probably more hurtful than otherwise. But the person feeling the hurt may not share that with us directly.
People who find there is little to smile about may be experiencing a clinical depression. Before deciding that someone is just gruff or withdrawn, it might be a good idea to try to get a sense of whether s/he is not smiling because of life circumstances or depression.
What about our “bite”? We say “his bark is worse than his bite,” we make a “biting comment”, we “bite off more than we can chew,” or “bite the hand that feeds us” At some level we understand the process of biting as being a part of our social world. We speak (in code) about our aggression in terms of our “bite.”
At times, were more “biting” in our speech and mannerisms than we realize. However, it would not work to give up “biting” as part of our communication altogetherits a matter of knowing when it is importantas in making a strong point with someone else. Then, using our “bite” appropriately is the necessary approach.
Our “bite” is important in various ways. We “chew” over ideas, we “chew someone out” when angry with them, we “chomp down” on new projects, we “bite the bullet” when trying to be brave, we are “bitten by an urge.” The psychological use of our smiles, frowns, teeth and biting is very significant. Just pay a bit of attention to how often you use an expression of this sort in your daily talk and thinking, and you will be struck by the importance of paying attention to our “psychological dental hygiene”! Pyschotherapy can be helpful for people who are experiencing depression or who have difficulty with aggression (or its opposite, passivity).