Body-language and nonverbal communication

The skin is the message 3 – Tattoo and shame –










Tattoo and shame

It happened about two weeks ago when I travelled by underground in Berlin. It was a hot summer day. People wore light clothing so that I could see very clearly that someone sitting opposite to me had a tattoo on his shoulder. The man sitting together obviously with his girlfriend, arm in arm, had many very colourful and artificial painted tattoos on his shoulder and his neck. I began to look more intensely to those tattoos and tried to find out what they symbolised, and what the symbols were saying to me.

When it happened just on a sudden that this man addressed me obviously quite aggressive with the words: “Why are you staring at me? What are you looking for?” Meanwhile his girl-friend tried to cover her own tattoo. You can imagine how astonished I was about this reaction. I felt very friendly looking, I felt in a good mood admiring those paintings on the body. And I felt very interested in trying to decrypt the shown symbols.

Of course I right away realized the slightly aggressive tone in the man’s voice. Of course I felt rejected ………….by his eyes looking very intensely at me, with the nonverbal message:

Stop looking! Stop that!

I asked myself how I could understand this nonverbal reaction, this nonverbal communication between this man and me. And of course with his girlfriend. Maybe I was a little naïve, feeling somehow invited to look at those body tattoos. Maybe it was a little naïve to understand this writing on the body as part of a body language to which I nonverbally  had replied by friendly looking and being interested in understanding more about this person and his body language message. You can understand how astonished I was realizing myself as part in some kind of nonverbal communication process having felt being invited, having tried to answer in an adequate way and then being rejected in such an aggressive manner. But it was a fact which I had to face. And to which I had to react. I had to look away. Right away.

I had experienced the tattoo as an offer to communicate nonverbally but I was not used to the ambivalence which seems to be part of this tattoo, this kind of nonverbal communication offer. Thinking more clearly about this reaction I came to the conclusion that the message in the ambivalence was the following:

The tattoo as an important aspect of self-expression, of self-presentation seems to be important to the person. It also seems to be necessary that this expression is seen by the other people meeting this man. At least it is unconsciously addressing other people, because other can see it right away. At the same time, and this characterizes the ambivalence in a very specific way, the nonverbal message in the tattoo is, at least in the experienced situation I talk about: Don’t look at me. Don’t regard me as an interesting person, as an object of awareness and don’t identify me and this way of self-expression by just looking at me.

It seemed that looking at his tattoo made him at least feel his tattoo and the very personal meaning which the tattoo has for him. And addressing me in such an aggressive way can be regarded as an expression of deep shame, the shame being seen as oneself.

To make it short: Here I am, it is important that I’m here, but don’t look at me and don’t show me, that you look at me. Because by looking at me you let me feel my deepest emotion. You let me feel myself. Feel myself as important.

It seems to be an expression of deep shame which characterizes the nonverbal communication between the man and me. This effect of shame explains the clearly expressed aggression and the deep rejection by the man’s look. Shame as an affect symbolises the unconscious wish not to be seen by others. Because if someone sees me than I will feel myself, and I feel will feel that I am not ok in the way I am.

foto :,r:6,s:11,i:124

Submit comment