It’s one of Prince Charles’ trademark arm position as he’s ambling past waving crowds. Policemen and soldiers often hold this position as they stand or pace, keeping the peace. Teachers too are known to take on this posture whilst walking between the desks during exam invigilation season. Even Tinkerbell does it.
Why do people hold their hands behind their back?
Reason 1: Signal of authority and power
Placing your arms behind your back is very much the opposite of crossing your arms protectively in front of you. By holding your hands behind you, you expose the front of your body, where all sorts of sensitive organs like your heart, lungs and intestines are found. In animal-terms, you are exposing yourself to potential attack. Such little concern regarding your unprotected state indicates feelings of confidence, power, superiority and authority. It’s as if they’re saying “I’m so powerful, no-one would dare do anything to me, so I need not protect my front!”.
This is most likely the subconscious reason for taking on this posture by royalty, people with a lot of power (in the cartoon world this includes Tinkerbell!) and people who deem themselves important such as policemen and teachers.
Reason 2: Physical Restraint: Holding back their arms from throwing a punch
If rather than a relaxed palm-in-palm hands behind the back you have a more intense gripping of hands, or one hand tightly gripping a fisted other hand at the wrist, or further up the arm, it’s quite likely to indicate restrained frustration or aggression.
Here the subconscious message is: “You can’t see how frustrated I am, but if my hand would let go of the other, boy would you know!”
Reason 3: Mental Restraint: Holding back the truth
It need not necessarily be physical restraint. Holding back and hiding thoughts and words may also be symbolized by holding your hands behind your back. Generally hiding your palms is sometimes linked with hiding things, or even lying.
Sometimes people who hold their hands behind their back are surprised when they’re met with hostility, and this may well be because the message they are sending is that they are potentially untrustworthy, aggressive or superior! No great wonder it’s not the best way to come across as friendly!
See other articles in the body language section including:
- Rubbing hands together: Why do I rub my hands together? Why do baddies in films do it? And why do salesmen do it?
- Middle Finger Insult: Why do I give The Finger?
- Body language of high or low social status
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