How to Use Dominant and Submissive Body Language in Your Writing

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Have you ever watched a movie and noticed one character dominating another? How do you show dominant and submissive body language without telling your readers what is happening? How do your readers know if a character is dominant or submissive?

In this post, we’ll discuss dominant and submissive body language and how you can use it in your writing.

Dominant body language is similar to aggressive body language, but at a lower emotional level. When a character is using dominant body language, they are not being aggressive, but dominant authoritatively.

What are the Signs of Dominant Body Language?

A character showing dominant body language will often try to make their body appear bigger than what it is. Sometimes male characters will cross their arms with their hands under their biceps to make them appear larger.

Characters will also hold their hands on their hips with their elbows out wide, chest out, and chin up. Think about mothers counting to three while waiting for their children to do something.

Image by RyanMcGuire from Pixabay.

An Example

A great example of using dominant body language over another is a detective and suspect in an interrogation room. You will often see the detective standing or leaning over a suspect while they sit. This gives the detective a dominating height, which can intimidate the suspect.

The detective may:

  • pace around the room
  • come up behind the suspect,
  • lean over the suspect’s shoulder
  • talk and walk rather than sitting at the table with the suspect.
  • swear
  • call the suspect names
  • flip through a folder in front of them (evidence)
  • use a tape recorder (to get them to incriminate themselves)
  • stare the suspect down
  • roll their eyes when the suspect speaks
  • yawn
  • squint at the suspect
  • smirk at their responses

By invading the personal space of the suspect, the detective makes them feel uncomfortable with the added height and being talked down to. Thus, the detective achieves a dominant stance and dominance over the territory.

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What is Submissive Body Language?

Not to be mistaken for passive body language, a person with submissive body language appears conquered.

What are the Signs of Submissive Body Language?

A character showing submissive body language may cower into a fetal position or exhibit closed body language (avoiding eye contact, arms crossed, rocking, self hug formation) until the perceived threat has passed.

Some specific submissive body language signals one may notice are:

  • holding the head down to avoid eye contact with others
  • widening of eyes to appear innocent
  • avoiding looking into the eyes of someone who is speaking to them
  • agree with whoever they are speaking with
  • subdued smile
  • shoulders lowered
  • staying as still as possible

Image by MART PRODUCTION from Pexels.

An Example

An example of using submissive body language could be domestic violence. At first, the battered spouse will attempt to fight back, but eventually, the abuser wins and the battered spouse submits. That is submissive body language as being conquered.

Characters that are submissive have decided not to fight back. They believe their only chance of survival is to let the other person have their way. Sometimes they are afraid of angering the abuser further. The abuser would use dominant body language to intimidate the battered spouse.

Last Words on Dominant and Submissive Body Language

In this fifth installment of the body language series, we discussed using dominant and submissive body language. How do you use body language in your writing? Let me know in the comments. Be sure to come back in the next few weeks for more body language tips for your novel.

Take Care



Feature photo by Tabeajaichhalt from Pixabay.



Body Language Series

Missed any segments in the body language series? You can catch up here:

Body Language

Open and Closed

Aggressive and Defensive


Dominant and Submissive

Relaxed and Ready


Attentive and Evaluative





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