I grew up with a hidden disability. I never knew that I was faceblind until my 20s. One day I looked in the mirror and realized I’d never really made a voluntary facial movement besides smiling when it was polite. Upon this discovery, I realized I had facial amnesia. I didn’t know what to do with my face anymore.
Years later, I’ve realized that a lot of the problems I had in my 20s with not knowing what to do with my face are very universal. We all want to be beautiful. We all want our faces to evoke positive feelings for people. We all want to express ourselves. We all want to be understood.
Luckily, on my journey towards facial confidence, I also discovered around the same time that I am an empath and a reverse empath. I can feel other people’s feelings strongly, and other people can feel mine strongly as well. I believe that on some level we are all empaths and reverse empaths. This is key to facial confidence.
The first step towards making a facial expression is trying to relax. People can empathize with the fact that you are not relaxed and then it will not be a relaxed conversation. Yes, it is overwhelming to make any facial expression at all. We don’t want to be misunderstood. We don’t want to make “ugly faces.” We want to look confident, and we want to be successful. However, if you tense up, your dominant face is that you are insecure about your face. It is better to make what you consider to be an ugly relaxed face than a tense insecure face that feels perhaps seemingly more beautiful to you in a way.
Don’t be afraid of your relaxed face. Your relaxed face is your friend. In the ‘90s, I grew up with all kinds of safe adults who had an imperfect relaxed face. It made them seem powerfully confident and commanded respect from children. It showed that they were listening with their ears, not thinking about how to improve their face narcissistically. It made you feel heard, and it helped you to be a little person.
Practice holding on to your relaxed face. Your body might freeze up a little bit, but it looks and feels like you are listening. Don’t try to improve your face, even if you flinch. Sometimes it makes you seem angry, but as you continue to have nice responses, people start to trust this face.
In comes the empath part again. People can feel your feelings, so a phony face isn’t very trustworthy. This is different from your polite face. You feel most of your feelings from the center of your chest—it’s where the heart is. Sometimes if you’re using a smartphone or other technology, your feelings can manifest in a different place in the center of your chest. This can take some practice. You might have “bad posture” using technology, but you want to connect to your heart.
The more phony your face is, the more painful it will look and feel to other people. In the 2000s, we loved taking candid photos, so people didn’t have to do a forced pose with the most they could improve their faces. Candids make some of the most striking photos in professional photography. You don’t have to feel jubilation from a person in a photo that they are hanging out without you. Imagine how many feelings you feel within a day. These are all acceptable in an artistic photograph.
If your feelings are in your heart, your face will naturally make expressions that match. So you don’t need to focus on your face, trying to “improve” it. Try imagining what disbelief would look like. Try imagining what thinking would look like. Sometimes these faces can be very subtle. Sometimes you just basically move your eyeballs. Sometimes people like a “poker face,” but if you hold it on too long, there starts to be tension in your face from not showing the times you had amplified feelings.
Sometimes people like smiling all the time to show that they are happy or to see if other people get jealous. Some subcultures like not smiling all the time to show that they are happy, or to see if other people get jealous. Personally, I find that if you are always in your heart, you can kind of lilt your face in either direction, and with practice, you can kind of stay there. Perhaps your inner voice adjusts. Smiling or not smiling doesn’t necessarily mean that you are happy or not happy, or not happy or happy. Some people think people smile when they are unhappy and are trying to hide it.
Finally—at least for now—is that, importantly, there is more than one way to emote the same feeling in your face. If you feel disbelief, you could have your jaw drop or you could raise your eyebrows. You could open your eyes wide. Just one of these three things could suffice. Maybe two. Maybe all three. Next time you have a feeling when you are alone, allow your face to cycle around your head into different expressions that feel the same feeling. This, and everything else, may also be fun to try with a friend.