Likely to happen when… Seeing something alarming, like a physical fight, an intense ‘telling off,’ or an unseemly homeless person freaking out. In an awkward situation, such as a date with someone from a dating website.
Why? With the ‘seeing something alarming’ situation, I think you laugh in an effort to frame what you just saw in a more consumable way that will allow you to continue about your life without having to consider certain ideas about the world that would, if consistently acknowledged, significantly change your worldview. Laughing in public is a way to ask other people if they agree with you that what you both behold isn’t a threat to a certain worldview. Assurance can be had here; other people will laugh and validate your effort and your feelings of being disarmed in the face of such an uncomfortable situation. Awkward situation laughing is probably done for basically the same reason, only it’s a bit more temporary than that – it’s probably an effort to maintain a delusion that things in the date are going swimmingly and not awkward at all. Awkward situation laughing also diverts attention from the awkwardness.
COVERING YOUR FACE
Examples: Quickly, lightly scratching your cheek (as if there were an itch), covering your mouth with your hand, making a wiping motion on your forehead.
Likely to happen when… Crossing a crosswalk when people in their cars are watching and waiting for you to pass. Video chatting. Having a face-to-face conversation with a person you just met for the first time.
Why? Probably alleviates feelings of being exposed by literally preventing part of yourself from being seen. Quells, to a minor extent, insecurities regarding being good looking. Projects nonchalance, which is maybe the opposite of projecting discomfort.
Likely to happen when… Experiencing an awkward silence.
Why? I’m not sure why. Probably projects nonchalance, which, as told above, is maybe the opposite of projecting discomfort. Maybe because you’re trying to change the unspoken subject from “in an awkward silence” to “I am tired and feeling natural,” or maybe because you’re trying to divert attention from the awkward silence. It might be because yawning can be a conversational signal that can be interpreted as either a segue to more important conversation or a segue into stopping the conversation and parting.
CHANGING THE SUBJECT
Likely to happen when… Conversation reaches a topic you don’t want to talk about.
Why? You don’t want to talk about it; changing the subject helps you avoid talking about it, obviously.
Likely to happen when… In confrontation.
Why? Same reasons as laughing, I think – a social attempt to frame the situation as one in which uncomfortable confrontation is actually not happening; a resistance or active denial of the idea that confrontation’s occurring. This is done, I think, so your beliefs can be preserved – so there remains no reason to question them.
Examples: Repeatedly asking someone if they a want to do something instead of simply telling them that you want them to do something. Repeatedly asking someone rhetorical questions to make a point instead of simply stating the point (this also makes you a dick, btw). Backing down from confrontation or deferring matters of opinion or preference to someone else.
Likely to happen when… In conversation. In confrontation. In conversation that set off your ‘pressure points.’
Why? Extreme passivity has a lot to do with negating responsibility, for both yourself and for the situation in front of you, I feel. Negating personal responsibility can alleviate discomfort when the discomfort’s regarding your own behavior (why else would you want to disown something you’re doing?) Regarding backing down from confrontation, passivity helps you avoid confrontation, which can be uncomfortable.
GETTING VERY UPSET
Examples: Yelling. Screaming. Saying you’re ‘hurt’ (emotionally). Acting angry.
Likely to happen when… Someone calls you out. Something you didn’t want anyone to see was just exposed. You’re proven wrong, publicly.
Why? To divert attention from the thing you’re uncomfortable with, thus making it less real. Changes the situation from “thing you’re uncomfortable with” to “other people trying to appease you” or “other people feeling your wrath” or “you dominating other people.” Changes conversation into one in which you think you can definitely appear superior. Allows you to avoid the topic you’re uncomfortable with, in general.
Examples: Intense campaigns of displaying hallmarks of a certain stereotype or elitist in-crowd, such as alluding to certain beliefs and ways of life, alluding to accomplishments the in-crowd will find noteworthy and Good, and wearing clothing the in-crowd approves of.
Likely to happen when… You enter a group of unknown strangers whose approval you desire. You meet someone who doesn’t yet Know Who You Are.
Why? You place a lot of value on certain aspects of in-crowds, and are very uncomfortable until you know that they know that you’re part of the in-crowd. Without making all of your ‘badges’ apparent, you’re nervous they won’t accept you; providing signals/ badges/ qualifications/ accolades obviously reduces this anxiety of not being accepted.
AVOIDING EYE CONTACT
Likely to happen when… You’re talking to your crush. You’re in confrontation. You’re talking to someone who intimidates you. You’re talking to someone you hate.
Why? To make the experience less real – to trick yourself that you’re not actually in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable. It’s another weapon in your arsenal of tools for padding uncomfortable situations enough so you can deal with them. It’s a way to deny the discomfort, or reduce it to manageable proportions.
Likely to happen when… Meeting someone for the first time. On an awkward date.
Why? You’re uncomfortable with silence. Talking excessively helps you avoid silence.