How to use your body language to find out what really drives you

I find body language an absolutely fascinating subject. Looking at what we are saying with our bodies is a big part of what happens in the counselling process, and shedding light on what our bodies are telling us, and other people, can be the key to unlocking all kinds of inner jumble that has been lurking outside of our day-to-day thoughts.  It can help with anxiety, depression, and self-esteem.

In this blog series, I’m going to illustrate some super effective ways to interpret our own body language using the Five Drivers. These drivers are part of the Transactional Analysis approach that I often bring into my sessions with clients when we are talking about relationship dynamics. This kind of approach can be so enlightening for thinking about how we interact with other people, often without realising.   


The idea is that we are all driven predominantly by one of five social drivers. These are five ways of being that we are told are ‘good’, and that are valued in our society. We usually heard them a lot from our parents, teachers or other adults when we were growing up, and we now tell them to ourselves, unknowingly, in adult life. Somewhere inside, we feel compelled to behave according to a driver, in order that we be accepted by others. We might even feel anxiety or depression if we think we have failed to live up to our driver.

There will usually be one driver which is particularly important for you. You could see it as being like a computer program that runs without you having to press the button, you just go into a particular ‘driven’ mode.

The five drivers are:

  • Be Perfect
  • Please People
  • Be Strong
  • Hurry Up
  • Try Hard

Perhaps you can already recognise which one might be your biggest driver?


For this first blog, I’m going to concentrate on ‘Be Perfect’. People who have this as their main driver may find that they are always struggling to achieve perfection. You might feel so compelled to get everything perfect that you work far too many hours, or perhaps you fail to recognise any of your achievements because you can only focus on the things you haven’t got quite right. You might have crazy high standards, or find it difficult to make decisions in case you get it wrong. Another good indicator is to notice what happens if you DO get something wrong, perhaps even something really small. How do you react? People stuck in the ‘Be Perfect’ driver might feel a overwhelmed by anxiety if they make a mistake, or they might find it so unbearable to be wrong that they do wild things like making up stories or hiding things, without even really knowing why they feel so upset.

Check your Body Language

So what about the ‘Be Perfect’ body language? This is where it gets REALLY interesting! If you think you might be stuck in ‘Be Perfect’, see if any of these traits sounds like you:

  • Counting on your fingers. If you are answering a question, or making a point, you might count the answers on your fingers along with the points you are making. So for example if you were in an argument about taking out the bins you might say something like:
    “A) I never said that I would do it every week, B) We agreed you would help me more around the house, and C) The bins are very heavy”. While you are saying it, you are counting your points A, B and C on your three fingers.
  • Using ‘thinking’ gestures. If someone asks you a question, you might stroke your chin with your hand, in the classic pose of the ‘thinker’. Or perhaps you steeple your fingers together in an upside-down V shape, and maybe also rest your elbows on the table and lean your chin towards the steeple. Hmmmm.
  • Looking upwards. You often pause while speaking, or starting to answer a question, and your eyes look upwards and to one side. It is almost as though you are looking for the perfect answer somewhere up the sky. This one is quite easy to spot on Zoom calls these days!

How to Stop Trying to Be Perfect

So now you can spot the signs, what can you do to let yourself off the hook sometimes? It can be a very positive trait to have high standards or to try to get everything right – there are plenty of employers who value this very highly of course! But if you think that this driver is causing you anxiety, stopping you living life the way you want to, or getting in the way of your relationships, you can practice letting go of this driver behaviour.

The first thing is to recognise that you are doing it, and the body language clues are fantastic for helping you to notice yourself. Then, the next time you spot these gestures, you can try telling yourself “you’re trying to Be Perfect, you only have to be Good Enough”. Better still, practice helping yourself to see that you are good enough as you are, every day.

Counselling can really help you to make these kinds of changes, so get in touch with me if you’d like to find out more about resetting your drivers. And remember all of you ‘Be Perfect’ people, you are a valuable human being no matter what you do, and you have no other justification needed for being here on this earth. You are enough.    

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