Though it is little remembered, Abraham Maslow’s early work dealt with the construct of dominance in humans, and how it influenced work, social matters, and especially sex. As one reads Maslow’s early papers (anyone who would like copies for educational purposes please contact me) one is struck by the fact that the traits that Maslow attributes to dominant individuals (confidence, contact, ease, lack of self-consciousness or embarrassment, directness, feeling comfortable in one’s own skin, freedom of action, assertiveness, poise, etc..) are in the Reich and Lowen tradition held as evidence of emotional health.
What Maslow implies, and what I whole-heartedly concur with, is that interactional dominance is an artifact of heterogeneous levels of emotional health meeting one another, rather than a social imperative. The emotionally less healthy (more armored or dissociated) person naturally defers to the more healthy (less armored) person. The coercive effort by the heavily armored to achieve influence is termed “domineering” by Maslow and distinguished from dominance. To be clear, emotional health and healing is not a zero-sum proposition as is implied by the term dominance. To gain emotional health one does not have to take it away from others.
So, dominance, in Maslovian terms, is really about grace and self-possession. While Maslow attributed this to some mysterious psychological property, readers of this blog know, it arises from the state of the body.
The present day “dating skills” community is also interested in dominance because of its connection to sexual attraction (as Maslow had well spelled out). That makes sense since dominance (as a social artifact) and attraction (as an experience) both arise from being in the presence of emotional (which implies physical) health.
The social psychologist Amy Cuddy has done some interesting work around body language and dominance. Basically, more collapsed postures represent submission, and more reaching or wider postures imply dominance. It seems that reaching out with the arms or assuming a spread out position is associated with confidence and a feeling of well-being. It is a fundamental tenet in the Reich and Lowen tradition that expansion is associated with joy and pleasure and contraction is associated with pain and fear. Expansion is seem easily in body language but is also probably present in joint spaces and rib excursion as well.
‘Dominant’ individuals are expanded most of the time. There is an interplay among people, wherein someone inclined to contraction may contract more if in proximity to someone who is expanded. Shame and ‘basic fault’ has a role here as well.