“Contempt is the weapon of the weak and a defence against one’s own despised and unwanted feelings.” – Alice Miller.
We are all capable of it. We see a quality in someone who we don’t like or find immoral or substandard and we start the climb to the moral high ground.
Human beings are naturally a social creature and as such we have a certain established social hierarchy. This has been much convoluted over the years, mainly through the development of our higher brain processes, established deferential protocols in business and so forth. you have to love that neo-cortex. However, we are still at the mercy of our limbic brain when it comes to some of our daily interactions. Contempt is one of the most unusual of the seven base emotions for two reasons. Firstly, it is the only unilateral expression in that it only happens on one side of the face. Secondly, it requires a moral comparative to take place. The other six base emotions do not have to have a second individual involved. You can be happy, angry or sad, even disgusted without another person being involved. Contempt requires direct interaction with another individual. It comes by the assessment of that individual and their actions in direct comparison to how we would behave in the same situation, or as a direct result of a previous interaction. Contempt is filled with self-identity. It requires an element of higher brain function but is still shown at the Micro-facial expression level showing that it can still appear on the face before the cognitive mind has a chance to get in the way.
As mentioned contempt is the only unilateral universal expression. There doesn’t seem to be any definitive study on which side of the face it tends to appear on, but I have noticed (not scientifically measured) that right-handed people tend to show contempt on the left side of the face and vice-versa. Perhaps others would like to confirm or deny this observation.
Contempt is shown by a tightening of the cheek muscle, pulling the lips up and outwards, almost a half-smile, though there is no involvement with the muscles around the eye. Sometimes, though not always, the head will tip backwards slightly giving the appearance of “looking down the nose”.
Let me point out at this time, that Elvis was not showing contempt in his lip curl, though that lip is almost the further extension of the contempt expression into the sneer. A demonstration that is almost a contempt/disgust blend. Sometimes the contempt comes with dismissive emblems, the flick of the hand, the closed shoulder and a prolonged blink when using dismissive language.
Contempt is not a pleasant emotion to be on the receiving end of. It is degrading, it makes you feel worthless. In a working relationship if a staff member demonstrates contempt for a superior, that working relationship is likely to be unrecoverable. This can be said also for a customer to a supplier.
As the quote from Alice at the head of this post says; you often see contempt being raised when someone sees something they don’t like about themselves in another person.
Contempt can easily lead to disgust and anger, and that itself leads to a whole heap of problems of its own.