Adults & Eye Rolling

By Emily Emmerman, MSW, ASW

I’ve noticed that sometimes grown women still engage in eye rolling behavior – but it would make sense since that they do it more whet home with their families. Unfortunately, my partner used to get his fair share of eye rolls, too – not always directed at him though – sometimes it’s with the information he presented about others, or about situations we somehow found ourselves in that I then have to take control over and fix.

Just like the teenage eye-roll, one could assume that adult eye-rolls are still a form of both communication, dominance, and aggression (although not as soft as when they were a teenager – because as an adult we should know better).

I feel like even adult eye rolling is typically in response to the same feelings as mentioned in my article about teens (exacerbation, frustration, feelings of being stuck, and/or feelings of being disrespected). But I also think that there are times when an eye-roll can be a little more playful but the body language, facial expression, and verbal language all need to be aligned and showing that it was a harmless action done playfully and out of love/silliness… otherwise, I don’t think that eye-rolling influences relationships in a positive way at all.

​In fact, more often than not when people talk about others rolling their eyes at them those individuals feel more triggered, mad, irritated, and hurt than anything. Being on the receiving end of an eye-roll typically triggers more of a fight response (possibly because in this culture we have been taught that eye-rolls are a sign of disrespect and contempt).

I think as youth we use eye-rolling more as a cry for wanting to be autonomous and independent and frustrated when those things are taken away from us and we have to comply to adults- but as adults we use it more as a form of us taking control of a situation or letting others know that we are frustrated, annoyed, or even just over the person on the receiving end. As an adult I think that eye rolls do more harm than good and can create a point of contention within relationships. I also don’t think that people are always aware when they do it – I think most of the time they are – but sometimes I feel like it is more of an automatic response that is going to take someone else pointing out in order for them to start working on it. Again though, I feel like whenever I see someone eye roll I am pretty good at asking them “what’s up?” because I feel like eye rolling is another form of communication – passive aggressive communication – but communication nonetheless.

Emily Emmerman, ASW #103097 is a registered associate clinical social worker under the clinical supervision of Jessica Wilkerson, LMFT 104464.

To learn more about helping your teen or yourself to curb the eye rolling behaviors you can schedule an appointment with Emily by clicking the button below.