There are many metaphors about eyes. For example, we see “eye to eye” about an issue. In other words, are we in agreement? There is the biblical principle about “an eye for an eye.” According to Dictionary.com, the focus of justice requires punishment equal in kind to the offense, not more significant than the offense, as was frequently given in ancient times. Thus, if someone puts out another’s eye, one of the offender’s eyes should be put out. The principle is stated in the Book of Exodus as “Thou shalt give life for life, eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”
It is not known who wrote the words, “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” It may have been written by an Arab of ancient times or from the Old Testament version of the bible. But no one really knows.
Of course, the meaning of the words is that one can see their hidden emotions, attitudes, and thoughts by looking into a person’s eyes.
Studies in psychology show that the human infant responds directly to parental eye contact. In fact, even the youngest infants prefer staring at any shapes that resemble the human face. More than that, they like adult faces that stare directly at them rather than with eyes averted. Anyone who has bottle-fed or nursed an infant cannot help but notice how the baby’s eyes stare directly into their own. The infant learns a lot about human communication and interaction through eye contact. Because much of human interaction is nonverbal, eye contact effectively communicates our needs and wants.
Having grown up in New York City and frequently traveled the subway system, I soon learned the importance of avoiding eye contact with other passengers, along with millions of other New Yorkers. The reason was simple: Direct eye contact can easily be misperceived by a stranger as a challenge to fight. In addition, many paranoid patients report that being stared at feels like an aggressive attack. In fact, some paranoid patients have been known to make drawings of the human head and figure with huge eyes. The grossly distorted pictures often represent looking out suspiciously into what is perceived as a dangerous and aggressive world.
In fact, it is often said that, much like in the animal world, when two males who are strangers stare at each other, they are sending the challenging and dangerous message about being willing to fight. This is sometimes verbally expressed as “get out of my face, man!!” Another verbal challenge to the stare is, “What are you staring at, man???” This is said in a loud and aggressive way. People even speak of power struggles with another by “staring them down.” On the other hand, when a man and woman stare at one another, they communicate sexual interest. The eyes can be used in coy, seductive, and inviting sexual attraction between man and woman.
Early in my mental health internship in a psychiatric hospital, a young adolescent closed her eyes upon seeing me. This psychotic patient thought I would not see her by not looking at me.
Children love to play staring games with each other. The idea of the game is to see who can stare the longest without laughing or blinking. The ” loser ” is the child who laughs, blinks, or averts the eyes first is the “loser.” In this way, children engage in a kind of “arm wrestling contest.” The winner is the “strongest.”
It is commonly known that a child could have severe developmental disabilities, such as autism if they constantly avoid eye contact. And this is a good indicator of a child who has problems with social interaction.
Those who are shy may have difficulty with eye contact out of a sense of embarrassment. This is why blushing can be so very painful for those who tend to easily blush when speaking to people. Their discomfort is about the notion that the blush will reveal their shyness. My strategy for people who have struggled with this is to embrace their shyness and openly and proudly admit it.
The eyes are fraught with all types of symbolic meanings for human beings.