Body Language Signals of the Lips
When it comes to feelings and emotionsOpens in new window, the importance of the lips cannot be overemphasized. Lips convey a lot of information that is rarely noticed; and most of the time completely ignored.
Rich with nerves and highly vascular, the lips react to the reality of the moment and communicate accurately our feelings and sentiments to others. So when people receive bad news or witness a horrific event, their lips begin to disappear, becoming very thin as vasoconstrictionOpens in new window takes place.
Under extreme stress, they disappear completely or are compressed together. Because disappearing or compressed lips are universal behaviors, controlled by the limbic systemOpens in new window, these are behaviors that can be relied upon and are authentic (Navarro, 2008).
The lips all too readily reveal our innermost feelings. Even when one does not utter a word, the lips can be eloquent, because silent lips express a wide range of emotions, and moods, from a smileOpens in new window to a frownOpens in new window. ‘Like hands, lips are incredibly gifted communicators, and always bear watching’ (Givens, 1999).
Types of Lips
- Tight lips
People with such lips are brief and concise in their speech. They will say volumes in a few words. They will not waste time. Not only do they themselves prefer to be conciseOpens in new window, they expect the same of others too. One must therefore be brief, without being curt, in dealing with them. Such people are also efficient.
- Full lips
Persons who are full-lipped are generous with time, words, and materials. Those with large, loose lips are talkative and tend to ramble on a subject. Full-lipped individuals are more outgoing and sympathetic. Such people, since they are generally slow to get started and slow to finish, can overcome their limitations if they organize their time and set deadlines for their tasks.
- Relaxed lips
The lips have a position of rest when they are not pulled in any direction. This usually indicates that the person is also feeling relaxed.
- Compressed lips
Lips that are pressed together to form a thin, tight line indicates a person’s disagreement, opposition, or refusal. When someone compresses his lips in a friendly discussion, the other can expect criticism or disapproval. A person who compresses his lips suddenly will most likely be about to express anger, dislike, grief, sadness, or uncertainty (Givens, 1999). Compressed lips combined with eyes staring into nothingness and/or head movement can mean deep thought, studied approval, or disapproval. The ‘tight lip’ communicates that a person has taken a defensive position and will reveal or react as little as possible.
In babies, lip compression and brow lowering (combined in the pucker face) appear when mothers persist in playing or feeding beyond the infant’s tolerance. In children, smiles in threatening situations are combined with tightening and compressing the lips (Stern and Bender, 1974).
Lip compression (lips pressed tightly together and rolled inward) often appears in the company of strangers, where it correlates with gaze avoidance, non contact, and distancing between individuals. Biting one’s lower lip with one’s teeth and shaking one’s head from side to side vigorously indicates that one is angry (Morris, 1994). A sudden lip compression may signal the onset of anger, disliking, grief, sadness, or uncertainty.
- Pouting libs
Pouting is pushing the lower lip against the upper protruding lip. It is either a protest gesture or a signal that a person wants to test or enjoy a certain situation. The pout of protest may appear as if a person is about to spit out something, thus suggesting disgust with a situation and a desire to remove oneself from it. It indicates sulkiness, disappointment, displeasure, sadness, or uncertainty. The pout for testing resembles lips ready to taste something, with the corners of the mouth slightly upward. If accompanied with a movement of the tongue over the lips, it suggests enjoyment or pleasure. When done with the head moved backward, it suggests that a person is pleased with what he sees.
- Pursed lips
Pursing is rounding of the lips. It could be the gestureOpens in new window of someone who has firmly made up his mind about something and will not budge from his viewpoint. It also displays arrogance and self-importance. Apprehension, scheming, or mere disinclination to speak may be betrayed by tightly screwed lips. ‘A brief pout or mouth shrug (Morris, 1994) reveals doubt or uncertainty (even as one says, for example, “I am absolutely sure”)’ (Givens, 1999). The tightening of the jaw muscles and pursing of the lips indicate antagonismOpens in new window.
- Puckered lips
A light puckering of the lips into a kiss shape typically indicates desire. It can also indicate uncertainty, particularly if the lips are touched with the fingers. When one says ‘oo’, the lips form the kiss shape.
- Flattened lips
Lips which are kept horizontal but squeezed flat are an exaggerated closing of the mouth and hence indicate a repressed desire to speak. This indicates disapproval (e.g., ‘If I spoke I would be very critical, which I do not want to be’). It can also indicate frustration (e.g., ‘I want to speak, but others are speaking and I feel I should wait’). Flattened lips can also indicate a refusal to eat, either because of dislike of offered food or some other motivation.
- Turned up lips
When the corners of the mouth are turned upwards, this can be a grimace of disgust or a smile of pleasure. In a grimace, the teeth are unlikely to be shown (although toothless smiles are also common). Grimaces are often flatter and tenser.
- Turned down lips
Corners of the mouth turned down indicates sadness or displeasure. Some people are so miserable so often, this is the natural state of rest of their mouths (which is perhaps rather sad).
- Retracted lips
When the lips are pulled back, they expose the teeth. This may be in a broad smile or it may be a snarl of aggression. The eyes should tell you which is which. In a snarl, the eyes are either narrowed or staring. In a full smile, the corners of the eyes are creased.
Movements of the Lips
Lips which are moving in the shape of words but without making sounds means that the person is thinking of saying the words. This sub-vocalization often happens with very small movement and is often completely subconscious. Up and down movement may indicate chewing. Some people chew the insides of their mouths when they are nervous. Rolling in the lips so they roll across one another can be a preening gesture for women, evening out lipstick. It can also be a sign of uncertainty or disapproval with the accompanying gesture of lowered eyebrows.
Small, lightning-fast movements of the mouth betray inner thought. A single twitch of the corner of the mouth indicates cynicism or disbelief. Liars in particular will often give themselves away with very brief grimaces as their conscience expresses disapproval of the conscious lies.
When the top lip is over the bottom lip, this may be linked with biting of the bottom lip, a common indicator that the person is feeling guilty about something. The bottom lip extended over the top lip can indicate uncertainty, as if the person is saying ‘umm’. The bottom lip jutting out is often a part of a sulky pout, where the person expresses childlike petulance at not getting their own way. Both lips expressed together and pushed out generally indicate doubt. If the finger touches them, it may indicate internal thinking or may say ‘I am considering speaking but am not quite ready to talk yet’.
- Biting of lips
Biting of lips can send a message of uncertainty, hesitation, nervousness, embarrassment, or attempts to suppress surging emotions. Biting of the lower lip shows doubt or deliberation, or uncertainty, exercise of caution, or contemplation. A person bites his lip to stop it from making rash statements. He may also do so as a reaction when caught unawares in an embarrassing situation and trying hard to think of something to say.