When you’re angry, how do you express disapproval or threaten the person who caused your anger using your mouth? That’s easy; you press your lips together strongly in an attempt to show determination- a determination to take action against the person.
But what happens when you are extremely angry, the I’m-going-to-eat-you-alive type of angry?
When you’re extremely angry, you feel threatened. In order to stop the person who’s threatening you, you threaten them back. That’s how anger works. It is a process of returning threats.
So how do you return the extreme threat that you feel in extreme anger? Simple, you prepare to eat the other person alive.
Before you think that I’m accusing you of being a cannibal, notice that I used the phrase “prepare to eat” and not just “eat”. In extreme anger, you don’t actually eat up the other person (unless you are a cannibal, of course) but you warn them that you might do just that if they don’t mend their ways.
Humans, as well as many other animals, use their lower jaw to bite and chew food. So when we are extremely angry we expose our teeth, especially the lower teeth, to the enemy in order to threaten them.
Exposing the teeth sends a very primitive, threatening, non-verbal message to the unconscious of the other person- “Stop! Or I’ll bite you and hurt you”.
Our teeth are our most primitive weapons that we’ve used for eons in our evolutionary history before we were able to walk upright and make weapons out of stones and other materials. But their importance as a weapon is deeply ingrained in our psyche. We almost always feel threatened if someone growls at us whilst exposing their teeth.
In today’s civilized society, it’s unacceptable to bite people who anger you. We smell trouble when someone exposes their teeth to us in a threatening way. Yet another case of the subconscious mind tripping the logical, conscious mind. Small children, yet to learn the rules of culture and civilized society, often bite when they need to be aggressive.
So far we’ve been talking about extreme anger but what if the anger is only mild? What if we feel only slightly threatened?
Well, in such a case we only ‘polish’ and ‘lubricate’ our weapon but don’t display it. When we feel slightly threatened, we move our tongue over and in front of our lower teeth. This produces a noticeable bulge above the chin, sometimes for a very brief moment.
You may notice this expression in a person who is humiliated, rebuked or patronized. This expression happens very quickly and sometimes the bulge isn’t that obvious. So you need to have a very keen eye to notice this facial expression.
If you see someone showing this facial expression to you, it means that they got offended with what you just said or did. The person is angry; he’s feeling threatened and is threatening you back. His subconscious is preparing him to “bite” you by lubricating his primitive weapons.
Imagine someone trying to kiss you from a distance. What the person does with his lips is known as lips pursing or puckering. The lips are pressed together so that they form a round shape and protrude forward. Other than in a long-distance kiss, this expression is used when a person disapproves of what is going on.
If a person disagrees with the events happening in his environment or the events that have just happened in his environment, he puckers his lips. The lips so pursed are sometimes moved to one side to signify extreme disapproval. This is the lips’ way of saying ‘no’.
It is often seen in a person who doesn’t appreciate or agree with what he’s hearing or has just heard. For example, if a death sentence is spelled out in a court, those who disagree with the verdict will most likely purse their lips. When a paragraph is being read from, those opposed to a particular sentence will purse their lips when it’s uttered.
This expression is also made when a person barely misses the target that he was trying to achieve. For example, a football striker may purse his lips after a near-miss goal. The context should easily dispel any confusion that might arise as to the meaning of this expression.
This is also an expression of disapproval but unlike the ‘lips pursing’ where disapproval is directed toward someone else, in ‘lip compression’, it’s directed toward one’s own self. The lips are pressed together to sort of make them disappear. This is different than the pressing together of lips that shows the attitude of ‘determination’ where a significant portion of the lips is visible.
Ever seen a woman pressing her lips together fully after wearing a lipstick? That’s exactly how a ‘lip compression’ looks like.
Sometimes the ‘lip compression’ is accompanied by raising the lower lip which produces a bulge above the upper lip as shown in the image below…
This facial expression is unique because it is directed at one’s own self, unlike all other facial expressions which are directed to the person we are communicating with. The person wearing this expression is non-verbally telling himself, “This is wrong” or “I shouldn’t be doing this” or “I’m in trouble.”
For instance, if someone greets you with their lips compressed then it means they didn’t mean to greet you and were only doing it out of social obligation. It could even mean they actually dislike you. The fact that their mind did not approve of their action i.e. ‘greeting you’ shows that they were not as happy to meet you as they might have otherwise verbally claimed.
Hi, I’m Hanan Parvez (MBA, MA Psychology), founder and author of PsychMechanics. I’ve written 280+ articles and published one book about human behavior on this blog that has garnered over 3 million views. PsychMechanics has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur.