If you have recently noticed someone tightening their lips you may be wondering why and what it might mean.

This post will try to help you to figure that out and to make sense of it as it happens in the future.

So, what does it mean when someone tightens their lips? It can mean that they are holding something back, feeling aggressive or frustrated, that they’re thinking or it can mean that they are lying.

Since there are actually a number of reasons that someone might tighten their lips it would be helpful to consider other signals that they are showing with their body language.

Possible meanings of tight lips

There are a number of reasons why someone might tighten their lips and each of them would likely come with a number of clues in their body language that would give them away.

Below, I will mention a number of reasons that someone might tighten their lips and the body language signals that you should expect to see with them.

Aggression

One reason that someone might tighten their lips is that they are feeling aggressive.

If this is the case then they would have likely tightened their lips after a recent event that made them feel that way.

It could be that someone tried to intimidate them, it could be that they were in a car crash and they’re mad because of it or it could be that someone said something to them that they didn’t like.

If they did tighten their lips due to aggression then it would be likely that they would be showing a number of other signs of aggression in their body language.

These can include:

  • Speaking with a deeper voice
  • Clenching the fists and jaw
  • Pupil constriction
  • Gritting the teeth
  • Pushing their jaw forward
  • Flaring the nostrils
  • Puffing their chest
  • Strong eye contact
  • Squinting
  • Entering another person’s space
  • Exposing their vulnerable areas as if to say “go ahead, try”

Frustration

The reason that someone might tighten their lips could be that they are frustrated about something.

It may be that they were frustrated because they couldn’t fix something or it could be that they were given bad news.

If this is the case then they would have likely shown a number of clues again in their body language. These can include:

  • Pupil constriction (after they become frustrated)
  • Redness of the face
  • Scratching the hands, face or neck
  • Putting hands to the face
  • Covering the head with their arms
  • Shaking their feet
  • Tightening of the eyebrows

They’re holding something back

It could be that they are restraining themselves from saying something.

If this is the case, then they would likely have tightened their lips shortly after hearing something that they didn’t like.

If you are giving a speech and you notice that a number of people in the audience have tight-lipped expressions then it would be worthwhile for you to clarify something that you have just said. That way you would be able to get them to be responsive to you.

If the tight lips are due to holding something back then there are again a number of signals that you might see in their body language. The signals would also have likely started happening when they heard what they didn’t like.

These can include:

  • Resting the face on one of their hands with their fingers pointing up
  • Crossing the arms
  • Rubbing the nose
  • Flared nostrils
  • Looking around the room

They’re lying

It could be that they are lying about something.

If this is the case then they would have tightened their lips shortly after being asked about something that they had more information about or after actually saying the lie.

It’s important to note that tightening the lips, in this case, doesn’t guarantee that they are lying. It implies that they had an emotional reaction to the question and it may or may not be that they are lying. It might just be that they are nervous or that they are getting frustrated.

Again, if this is the case then they would likely show a number of other signals with their body language.

Examples would be:

  • Covering the mouth
  • Touching the mouth
  • Rubbing the eyes, neck, arms, palms, legs or face
  • Blinking more
  • Flaring the nostrils
  • Tucking their feet under their chair
  • Finger tapping
  • Momentarily squinting
  • Coughing
  • A change in the pitch of the voice

They’re stressed

If the lips get compressed a lot or if they appear to disappear then it could mean that the person is stressed.

If this is the case, then it may or may not be due to a recent event. However, if there has been a recent event that could have caused the person to become stressed then it would support the idea that they are tightening their lips due to stress.

In this case, it would be particularly important to have an idea of what their normal body language looks like since the other body language signals that are different will help you a lot in determining if they are stressed.

If you think they are stressed some body language signals to look for would be:

  • Dry mouth
  • Wrapping the arms around the body (self-hugging)
  • Wringing the hands
  • Wrapping their feet around the legs of their chair

Consider where it happened

When trying to figure out why the person tightened their lips it would be helpful to consider the location that it happened in.

If they did it in a business setting then it might suggest that they have reservations about the boss’s plans.

If it was on a date it could imply that he/she didn’t like what they heard.

If it was in a car then it could signal that they are experiencing some feelings of road rage.

Consider when it happened

The timing of when they tightened their lips would also likely help you a lot in figuring out why they did it.

If they did it right after being asked a question then it would imply that they had some kind of an emotional reaction to the question.

If they did it as soon as someone entered the room then it would imply that they have negative feelings towards that person.

Think about their normal behavior

It would also be helpful to compare their body language, when they tighten their lips, to their ordinary body language.

If they have a habit of tightening their lips then it could imply that they are in a bad emotional state.

If it’s something that they rarely do then it would suggest that something or someone in that moment is making them have negative feelings and you should look for changes in their body language to see why.

Related

What do compressed lips mean? Lip compression will generally imply that the person is having negative emotions. It could be that he/she didn’t like something that they heard or it could be that they are angry.

If you want to learn more about body language, a book I would recommend would be The Definitive Book of Body Language (on Amazon). It shows you how to interpret body language and understand people's true intentions.

Author

I created and currently manage Body Language Central, one of the premier sources for body language-related knowledge. Body language plays a key role in our daily lives. I hope that my website can help condense the wide amount of body language information available and allow you to make full use of it in your daily life. You can read more about me and my website here.