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Finding Your Resting Smile Face

I sit shotgun in the car with my sister, who is driving us to lunch. She is trying to tease me that she forgot to complete a chore that she was supposed to do for my grandmother, but she just can’t keep a straight face and bursts into giggles.

My sister is the worst liar I’ve ever met… seriously, ever.

Her inability to inhibit a facial expression is legendary. It makes her quite lovable and easy to get to know, because everything she is thinking or feeling is written on her face. My sister is undercontrolled.

Part of being undercontrolled means that a person has a high reward sensitivity with a low ability to inhibit impulses. What this means for my sister, Joy (apt name), is that even when she is trying to keep a straight face to get my goat, she can’t and starts laughing before the “lie” has come out of her mouth. Joy is so emotionally excited to try and tease me, that she can’t even make it through the sentence.

My sister has the anti-resting b*tch face. She has a Resting Smile Face (RSF).

I lean overcontrolled, so I have the opposite tendencies as my sister. Overcontrol has low reward sensitivity with a high ability for impulse control. When I make jokes, I have no problem keeping a straight face. I tend to go in for a long play, rather than a quick punch line.

What this means socially is that overcontrolled people may be a bit harder to get to know, because they tend not state their opinion quickly, show less emotional expression, and tend to be more cautious about what they reveal about what they feel on the inside.

Cultivating the Face You Want to Show the World

Overcontrolled people can cultivate a RSF through a technique taught in Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy (RO DBT), called the Big 3 + 1. The Big 3 part includes a cooperative closed mouth smile, that is easy to hold on to and doesn’t make you feel phony (as if you are holding a smile too long for a photographer).

A closed mouth smile is cooperative, activates our safety system in our brain that tells us we are okay to socialize (see Parasympathetic Nervous System – Ventral Vagal Complex – Polyvagal Theory). Also through mirror neurons and micromimicry, the receiver of the smile gets the message that the giver of the smile is a welcoming and open person.

The trick to a closed mouth smile, is that your eyes crinkle a bit so you get crows feet at the edges. Plus you have to keep your mouth closed and do not show your teeth. Teeth showing can actually turn on a person’s threat system on, as opposed to his or her safety system.

While a genuine smile in the moment always feels best, a closed mouth smile is a good way to generate feelings of safety to socialize. Yes, it might feel funny at first to us overcontrolled people, but just like anything, practice makes progress and permanence (not perfect).

Finding Your Resting Smile Face

Hope Arnold

Hope is a Radically Open DBT Senior Clinician and 1-day trainer for Radically Open LTD organization. As a self identified overcontrolled person, she works to help her clients learn to relax, take themselves less seriously and be the person they want to be. Perfectionism, anxiety, rigidity, detailed focus, risk aversion and loneliness are some of the areas that overcontrolled people struggle to navigate. In her writing Hope uses humor and real life stories to help overcontrolled individuals make the changes that will bring happiness to their lives. Hope is licensed as a LCSW in Colorado, Texas, and Virginia. She has a private practice in Denver, Colorado.

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APA Reference
Arnold, H. (2018). Finding Your Resting Smile Face. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 9, 2020, from


Last updated: 27 Oct 2018
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