Half-Smiling & Willing Hands

DBT skills come in many varieties. Some of them take advantage of our mind-body connection to help us regulate emotions. Two examples of this are the skills Half-Smile and Willing Hands, which come from the Distress Tolerance module. These skills can be very effective in increasing our willingness to do what is needed in a moment, even if we perhaps are not feeling particularly inclined to do so beforehand. In other words, these skills can help us be more effective in difficult situations, at times by allowing us to use other skills after doing these first, and certainly by increasing our ability to access our Wise Mind.

So how does one use these skills?

Half-Smile, often referred to as the “Mona Lisa smile,” involves upturning our lips just a bit. It is not a big, fake, or “joker” smile, rather moving the corners of our mouth upward ever so slightly. Softening and relaxing our jaw helps us get to a Half-Smile. Another way that may be helpful to accomplish this is to put a straw or maybe a piece of licorice across the mouth held by our teeth.

Willing Hands is about opening up our body posture. Even something as simple as uncrossing our arms or unclasping our hands can communicate to our brain that we are in a safe place, since an open posture is the opposite of a “defensive” stance. To take it a step further we can flip our palms open. This may look like resting our hands on our legs or knees and having the palms face up while sitting, resting our arms on the ground or a bed with our palms up while lying down, or having our arms at our side with palms facing front while standing up. Marsha Linehan, creator of DBT, has noted how impactful Willing Hands can be in reducing anger and frustration.

From firsthand experience and from hearing from many clients, these skills can work surprisingly well. They also can apply in many different contexts, such as being stuck in traffic, not wanting to get out of bed in the morning, or being in an interpersonal conflict. Half-Smile and Willing Hands help to increase our effectiveness and reduce feelings of resistance, or willfulness, to doing what is best in a situation. Give these skills a try!

Written by, Kevin Rowen, PsyD

Photo Credit: Ksenia Makagonova @dearseymour


For questions about DBT or the services provided here at the DBT Center of Orange County, call at 949-480-7767 and we would be happy to provide more information!

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