How To Be As Scary As Hell In Less Than 5 Seconds

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I can teach you how to be as scary as hell in less than five seconds.


Here’s how I learned. 

image: scary as hell girl with long dark hair and creepy face

How I Learned To Be As Scary As Hell

As a new college graduate, I toiled for five long years in the underbelly of public education: the middle school.

Although I loved my job and students, I was a mere seven or eight years older than some of my students and more than a few inches shorter.

Every student needed to know that this short little teacher, fresh out of college, could handle anything. To do that, I used body language.

How Your Body Language Speaks For You

We’re always communicating, whether we think we are or not. Consciously or unconsciously we say things with gestures, movements, and facial expressions. Other people perceive attitudes, personality, and character qualities from them. 

If you’ve ever heard or been taught that body language makes up 90% or more of what we communicate, let me stop you there. That number results from a misunderstanding of research completed way back in the 1960s. It actually applies when there is incongruency between verbal and non-verbal gestures. You can read more about that here.

Despite this, nonverbal communication still holds tremendous sway in our communications with others.

For example, tilting the head to one side indicates interest as does leaning in. Crossed arms register as defensiveness or disagreement, while nail-biting conveys nervousness and anxiety.

The “Uncanny Valley”

The uncanny valley is a term describing the unsettling feeling experienced when something closely resembles a human, but not quite, for example a doll, a robot, or even a life like mask. They appear close to human but are still clearly not human. We recognize the discrepancy and experience a visceral reaction to it; we may label it a creepy face. The animation in the 2004 film The Polar Express had this effect on some viewers.

This may be some of what is happening with the technique I’ll describe momentarily since it involves the lack of expression. Although I might look like a mild-mannered middle-school teacher, I could rearrange my facial features to look slightly “off.’ When we perceive discrepancies between what we hear and what we see, we usually give priority to what we see. Remember that misunderstood study? This is an example of when body language takes primacy.

Now, if it’s us experiencing the discrepancies we can become confused, which leads to diminished situational awareness. However, it works to our advantage when it’s the other person who is confused.

It worked to my advantage to quickly take control of the inevitable situations that arose in a middle school classroom.

It can work to your advantage if you must confront someone because you or someone near you feels threatened. Likewise, if your car is also your home, it’s another useful strategy to increase personal safety.

All you must do is learn ‘The Stare.’

Now, you may think that giving someone, “the stink eye”, or, “the evil eye”, or making a creepy face is a matter of scrunching up your face, squinting your eyes, and curling your lip. On the contrary, the look to wear is devoid of expression.

Here’s how to make it.

How To Look Intimidating

The trick to this “expressionless” expression is to learn to relax every facial muscle. You do this naturally when you’re resting or sleeping. Every muscle in your face is completely relaxed. Now, just learn to relax those same muscles quickly while you’re standing up.

  1. Stand in front of a mirror.
  2. Relax your facial muscles. As you practice this occurs more quickly.
  3. Lower your chin just a tad. This creates an even more threatening, maniacal look. Seriously. They’ve researched it.
  4. You’ll know you’ve got it right when you have “dead eyes.”

Remember, every muscle has to be relaxed. This takes practice but after a while, you’ll be able to switch from your normal facial expression to this one in a matter of seconds.

When I’ve used this expression on my kids it completely freaks them out.  My daughter tells me I look like a zombie. This isn’t me, but that center image gives you an idea of the effect. She’s much more intimidating than in the left and right pictures. And depending on the circumstances, it could definitely come across as a creepy face.

It’s also a lot easier to maintain this expression for a long period of time than it is to maintain a sneer, squint, or face scrunch. For those times when you need a prolonged stare to get your message across, an intimidating look like ‘The Stare’ is the way to go.

Speaking from experience, it can definitely tame a middle school classroom; it may even persuade a bad guy that you’re not an easy target. 

Have you ever needed to be as scary as hell? Share your experience in the comments!

This article was originally published on April 5, 2014, and has been updated and revised.

36 thoughts on “How To Be As Scary As Hell In Less Than 5 Seconds”

  1. I laughed so hard reading this, I fear I would totally crack up! At least with family, with a stranger I might, just might, be able to pull it off. Oh this is gonna take A LOT of practice.

  2. I’ve been doing this for years. My children tell all of their friends that I’m scary, and their friends don’t think so until they see me angry – with no expression! LOL!

  3. It works on adults too….. it works everytime im doing security and im approaching them to “escort” them out.

  4. I’ll be trying this on my middle school students on Monday. (OK, I’ll wait for them to deserve it…so it”ll be around, oh, 8:25 or so…LOL) On another note, my mom taught me to try to relax the muscles in my face during labor…turns out it’s very difficult to completely relax your entire face without also relaxing the rest of your body. It helps!

  5. Helps to also jut your chin out just slightly. That teeny bit adds something undefineable to that “I’m gonna rip your guts out & strangle you with them” look!

  6. Lisa in the Ozarks

    yes, and use the eyes to do your speaking. as if you might be capable of anything. I learned this in seventh grade in North Kansas City when a red head named Sheila bullied me the entire year, for the entertainment of her ‘ followers’.

    Two weeks before school ended she was putting on her last show. Before I knew it I could see my hand print rising up on her cheek. The PE teacher threatened me with the principal- but I said “Let’s go” then she tried to make me apologize. I said “all I am sorry for is I didn’t do it the first day of school.” I have a long fuse but once they are there It’s over- at that point I lose ALL FEAR and don’t care WHAT happens. I use the look too. Perfected that on my kids. Uh oh- Mom means business!

  7. OMG. This is something I did with my late father inlaw when he started up on a drunk. And it totally worked! I was the ONLY ONE that he was afraid of. Of course, he had reason to be afraid of, he learned early on that I was a came from a family of shooters and this was the look when I was aiming at my target!

  8. I’ve been doing this for years now. When my kids were little, they called it the Mother Look and I meant business. You don’t mess with that look. 🙂

  9. This is my ‘super power’. Never realized it until someone pointed it out to me. Is also effective in keeping men from hitting on you lol.

  10. This is the look I have used for years and it is extremely effective! Not sure how I picked it up, but it has been a tool of mine since childhood. My teenagers and husband say I am super scary. LOL. I love that you wrote about it, and that I am not the only mom that uses it!!

  11. Brittney Rogers

    You know my mother only had to give me that blank look with her eyes on me and I knew I had better move it. I now have three kids of my own and I have yet to get the look to work for me, but using your trick may just make the difference. Thanks!

  12. I learned ‘the look’ in a safety training class years ago. Working in a mental hospital, we were taught how to protect ourselves. Body language and facial expression went hand in hand.

    Please people, practice this skill. Thanks for sharing.

  13. I whole hearted agree with Brenda and Mandy. When my son was little (he’s 40 now), I started teaching wilderness survival using camping trips. Every year between Christmas and New Years we would spend 4 days and 3 nights in the woods. Park the truck, backpack it in and set up a base camp. My pack weighted in at about 70 lbs and his at about 12 lbs.

    When he was 9 I told him he could not sleep in the tent with me and had to build his own shelter with what was available. I think he actually slept warmer than I did. Now my 10-year-old granddaughter wants me to teach her how to cook on a campfire. You would find it hard to believe some of the ideas she comes up with.

    I remember when we had more imagination than toys and we didn’t turn out too bad.


  14. One time, my wife and I were returning to our hotel in downtown Atlanta when a car with 3 kids probably around 14 years old or so pulled up in the driveway in front of us stopping our return to the hotel. It helped that I was legally armed, and my hand immediately went to my pocket. I fixed the “stare” on the driver and none of them got out of the car. They pulled forward into an abandoned and locked parking garage and let us pass. I was fully ready to deploy the weapon, but I fiercely did not want to. Only days later did I realize that the “stare” probably saved us and them a lot of agony. I had enough rounds for 2 each and one left over. It would not have been good for them or us.

  15. WARNING: this is a Pro Tip intended only for those with a finely tuned sense of situational awareness – attempting this with the wrong sort of adversary at the wrong time could get you killed!

    One proven fight stopper when confronted by, say, a knife wielding punk kid, is to provide the opposite attitude of most potential victims; excitement rather than anxiety. There’s little more confounding to a strung out pill popper or a desperate teen runaway than your vocal denial of their threats and instant commanding of the situation.

    “Ho, ho! A knife fight? Excellent!” while you draw your own blade is USUALLY enough to make your would-be assailant soak their drawers. Understand that in 95% of these situations, the attacker is just as scared as they hope and expect you to be. Just don’t forget that a gun is always preferable…

  16. I guess I used this in middle and high school without realizing it. I was always so shy and nerdy, but I was never bullied. I figured that it was just because I looked too meek, like a kitten, and the bully would feel guilty if they tried anything, but I was pretty expressionless, too. Considering the nature of bullies, my meekness by itself would not have deterred them, I guess.

    1. Same I am currently and in middle school. Shy, nerdy and quiet but no one has ever tried to bully me. I do the face all the time

      1. The Survival Mom

        It’s surprising how body and facial language are enough to portray confidence, boldness to intimidate the average bully.

  17. the dreaded Marine Corp stare down– cool!!! works almsot every time– it also helps when your chanting KILL KILL KILL in your mind– at least if they call your bluff you are already preprogrammed to take em down

    1. The Survival Mom

      My husband’s, too. I have plenty of photos of us smiling and then, there’s Dad. No expression, dead eyes, like he’s just standing there waiting for someone to kill. LOL

  18. This look didn’t bother my kids after a while. Oh boy did it work wonders for when I was a substitute teacher 🙂 !
    I was almost always at the middle school. I never used it on the elementary children, don’t want to send them home to have nightmares, and the HS kids didn’t care anymore about anything.

  19. I do this whenever my grandkids want to have stare contests. I can go on forever without blinking!!! It also works well when a someone won’t take “No” for an answer. Really creeps them out. And yes, it will scare the pants off of any other unruly human.

  20. Mike in a Truck

    This does work.In my younger days as a barfighter in biker establishments this can avoid some nasty outcomes before they start.But know that you better be able to back this up with violence.Remember:Theres always somebody crazier than you.

  21. Maybe this is what happened that night. My daughter was running around the fellowship hall of the small church we attended at the time (she was nearing 2 I think). I told her multiple times to slow down before she knocked someone over, but you know 2 year olds. I got on her level and was using the Mommy Voice on her and was going to put her in time out at one of the tables, when I noticed a male friend (at least 1/2 a foot taller than me and maybe 50+ lb) imitating me from behind. All I did was turn around and look up at him, still at my daughter’s level, when he threw up his hands backing away and said he’d never mess with Momma Bear again. LOL

  22. Hey guys, I was a single father and mother lol, for 12 years. My son used to tell me that the Batman voice, I was abused verbally physically just a horrible child Life. Then my son understood why I didn’t spank them why I approached it much differently. The one thing I will always remember he said Dad I know when you are done what’s up what do you mean buddy he said Dad I know when you’re done he said When I’m talking to you and I look at you and your lips disappear and become a straight line. YEAH, I get real nervous real quick and I’m 30 yrs old dad I was just oh crap.. that’s why I was trying to get your attention dad I knew what was getting ready to happen. I’d hate to see what would happen if it wasn’t us dad I mean if it was someone else that was trying to hurt us it wouldn’t be good it wouldn’t be good at all. Then I told my son he was making me sound like a very bad person, he said no dad I just know that you’re not one to mess with especially if you get mad you know too many weird things and how to do weird things I don’t ever want to be on the opposite side of those weird things

  23. Wow — did this bring back a memory. I was a substitute educational aide — generally in kindergarten and elementary. But they decided that they needed me at the high school for a few weeks. About a week in, the teacher was called out of the classroom and left me as the only adult in a room of about 25. Teacher wasn’t gone more than two minutes when chaos ensued — the ringleader was a very large young man — over 6′ tall and close to 200 pounds. I told him to sit down and do his work and his answer, “And who is going to make me?” You know that “you could have heard a pin drop” silence — yeah it happened.
    My 4’10” self was shaking inside, but I stared him down and after several minutes he sat down. The thought running through my head was, “I can’t even reach the panic button at the front of the room if this goes south!” As soon as that class was over, I called the administrative office and told them I was resigning immediately — I was not cut out for high school!

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