Social Anxiety and blushing…how to manage the problem.
As soon as the feeling of blushing comes on, the desire to withdraw follows
What if you were terrified of social situations? What if one of your worst fears was people knowing how uncomfortable you are? What if every time you were in a social situation some horribly disloyal part of you betrayed your fear to everyone around you? Well, that’s what social anxiety and blushing is, or at least, it’s what it can feel like.
Excessive blushing is a curse to those who suffer from Social Anxiety, and is regarded as the main symbol of embarrassment. It’s like the constant threat of a bully on the road where you live. The power they have over you is so strong, that they can control you even when they are not there.
Here’s where it can be a real issue:
* Talking with your boss or someone in authority
* Talking to someone of the opposite sex who you find attractive
* Talking to colleagues you are not familiar with
* Talking in an open space where others can see you
* Bumping into someone unexpectedly, in the work corridor, or supermarket, for example
Unfortunately, blushing is one of the key physical symptoms of Social Anxiety. As soon as the feeling of blushing comes on, the desire to withdraw follows, and you will find it hard to engage with what is going on around you.
With Social Anxiety and blushing, the fear is often three-fold: 1) The fear of the blush itself. 2) The fear people will notice. 3) The fear that people will negatively evaluate us because of the blush.
Blushing in work
we can feel weak, exposed, less than
Social anxiety has a big impact on our working lives, and blushing can play a significant part in the struggle. Blushing in work completely undermines our power. When we go red in a situation such as talking to a manager, or colleague, or in a meeting, we want to get out of there. We can feel weak, exposed, less than.
The belief that we blush excessively prevents us from speaking up. It makes us reluctant to call over to someone’s desk, socially or for work purposes. It makes it easier to stay where we are…safe…out of harm’s way…stuck…weak.
When prevention draws unwanted attention
That moment when we are talking to someone, or the attention is on us in a group situation, and we feel our face becoming warm, can be excruciating. It can make us do things that we feel limit our exposure. In reality, they can draw attention.
* Covering our face with our hands
* Hiding behind our hair
* Wearing scarves to hide our necks
* Wearing heavy makeup that camouflages redness
* Turning away, or looking down
* Mumbling something, and hoping the focus moves on
The irony is, the more unnatural movement around the face, the more people’s eyes are drawn to it.
On the outside, we are trying to look as if nothing is happening, but inside there is panic. Once the self-focus has begun, it is hard to concentrate on anything else. This can lead to a blanking of the mind, and that feeling of being a rabbit in the headlights. It becomes impossible to engage with the people around us. “Has anyone noticed? Are they looking? What are they thinking?”
The image of self
We believe the internal sensations we are feeling are obvious to everyone around us
The image we have of ourselves during a social situation is a key. They are images of how we fear others see us. Bright red head, obvious to everyone within a hundred meters. Painfully uncomfortable. Shifting uneasily. Obviously embarrassed.
This view of ourselves is from the outside in. From the perspective of the other person. We believe the internal sensations we are feeling are obvious to everyone around us. We then react as if the other person is fully aware of what is going on. This reaction, therefore, causes us to look how we fear we were coming across in the first place.
How to begin to combat blushing
Like all anxiety, the more you avoid something, the bigger the fear grows
So many of my clients who are suffering from social anxiety want to know how to stop blushing, if there is blushing treatment, or a cure for blushing. My answer is always no, but there are ways to progressively control blushing.
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix. Like all anxiety, the more you avoid something, the bigger the fear grows. So, this process is about learning to stop the self-focus, and react differently, in the moment you feel the blush come on.
Overcoming, or more accurately, managing our anxiety in social situations is all about learning to take the focus of attention away from ourselves, and look outwards into the world we fear so much. How can we tell what reaction people have, if we are not looking?
Stop doing the things you think protect you from being seen
When you feel yourself starting to blush, really try hard to avoid the old self-protection mechanisms. Putting your hand to your face, looking down or away, etc. They only draw attention to you, and prevent you from experiencing the situation as non-threatening.
Dispense with the image you have of yourself
If you can, try to change the image you have that you believe others see when you blush. I would imagine it is a bright red glow. But in reality, most people’s actual experience of someone else blushing is described as a soft reddening of the cheeks, like they had just jogged up the stairs. It is not as bad as you are picturing.
Just keep going
If your radar is constantly up for blushing, then the first sign of heat around the face and neck, and you will jump into “I’m beetroot” mode. This will take you out of the conversation, and the self-focus will kick off.
Whilst not easy, the more you can concentrate on the other person and conversation, and less on what sensations you can feel in your body the better.
Just keep going…as if you look fine!
Think about how you act when you feel you are blushing. Think about how that can look from other person’s point of view. You are both talking, then suddenly you have a sensation of wanting to withdraw. The conversation becomes disjointed. The other person may not know what is happening, but has to feel the awkwardness that has just arisen, and reacts.
You then begin to read into their reaction. Because of your beliefs about yourself (“I look worried to others”, “I’m not good socially”), and your hyper-sensitivity to other’s reactions, you make this mean something that it does not.
When you feel like you are blushing, try and stay in the conversation as much as possible, without retreating into your body. This will feel awkward, but the more you learn to push through the horrible sensation, the more you will become comfortable with it, and the more you will see that people are not judging you the way you think they are.
Start believing people aren’t judging you so harshly
Social anxiety is all about the fear of judgement and humiliation. Blushing brings up both of these.
Our beliefs are deep rooted, but we need to start entertaining the idea that a) we do not look as bad as we think we do, and b) people are not judging us as we fear.
Other people, are generally so caught up in their own stuff, that they are not even noticing the things we think are so obvious about ourselves.
Do a rational, compassionate, and fair post-mortem
Self-criticism after an event can be brutal. You know you are going to do it, right? You know it is going to be horribly biased against yourself.
Try and be more compassionate. Try and use facts…what you know happened. If you didn’t get feedback from those you were talking to, you have no idea what they were thinking. Stop mind-reading!
If you have to do a post-mortem (which you don’t, by the way), try and do it as if you were talking about someone else. Someone you cared for. Would you be so harsh? Would you be so one-sided? Would you ignore the evidence, and berate the person for being so awkward, stupid, abnormal, etc. Or would you try and understand?
So, if you’ve read this far, you will realise that the above will not turn off blushing. This is going to be a measured process of experiencing our social interactions in a different way, and learning to accept about ourselves what Charles Darwin described as “the most peculiar and most human of all experiences”.