Overcoming Fear Of Blushing / Erythrophobia
A fear of blushing, also known as Erythrophobia, is a type of social anxiety. People with it become anxious and hobbled in social situations where they worry they may turn red. This article will go over the features of the condition, then explain some approaches for tackling it.
What happens before, during, and after social interactions
Leading up to an interaction someone with this fear will be worried about whether they might blush or not. Their mind may race as they try to come up with some sort of strategy or pep talk to keep their face from changing color.
During a conversation they'll be at least partially in their head - fretting about whether they may blush, trying to control their blushing, and monitoring themselves for physical signs that they may be getting flushed.
If they feel a blush coming on they'll become anxious and focused on it. Ironically, being agitated this way makes it likely they'll blush even more. That's one vicious cycle that happens with this condition. Once they are blushing, they become flustered and distracted and aren't able to hold a conversation as well as they normally would. They may make an excuse to bail out of the exchange.
After a blushing episode they'll dwell on how humiliating it was and on what a bad impression they think they made. A second vicious cycle can kick in here, where previous experiences of blushing can lead to increased stress about blushing again, which can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
A fear of blushing can lead to the same negative outcomes as other types of social anxiety:
- Feeling nervous and uncomfortable in social interactions
- Exiting social interactions earlier than you'd like to
- Avoiding situations where you may blush
- Decreased self-esteem
Beliefs about blushing
At the heart of a fear of blushing are beliefs that paint blushing as really embarrassing and socially damaging. For example:
- "Blushing is humiliating."
- "People think badly of someone who blushes."
- "Blushing is really noticeable, and once it happens everyone zeroes in on it."
- "Blushing is an impossible-to-hide signal for how weak, nervous, and embarrassed you are."
- "People may get the wrong idea from your blushing. They might mistakenly think you're scared of, attracted to, or angry at them, which could lead to a whole other set of problems."
- "Once you've started blushing the interaction is ruined."
Some blushers wholeheartedly believe these. Others know their fear isn't logical, but they can't help but feel it anyway.
Situations where blushing is a problem
Some people blush in most of their interactions. For others their blushing is limited to situations they find particularly stressful or intimidating, such as:
- Being the center of attention in a group
- Talking to people they've just met
- Feeling put on the spot to answer certain types of questions (e.g., about their dating life)
- Speaking to authority figures
- Talking to people they're attracted to
- Speaking to people they want to seem confident and together around (e.g., a guy may think it looks soft to blush around other men)
- Being observed (e.g., as their friends watch to see how they'll like a food they've never tried before)
Some people with a fear of blushing have blushed easily and noticeably their whole lives. They'll tell you they've been teased and gotten comments about it since they were little. All those unpleasant experiences have understandably made them nervous about blushing as adults.
Others didn't have an issue with turning red when they were younger, but gained the fear as adults after one or more memorable, embarrassing blushing incidents. Once the idea got into their head that blushing could be a problem, and it might happen again at any time, they've had a hard time letting the worry go.
Ways to address a fear a blushing
Many of the approaches for treating a fear of blushing parallel ones for addressing other types of social anxiety. Like with most social issues, there's no magic bullet that will cure your problems with blushing instantly and effortlessly. Even the more effective methods below will require some time to take effect.
Don't try to find a way to fully control your blushing. Accept it may happen and try to live the kind of social life you want anyway
This is the core helpful mentality for handling any type of anxiety. If you see blushing as a horrible social deal breaker that you must try to suppress at all costs, you just give it more power. You'll be more tense about possibly turning red, which just increases the odds that's exactly what will happen. When you choose to avoid social situations until you can cure your blushing you're lowering the quality of your life. That can increase the amount of stress and unhappiness in your system and keep your anxiety going.
It's easier said than done and not a mental change you can make overnight, but a key long-term way mindset to get over a fear of blushing is accept it might happen, not care if it does, and do whatever you wanted to do anyway. What's worse? Living a deprived, isolated life, or going after what you want, with some blushing along the way? (Of course, not caring about whether you blush makes you less likely to blush in the first place).
Or to put it another way, imagine you knew with 100% certainty that your tendency to blush easily would never go away. It would be discouraging news at first, but after that initial blow your perspective would probably change. Rather than putting parts of your life on hold until you could stop the blushing, you'd figure out some practical ways to cope when it did come up.
As stressful and socially inconvenient as blushing can be, there are a lot of more limiting conditions. Having your face turn red may create an awkward, self-conscious moment, but it doesn't really stop you from doing anything. Even if you are beet red and feeling exposed, you can still continue the conversation. Even compared to some other symptoms of social anxiety, like nausea, it's not so bad.
That's a bedrock attitude you need to deal with a fear of blushing. Here are some other points that can support it:
Have some strategies for when you do blush
It will be easier to get to a mindset where you don't care if you blush if you have some approaches for handling it when it does happen.
Strategies for when you're blushing, but no one has said anything yet
Here your best bet is to maintain your composure and act as if nothing has changed. This may feel fake and forced at first, but with practice it can come more naturally. If you continue speaking as normal no one may even notice your cheeks are changing color. Or if they do see it, they probably don't care. Before long the redness in your face will fade and you can go on with the interaction. On the other hand, if you freeze up and make a sheepish, bashful expression, that will definitely throw a wrench into the conversation.
Another move is to be the first to say something to diffuse and take control of the situation. For example you could say, "I'm turning red aren't I?" in a jokey, confident tone. This shouldn't be your first choice strategy. Chances are no one even cares that you're blushing, and saying something unnecessarily shifts the focus to it. However, if you're stressed out because you feel you have to hide your blushing, getting it out in the open and over with, on your terms, may work for you. Only mention it once though. Don't bring it up over and over.
Strategies for when someone has pointed out that you're blushing
If someone makes a comment the most effective response is to acknowledge it in a nonchalant, matter of fact way, then quickly move on from it. You can set the tone for how other people should react to your blushing. If you give them cues that it's no big deal, they'll often take them. On the other hand, if you react in a flustered way, it sends the signal that you did something worth being embarrassed about. Here are some things you could say in response to a comment like, "Whoa, your face is turning red."
- "Oh yeah? Okay. Anyway…"
- "Yeah, it happens sometimes. I was saying..."
- "Really? Not sure why, but okay."
- "Oh? I'm feeling slightly on the spot I guess."
- "Yeah, I blush easily. It's been like that since I was a kid. So, you were saying?..."
- (More light-hearted response) "Yep, I turn red easily. What can I say? It's my ruddy Irish genes."
If they continue to comment on it, stay on track. Be composed and friendly, but send the non-verbal message that there's nothing wrong with your blushing, but they are being a bit odd or inappropriate by dwelling on it. Like if they say, "Yeah, but dude, you're turning soooo red!" you could give them and look and say, "Yeah" in a "Yeah, so?" tone.
Strategies for when starting an interaction where you worry you're going to blush
Here the ideal approach is to not do anything, and handle any blushing using one of the suggestions I just covered. Though this is another situation where you might find it takes the pressure off to say something preemptively. For example, you could go, "Oh by the way, I turn red at the drop of a hat - my cheeks have a mind of their own - so don't pay any attention to it if it happens."
Examine your anxiety-increasing beliefs about blushing
People who worry about blushing do so because they see it as more eye catching and shameful than it really is. It would be naive and patronizing to say people never notice blushing at all, or don't ever say anything negative about it, but for the most part it's not that horrible.
This article goes into more detail about how to challenge your unhelpful thinking, but for now, here are some common worries related to blushing, with some more-balanced alternatives.
It's possible you've never really questioned your beliefs about blushing, and examining them more closely will reduce some of your anxiety. Though it's also common for people to know their beliefs aren't rational, but they can't help but be affected by them anyway. Luckily, even if you can't tame your thinking, you can still act in spite of it using the other approaches in this section.
"People always notice blushing."
Obviously sometimes people notice. Anyone who blushes a lot has heard the remarks to prove it. However, people don't pick up on it 100% of the time. They're often more concerned with other things in a conversation than scrutinizing the redness of your cheeks. They may be thinking about what to say next, considering what you've said, or be distracted by their own insecurities. Even when they are looking at your face, they may be more focused on making eye contact and reading your expressions, and overlook your skin color.
Like with other anxious symptoms, blushing internally feels more conspicuous than it is on the outside. From your perspective you may feel your cheeks heating up, and imagine your face is a glowing red, but to someone else it may look like you're slightly pinker than usual.
"People think badly of anyone who blushes."
Not really. They may assume you're feeling a little shy or on the spot, but anyone who's not a jerk understands everyone gets like that sometimes. Blushing can have positive connotations as well. Blushers can be seen as humble, down to earth, and trustworthy.
"If someone comments on my blushing they mean something bad by it."
It's more likely they're saying it in a more good-natured or benignly thoughtless way. From your end it's still more irksome that they said something about it rather than nothing at all, but at least they didn't have nasty intentions.
"The handful of people who give me a hard time for blushing are 'right'."
No, they're jerks. If you're ashamed of your blushing you may be inclined to believe any douchey people who say things that line up with your own self-critical views. It's the ones who see blushing as harmless who have the right idea. Listen to them.
"My blushing means I'm weak."
It means you have a bodily process that's largely out of your control. It's no different than sweating. If you happen to have a stronger blushing response than other people that's not your fault. If you're anxious that's inconvenient, but it's a very common, human problem. Go easy on yourself.
"Once I blush the interaction is ruined."
It's only ruined if you decide it is and then hit the detonation button on it. Otherwise you can usually carry on just fine. You can either ignore your blushing, or if someone says something you can gracefully brush it aside.
"If I blush people might mistakenly think I feel a way I don't, like that I'm angry or romantically attracted to them."
It's unlikely this will happen if all your other verbal and non-verbal messages are saying otherwise. The color of your cheeks is just one signal, that will be washed out by all the other ones. For example, very few people would conclude you're angry if your face is red, but you're also smiling, have relaxed body language, and are casually chatting to them about a new restaurant you want to try.
It's possible your blushing will lead to a misunderstanding, but those just happen sometimes in social situations, for any number of reasons. To give one example, someone may falsely be seen as being in a bad mood when they're really just feeling tired and sick.
If you believe someone has gotten the wrong idea from your blushing you can take active steps to counter it. You could consciously try to send even more signals that contradict the miscommunication. Like if you suspect the other person thinks you're attracted to them, you could subtly make some references to your boyfriend or wife, or pull back if you were being a bit touchy and close in a friendly way. You could also directly address the issue - "Oh sorry, do you think I'm mad at you? I'm not at all. But my face does its own thing and goes red sometimes, and I've been told it can make me look angrier than I am."
Work through your upsetting blushing-related memories
As I said earlier, many people with a fear of blushing can tell you about awkward or humiliating experiences where they got teased or singled out for turning red. When people live through emotionally intense events like this, and don't properly work through their feelings at the time, how they felt can get "frozen" in their mind. Similar events in the future can reactivate that old headspace.
For example, as a kid your teacher pokes fun at you for blushing during a presentation. You feel horribly embarrassed and think it's a huge deal, as children do. As an adult whenever you're in a situation where you're worried about blushing, that child-like fear of being shamed and exposed pops up. It's like a part of your mind still thinks you're back in the classroom. Another, adult, part of you may realize it's harmless if you blush now, but it doesn't feel convincing on a gut level.
Those painful memories have the power to affect you because there's a preserved emotional charge attached to them. You can process each memory and lower its emotional volume. Once you've done that you'll feel more comfortable and balanced in the present, because your perspective isn't being skewed by your past baggage.
Gradually, purposefully get yourself used to blushing around people and being in situations where you may blush
As this article explains, if a social situation makes you nervous, a reliable method to get more comfortable with it it to face it, in a gradual, controlled way, until you experience firsthand that you can handle it. In your case, you'd go through that process to get comfortable with your fear-of-blushing scenarios, as well as honing your skills for keeping the conversation on track if you do blush. Rea -world exposure will also build your tolerance for uncertainty. You can get used to not knowing if your blushing will rear its head or not. If it doesn't happen, great. If it does, you feel you can still get by.
You may be thinking, "But I've gone a big chunk of my life blushing in social situations. It hasn't diminished my fear. If anything all the embarrassing moments have made it worse." The thing is it's different when you know you're purposefully putting yourself in a situation to get used to it. Before you were operating under a set of beliefs that blushing was horrible, and if it happened you got flustered and followed your first, unhelpful, instinct to clam up or flee. When you're actively facing your fear you know blushing is no big deal, and that it's a form of training to expose yourself to it.This article goes into way more detail about the gradual exposure process, but what you want to do is make a list of social situations where you're scared of blushing, and rank them from Least to Most Anxiety-Inducing. Then over a period of weeks you put yourself in those settings, starting with the easiest ones. When you can handle one step on the ladder you move up to the next one.
As one example, you could start by going to a mall you don't normally visit, and ask some store clerks for help. During those conversations you'll either:
- Feel like you're going to blush, but try to keep conversing as normal
- Start blushing, but try to handle it well and continue on
- Have your blushing noticed, but attempt to handle it well
Once you're no longer bothered by the idea of blushing around retail staff, and you feel you can navigate the situation smoothly if you do blush, the next task could be to go to some Meetup.com events and try talking to the strangers there. Tailor things to the scenarios that make you nervous personally.
"Invite the symptoms"
This is a way to take control of your blushing and have it happen on your terms, where you'll have an easier time handling it. At its simplest it means deliberately trying to make yourself blush around people. You can practice making yourself blush at home, then take your new skill and try it out in social interactions. Knowing you can make yourself blush when you want to takes away some of the hold it has over you. Rather than seeing it as a scary monster that can jump out and get you at any moment, you can bring it on in a predictable way and get it over with.
Being able to blush on command also makes facing your fear of it easier ("There's a store clerk. I'm going to ask him for help, blush right after, then try to continue the conversation.")
Work on your general social skills
You may be more prone to blushing in social situations because you generally feel awkward and less capable in them. If you polish your all-around interpersonal skills you might start to feel more confident and in control, and be less likely to get overwhelmed and have your face go red. Similarly, if there are specific situations that trip you up, like being asked certain questions, practicing how to deal with them might take some of the pressure off (for example, doing some work on your public speaking skills, so you'll feel more in command when the focus shifts to you in a group conversation).
Build up general anxiety management skills
A fear of blushing is a type of social anxiety. It's possible you're nervous around people on the whole. Sometimes when people have anxiety about several issues their mind "simplifies" things by picking one fear to focus on. In your case it's blushing. But if it wasn't that it might just as easily be something else, like worrying about having shaking hands. If you can reduce your core social anxiety your fear of blushing may subside. This section of the site has several articles on handling anxiety and the kind of thinking that sustains it.
Some approaches that can be helpful, but still give blushing too much power
As the points above emphasized, the key to getting over a fear of blushing is to not see it as a big deal. If you've already got the right mindset about your blushing then the following tips are some additional ways to make handling it even easier. However, if you still see blushing as terrible, then these tactics may provide some short-term relief, but still feed your deeper counterproductive beliefs.
- Use relaxation techniques to try to calm your anxiety if you feel the blushing coming on. If you can mellow yourself out you may cancel the blush. This article covers some breathing exercises. Imagining calming imagery may also work, as might distracting yourself by forcing your attention on the external conversation and out of your head.
- Hide as much of your blushing as you can. Either gender can try growing out their hair to cover some of their forehead and the sides of their face. Women can use make up. Men can grow out their facial fair, and wear a lot of high-collared shirts to partially cover their neck.
- Try to "train" your blushing response so a hidden area of your body, like your torso, becomes flushed, rather than your face.
The nuclear option: Surgery
There's a type of surgery called Endoscopic Thoracic Sympathectomy that can stop blushing. It cuts a nerve that sends the signal to your body to blush. It's a radical option with a risk of side effects, but if your blushing is severe, you can't seem to get it under control even after trying for a long time, and you want to potentially get it out of the way for good, it may be something to look into.