(This is what I imagine the red-faced voice in my head looks like. Photo by PHUDE-NYC )
My face still gets red
Last night I was at a meeting where there was one person who didn’t know me. (It was a small meeting.) At the end of the meeting he asked me what I do for a living.
What I did was…my face got red.
It was an innocent enough question. It’s not like he asked me what type of underwear I prefer — boxers or briefs. Here’s the thing, though, I’ll stand in front of a room of more than a thousand college students and show them my underwear and my face won’t get red. I’ll be on a stage and challenged by a professor and my face won’t get red. I’ll be on that same stage and not know something I should know and my face won’t get red. I’ll talk until I’m “red in the face” and my face won’t get red.
In high school and even into college I blushed a lot more. It was somewhat debilitating. I was less likely to join a class discussion and more hesitant to meet new people.
Mainly it happened like this – I would meet someone I knew or didn’t, or I would be talking in public and I would think to myself, “Do you know what would be really stupid, inconvenient, and socially awkward at this moment? If my face got red.” And then it would.
The technical name for this is erythrophobia – the fear of blushing. Erythophobia can lead to social anxiety syndrome, social phobias, and depression. Mainly it just pissed me off.
Blushing is caused by an overactive sympathetic nervous system, which is part of the involuntary nervous system, making it hard to control or predict. Add in my light complexion – someone once asked me if I was an albino – and nature was stacked against me in the blushing department.
I feel like I had a pretty mild case of the “red face.” It didn’t hold me back much, but I’ve heard about others who’ve suffered from much more chronic cases of blushing and I can only imagine how much it has held them back. Heck, there’s a pill for blushing. It costs $50 per month. Yes, to some folks not blushing is as valuable as a month’s worth of internet service! (note: I have no idea if this pill works, but in my experience this is a mind over matter issue not one a pill should fix.)
I’ll go a year without thinking about my red face these days. Working retail helped. If your face doesn’t get red when an impatient, angry customer looms over you while you are changing the paper out of the credit card machine, you’re pretty much good to go on the “red face” front. Public speaking helped too. First I delivered dive boat briefings to tourists in Key West, and then I started to talk about my travels and writings at universities across the country. Once I decided that even if my face got red I was going to ignore it, it just stopped happening.
Once I decided that my red face wasn’t going to hold me back, it didn’t.
2 tips for overcoming blushing:
- Be more engaged in conversations. This is the big one. Once I began to listen intently to what others were saying, I no longer heard the voice in my head talking about how stupid I’d look if my face got red.
- Be more proactively social. Purposely put yourself in situations in which your face would get red and practice tip #1.
Once a blusher always a blusher
Still, yesterday. A room of six. One simple question from someone I just met and bam! Red face, we meet again.
I think part of the problem in this instance is that my “job” is unbelievable. I can’t believe I get to do what I do and make a living doing it. When I tell people (my exact words last night were), “I’m a freelance troublemaker. I’m a writer and speaker,” I imagine that they don’t believe me. That they think, “Yeah right, buddy. You’re unemployed aren’t you?” It’s awkward for me. I don’t want to validate my career by listing accomplishments. I don’t want to be that guy.
How do you tell someone that you are a successful-enough author/speaker without looking like that guy? I haven’t figured that out yet.
Also, I had disengaged from the conversation a bit. I was thinking that I needed to get home and help put the kids to bed. My mind was wandering. I was in my own head – where that stupid “red face” voice exists – and not in the conversation.
If you suffer from blushing, don’t let it stop you and it won’t. You’ll likely overcome it or grow out of it, but once a blusher always a blusher.
I’m Kelsey a 32-year-old author and public speaker and my face still gets red sometimes.