Blushing can be a curse. Blushers experience a range of effects, including loss of confidence and fear of meeting new people. Blushing is an interesting phenomenon, as there is no generally accepted psychological theory to explain it (although many theories have been put forward). Nevertheless, some of the characteristics of blushing have been clarified.

Blushing is one of many psychological processes where feedback loops are important. Whilst a blush can be induced in a very sudden, unexpected way -- your trousers fall down in public, for example -- most blushers report that 'fear of blushing' is the most common trigger. So if we take a person who blushes when discussing sexual matters with a member of the opposite sex, for example, as soon as the conversation begins to steer towards sex, they may find a blush beginning to develop. This is the fear of blushing taking over : whilst the sexual content may appear to be the trigger, in fact it is the awareness that such content is going to be entering the conversation which starts the process off. The feedback loop then kicks in : aware that they are beginning to blush, their discomfort and the colour of the blush both deepen, until we have a full-strength blush and a strong sense of embarrassment.

This process is very damaging, because it generates fear in areas of life where we really benefit from being relaxed. Imagine the handicap of feeling unable to ask for a date. It's tough enough for most of us (!), but many blushers give up on life before it's really begun, because their blushing has effectively stifled their confidence in interpersonal relationships.

Note that the embarrassment is usually for the blush itself. Many blushers report that they regard themselves as socially outgoing, confident people whose only real insecurity relates to their blushing. So they aren't truly embarrassed about sex, in this example, just embarrassed because talking about sex triggers a blush.

The triggers for blushing are many and varied, although most of the triggers which have been reported to me through my work as a hypnotherapist relate to personal or intimate communications, or to public exposure. It's surprisingly common to find very capable, confident, competent people who dread being introduced to a group of people, for fear that they will blush.

How can blushers help themselves? Hypnotherapy and/or CBT (Cognitive Behavioural therapy) are the tools of choice. Through hypnotherapy it is possible to desensitise the individual to their triggers, and also to provide 'escape mechanisms' which allow the person to stop a blush from deepening.

We can all help blushers, simply by realising that the only thing which embarrasses them is people noticing their blush. Ignore it. Act as if it isn't there. Don't mention it, and don't behave as if you've touched a raw nerve -- you haven't. Believe it or not, blushing is largely meaningless.

Jim Sullivan is a hypnotherapist specialising in confidence development and stress management. He may be contacted via the Confidence Club website

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