How Hypnotherapy helped me treat Blushing and Erythrophobia
Updated: Nov 18, 2020
Hypnosis for Blushing and Fear of Blushing
by Carol Bullock, Hypnotherapy for Brighton
This is an intensely personal thing to write about. I’ll admit the thought of posting this still triggers my stress response a tiny bit, but the very fact that I’d consider sharing this inspires me to write on. It’s a measure of how far I’ve come and how much I want to use my experience to help fellow sufferers free themselves of blushing and erythrophobia.
(Spoiler alert – it involves hypnotherapy – which worked so well that I trained to be a hypnotherapist.)
If you’re like me, blushing or erythrophobia (the fear of blushing) will often have been caused by the following situations and make you dread and avoid them as much as possible.
Talking to someone you think is superior to you, socially or professionally
Speaking in front of a group
Performing a task while being watched
Talking to members of the opposite sex
Being criticised in front of others.
All of the above can hold you back in so many ways and negatively impact your work, social and love life.
Looking back down the years, I can recall the many, many times blushing and, worse, the fear of it, made my life so much harder than it needed to be.
As if extreme shyness and lack of confidence weren’t enough to cope with,
the constant dread of going bright red was like being stalked by a big arrow labelled ‘MOST PATHETICALLY UNCOOL AND IMMATURE PERSON IN THE WORLD. ABUSE AT WILL.'
Blushing and erythrophobia can feel like a social auto-immune disease. The more you want to make a good impression, the more impossible your body makes it. Your fear of looking stupid, makes you look stupid – a literal and scientifically proven self-fulfilling prophecy. Something that can keep you trapped in a red-hot lonely prison of your own making.
At school I’d look on in awe as other girls just behaved ‘normally’ while talking to boys/the cool gang/teachers/grown-ups. At work as a nurse, I’d look on in awe as other women just behaved ‘normally’ while talking to men/the cool gang/ward sisters/doctors. Why couldn’t I do that without experiencing fear levels more usual for a velociraptor attack?
Why do we blush?
From a hypnotherapist’s point of view, blushing and erythrophobia are symptoms of limiting beliefs and irrational fears that are rooted in your subconscious – far beyond reach and reason from your normal logical conscious mind.
Most people have these to some degree, whether it’s a belief or fear about blushing or certain types of people, places, situations, relationships, transport, animals, food… The list is as long as there are people in the world since everyone’s experience is unique to them.
And though you may know your behaviour is ridiculous, the fear you feel is genuine. More importantly, IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT that you haven’t been able to do anything about it yet.
As is often the case, my limiting belief formed at a very young age and was something along the lines of “people who are bigger, cooler, older or cleverer than me are dangerous because they’re always going to find out I’m stupid and pathetic.”
If you can picture the subconscious as a locked library, my limiting belief/irrational fear was like a book about non-threatening people being mis-shelved in the section for extremely-dangerous-carnivores-that-could-eat-you-at-any-minute. Hypnotherapy was a way of gaining access to that library and re-shelving that belief in the right section.
Blushing – what’s the bloody point????
Here’s the science bit.
Blushing occurs as part of the fight/flight/freeze stress response, causing blood to rush to the face and neck. Current thinking is that it actually has a protective evolutionary purpose, helping you avoid violence by clearly signalling to others that you do not intend to attack or offend them. (See In Praise of Blushing – a scientific paper that explores this idea.)
Blushing may possibly have provided an element of tribal social protection for women down the millennia, since historically so many cultures have celebrated it as a sign of modesty and sexual virtue. I appreciate that this may be of little comfort to those of us who want to appear as strong, confident women of the 21st century.
Though we sufferers of blushing and erythrophobia typically imagine others think the worst of us for it, research has shown that, it actually produces a far less negative impression than we imagine. “When people blush in an embarrassing or shameful situation, they are more likely to be seen by others as likeable and trustworthy than if they had not blushed,” explains Dr. Marije aan het Rot, a behavioural scientist at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.
And on another positive note, Professor Roy Crozier from the University of East Anglia concludes that blushing displays emotional intelligence: "A prerequisite for embarrassment is to be able to feel how others feel – you have to be empathetic, intelligent to the social situation". So that’s something of a moral boost.
Charles Darwin explored blushing in chapter 13 of his 1872 The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, describing it as "... the most peculiar and most human of all expressions.”
Maybe Darwin was a fellow erythrophobic, but hid it well beneath his beard?
(There were times when I would have been glad to have such a facial hair option myself.)
Treatment for blushing and erythrophobia.
Is there a cure?
NHS advice is that you seek treatment if blushing is negatively impacting your everyday life or you think it may be caused by medication or a medical condition (e.g. rosacea, menopause, hyperhydrosis, thyroid problems).
Recommended treatment is aimed at underlying stress and anxiety. Most commonly (and most effectively) this involves talking therapies like counselling, CBT and hypnotherapy. Sometimes medication may be appropriate such as beta-blockers or anti-depressants. Rarely, neurosurgery to the facial nerves is considered, though this potentially has serious long-term side-effects.
Hypnotherapy for treatment of blushing and erythrophobia
For years it never occurred to me that there was something that I could about my problem. I just thought it was part of me and that was that. It was fine so long as I didn’t find myself in a situation that made me blush – so I didn’t get out much.
Bizarrely, my problem only proved a complete nightmare at school and work. Fortunately, away from “those people and places”, I’ve always had a great time and many of my friends and family will be astonished to read this.
It was the dread of going back out into the world after having kids that made me look for a ‘cure’ for blushing for the first time. I chose hypnotherapy because I’d heard it dealt with the subconscious mind, which I knew was where my problem lurked.
So many of our limiting fears and beliefs become hard-wired in our subconscious minds at an early age. Once a fear takes root, we try to keep ourselves safe by being hypervigilant for it, so reinforcing its hold and deepening its neural pathways. This is really useful if that threat is genuine, but a massive pain in the **** if it’s not.
There’s a plethora of techniques that can be used in hypnotherapy for blushing, which can be used and adapted as necessary, since everyone’s experience and solution will be unique to them.
I discussed my problem with my hypnotherapist, recalling a number of excruciating experiences, then after some gentle relaxation into trance, I followed the feelings of embarrassment back to a time when my 5-year-old self had just started a new school and farted(!) in assembly. Of course, everyone was looking and pointing and laughing at me. I could feel the heat, the lack of air, my skin feeling red, raw and dry and the desperate wish to be magicked away. I was also aware of the forming sense of self-disgust and loneliness, the belief that there was something wrong with me and that it was all my fault.
My hypnotherapist asked me how I could help that little girl feel safe in that moment. From somewhere in my imagination I found a big blue bubble of gel to protect her from the other kids and found that it cooled and soothed her skin. I kept telling her that she was ok, that what had happened didn’t mean anything and gradually, as she began to believe me, I watched her unfurl inside the bubble, smile, turn into a mermaid and swim away. After that, blushing has become less and less of an issue (as has social anxiety and lack of confidence). And if, on occasion, I feel a blush threatening, I think of the blue bubble and it goes away.
By going back to that early event, I was able to reframe my belief into something far less limiting and scary. Or, going back to the library metaphor, this was a way of taking my belief out of the section for extreme danger and putting it in the section about ordinary people.
As I said, everyone’s experience of the problem and its solution will be unique to them. One of my clients described a similar schooldays experience of being publicly humiliated by a teacher. In hypnosis she put an invisibility cloak over her younger self, then took the feeling of humiliation and gave it to the teacher who went so red he blew up like a huge balloon.
The little girl started laughing, which helped her stop seeing him as credible source of truth; just because he might think she was stupid, insignificant or bad, it didn’t mean that she was. He began flying around the room deflating, getting smaller and funnier until he flew out the window and disappeared
into the sky.
With one client, the problem had only begun recently, with an over-bearing boss at work. Changing his boss's voice into a Donald Duck quack and adding feathers took the power away from him and gave it back to my client. He said it changed their relationship from that day. His self -belief was no longer dented by the constant sniping, which seemed to take the wind out of the boss’s sails and change the dynamic completely.
Another client put a one-way mirror between the bullies and her younger self.
So often a bully's power over you is their ability to make you believe that you really are as stupid/worthless/disgusting/etc as they say you are. From a place of safety, my client was able to show her younger self that those kids were just stupid clueless idiots and so free her of the belief that there was any truth, meaning or justification for what they were saying.
How does hypnotherapy work for blushing and erythrophobia?
In hypnotherapy for blushing and erythrophobia, I help you quieten your conscious mind and turn your attention inwards so your subconscious beliefs and fears can be explored and understood.
Contrary to the myths about hypnosis, you will remain in full control of your mind throughout. You are the expert on you so the process is a joint partnership between you and your hypnotherapist.
It’s relaxing, revealing and fascinating as your subconscious explains itself to you using the senses. It can be like watching a dream that you’re in control of. In doing this, you’re able to wander around memories and experiences, re-examining their meanings and gaining new perspectives.
In hypnosis, as understanding grows, the different parts of your mind begin to work together to reframe the belief so you can move forward leaving the fear behind.
Years ago, an advertisement for the Guardian showed some thugs pushing an old lady over. Shocking! Then the camera pulled back to reveal some bricks falling from a scaffold. They were actually saving her life.
The Guardian ad was about seeing different points of view. In the same way, hypnotherapy allows you to see a belief you have set about yourself from a different perspective. Once you’ve seen the whole picture, you can dispel the fear or shift the belief.
Is it time to take action?
I can’t believe that for years:
I hated myself for being ‘so pathetic’ for so long
I thought there must be something wrong with me because no-one else had this problem
I thought it was my fault.
Thankfully I’ve come to see that none of the above are true or useful. Hypnotherapy provided a way to rescue that bewildered, ashamed part of me and to change my beliefs.
Now, as a qualified hypnotherapist in Brighton, I would be delighted to help you to do the same.
Are you are ready to tackle your problem with blushing? If so contact me now to arrange a free phone consultation. We can chat things through and I can answer any questions you may have.
Looking forward to hearing from you.
Carol Bullock Dip PHH, MNCH (Reg.) RGN 07748 165227
Hypnotherapy for Brighton