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How to Help Your Clients Stop Blushing

5 psychological tips and tricks to reduce the redness

Reframing a client's attitude towards blushing can help them defeat it

“Blushing is the most peculiar and most human of all expressions.”

– Charles Darwin, from The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals

Like a creeping, burning shadow of shame, here it comes again. Have they noticed? They must have noticed!

If you blush often, and you really care that you do, it hurts. Not physically, although the sweating anxiety is certainly not comfortable, but emotionally.

You want to be seen as having nothing to hide. Heck, you don’t have anything to hide, except the blasted, burning, Belisha beacon of blushing itself! You want to seem like the adult you are, not a shy schoolgirl whose secret crush has just been publicly proclaimed.

Robert is 35, and he tells me that he’s blushed all his life, or at least as long as he can remember. He woefully recounts the dozens of therapists he’s seen, many of whom tried to get to the bottom of why he might have started blushing.

“But I don’t care why! I care how! How to stop it!”

Robert had become stuck in a vicious cycle: when he was embarrassed he would blush, but the more he blushed the more embarrassed he became… and so the cycle continued. But he wasn’t alone. Recent research shows that the more we think we are blushing, the more we actually blush.1

By the time Robert came to me, he was blushing even in situations when he didn’t feel embarrassed. “It’s got so that I’m blushing when I’ve even so much as told myself I might blush!” he said despondently, his face a mottled rouge.

Robert worked as a financial advisor. Personally I’ve never been keen on receiving monetary advice from anyone who isn’t rich enough not to have to be a financial advisor. But maybe that’s just me. Anyway, the point is he had to meet people every day and maintain constant professionalism.

And this continuous facial heat signalling was making his daily life about as fun as root canal surgery performed by a crazed monkey with a chip on its hairy shoulder.

So what could I do for Robert, beyond earnest intellectualizing as to why and where this cursed problem may have originated?

Here are a few ideas.

1. Stop the blushing cycle by ‘unmasking’

One way to short-circuit blushing is to draw attention to it yourself. Yes, really. When you do this, the results can be amazing.

Years ago I was public speaking to maybe 100 mesmerized souls hanging on my every word (well, the ones who were awake, anyway) when someone asked me a question. I totally misunderstood what she’d meant and, long story short, my unconscious mind decided to make me blush like a vicar caught reading Playboy.

But I realized I didn’t care about the blush. In fact, I said out loud: “Oh look, I’m blushing.” The blushing was unmasked. No one in the audience seemed particularly interested in the hue of my skin. And the blushing knew it. Without embarrassment, blushing has nothing to cling onto. And so, unappreciated, the blushing slinked off.

Of course, I know it’s not always convenient to call out blushing. Indeed, such an admission is likely to come across as quite incongruous in a financial planning meeting. But it’s still important to understand the way blushing blackmails us, and that’s what I explained to Robert. If you come clean and go public, it loses its power.

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I gave Robert the task of calling attention to any blushing, and he said he was actually prepared to do that. But you know what? Like any called-out coward, the blushing didn’t show up. It knew it would get outed and darn it, it didn’t like it.

I also told Robert that in his career blushing might even be a boon, because research shows that people deem other people who blush as more trustworthy that those who don’t blush.2 A beautiful reframe courtesy of real scientific research.

And Robert wasn’t entirely immune to the allure of research that shows being easily embarrassed also correlates with being more attractive to the opposite sex.3

Like any bully, take the wind out of its sails and it will slink off with its burning tail between its flaming legs. If you don’t care about it, blushing loses its life blood. For Robert, even just being willing to proclaim his blushing seemed to help stop it happening.

I realize this might not be acceptable in an important business meeting, but give this strategy serious consideration because it really does short-circuit the whole thing. And it fits in nicely with the next tip.

2. Stop feeling so responsible for blushing

In the example above, I was ‘cool’ about blushing. Why didn’t I feel embarrassed about changing from my usual pallid complexion to a neon blaze reminiscent of Amsterdam’s most dubious districts?

It’s amazing how people feel consciously responsible for stuff that is actually generated by their unconscious mind. “I feel such an idiot! I must be stupid!” But I have much more conscious control over, say, whether I speak rudely to someone than whether I blush, or hiccup, or blink, or dilate my pupils.

We can help our clients separate their conscious and unconscious processes. For conscious stuff, I (at least try to) take responsibility, but unconscious stuff is outside my control. So I felt cool about the fact I was blushing, because in a sense, I wasn’t. I, the guy trying to give a good speech, had nothing to do with it.

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It’s your client’s unconscious mind that has been producing the changes in blood flow that lead to their blushing. They may feel dumb for blushing, but the ‘they’ that feels dumb isn’t the ‘they’ that did the blushing… if that doesn’t sound too dumb!

When my blushing clients have this added problem of feeling like an idiot for blushing, I always try to get this across, metaphorically or otherwise.

So really think about how responsible you or your clients need to feel for the blushing. If your dog barks at a kindly stranger, you may feel responsible, but it’s your dog, not you, who barked. Understanding and accepting this will make Tip 1 much easier to enact.

For Robert, this idea (delivered before and during hypnosis) was a major turning point. Feeling less responsible – after all, he’d never decided to blush – meant he began to feel less attached to it and less of an “idiot” for doing it.

But there’s an even more powerful way to stop blushing.

3. Stop blushing by directing blood flow

What? Am I crazy? Well, yes, a little, but I’m also right. Blood flow can be controlled through the use of the imagination. By spending five minutes a day imagining your hands heating up around an open fire, you’ll find you can more easily direct blood into your hands.4

I taught Robert that he could actually exert some control over the temperature in different parts of his body. By focusing on his hands heating up during times when he might typically blush, he found he could actually stop himself blushing.

Indeed, therapeutic hypnosis can be extremely useful for unconscious processes like panic attacks and blushing. Cognitive therapy may not hit the mark, because it’s not the conscious mind that is producing the blush.

For Robert it was, at first, as though the blushing was still there – but only in the hands. “I did blush a couple of times, but not in my face. It was like my hands blushed, because they heated up for a few minutes, but no one noticed, and I didn’t care if they did. Anyway, it soon passed.”

Pretty soon, Robert didn’t even have to regularly self-hypnotize in order to influence his own blood flow at will.

Language is interesting. We talk of people being ‘hot-headed’ or ‘cool’. So with that in mind, here’s something else that I taught Robert – and it’s something you can do with your clients too.

4. Be cool

Your client’s body, anybody’s body, responds to preparation. Dreading something doesn’t feel like ‘preparation’, but it is.

If you prepare for an event by feeling nervous when you imagine it (“Oh my God, my speech is next week!”), you are priming your mind and body to feel nervous when the situation actually occurs.

If every time you think about your speech you feel scared, even if it’s only for a few seconds at a time, you are repeatedly teaching your unconscious mind that it should produce fear when this event comes around.

If, on the other hand, you imagine upcoming events while feeling very relaxed, and imagine seeing yourself looking cool and calm from the outside (which seems to reap better results than a first-person perspective)5, you are sending your unconscious mind and your body a powerful signal to actually be calm and cool in these upcoming situations.

This is a form of self-hypnosis, and Robert got very good at it. Identify typical times your client might blush. When your client is beautifully relaxed and breathing deeply, ask them to imagine watching themselves looking calm and cool in those situations. The more often and powerfully they do this, the more automatic keeping cool will become. Prime the mind.

I’ve suggested to clients they’ll feel a cool, calm, comforting breeze soothe and cool the face in those times. Hypnosis is the most powerful therapeutic tool. And lastly…

5. Stop blushing by rewriting history

We can ask our clients to think about the times they’ve blushed in the past that really stand out as particularly unpleasant. Then we can ask them to hypnotically revisit some of these times with their eyes closed, from a detached perspective, just watching themselves from an Observing Self position.

Now we can ask them to realize they can change those memories. We can suggest they watch those past situations in their mind as if they had felt cool and easy, and had either relaxed totally about the fact they blushed (as I did in my public speaking example) or had not actually blushed at all.

This ‘rewriting history’ exercise sends the message to the client’s unconscious mind that, actually, there is no real history of blushing. Their conscious mind will still know they blushed in these times, but their unconscious mind will start to feel as if the pattern was never established.

I heard from Robert recently. He told me that in the years since we worked together, he had blushed only three times and had actually been so relaxed about it that he had laughed when it happened. Just as laughing at a bully can diminish their power, his dismissal of blushing meant he now felt it had no power over him whatsoever.

The greatest power in the Universe, the greatest power you, I or anyone can ever have, is not power over neighbours or nations.

It is power over ourselves.

And you can learn how to use the art of reframing to help your clients in so many ways. Read about our Conversational Reframing online course here and sign up to be notified when it’s open for booking.

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Mark Tyrrell

About Mark Tyrrell

Psychology is my passion. I've been a psychotherapist trainer since 1998, specializing in brief, solution focused approaches. I now teach practitioners all over the world via our online courses.

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  1. Corine Dijk and colleagues selected 100 undergrads from a larger pool based on their scores on a blushing questionnaire: fifty were highly fearful of blushing, and fifty had little or no fear of blushing. The participants’ task was to make conversation with two strangers for five minutes. Throughout, the participants’ facial skin temperature and colour was recorded using physiological measures. The main findings were that giving the participants false feedback that they were blushing actually caused them to blush, and led them to think they’d be rated more negatively by the students with whom they had to make conversation. This was true for both groups of participants – those that were scared of blushing and those that were not.
  4. The Department of Physiology, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland found in a series of six experimental sessions that subjects instructed to imagine their hand in a hot and cold water stream could reliably change the blood flow, and therefore heat, in their hand with this method.
  5. Seeing future success: Does imagery perspective influence achievement motivation? Vasquez, N. A. and Buehler, R. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, October 2007 vol. 33 no. 10, 1392-1405

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