The Vulnerability Challenge

#TheVulnerabilityChallenge: How blushing increases feelings of vulnerability (Day 5)

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Hayley

Director & Coach at Quiet Connections
Hayley shares her personal stories of feeling shy, socially anxious, ‘not good enough’ and fearfully avoiding the good things in life. Growing her confidence through coaching, gradually stretching her comfort zone and connecting with others, she now uses everything she has learned to help other people grow their confidence in her role as a coach. Hayley is passionate about connecting people with similar stories and creating safe, supportive spaces to make friends and try new things. Hayley dreams of a time when all of the strengths, skills and goodness in ‘quiet’ is recognised and appreciated as readily as being bold, gregarious, and comfortable in the spotlight is right now.
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#TheVulnerabilityChallenge Day 5

The vulnerability in blushing

I’ve always been someone who blushes. I would go bright red in the face and come up in a blotchy red rash on my chest in any situation where I would be noticed and even where I thought about being in uncomfortable situations – not just during presentations! It could be any situation that would trigger my blushing. Like waiting to answer my name in class; speaking up in a meeting; being asked a question in a group; talking to a stranger; talking to a guy. It would happen A LOT. And then people think it’s ok to comment on your blushing. As if you don’t know that your face is on fire!

The difficult thing for me was that although I could try to remain calm on the outside and appear like I was fine and not draw attention to myself, the blushing would give it away whenever I felt a little uncomfortable and people would notice this about me. This left me feeling even more vulnerable. I felt like I was an open book.

People would read into what the blushing could mean and come up with their own conclusions and sometimes this was so far from the truth. If I happened to be talking to a guy, people would tend to assume I was blushing because I fancied him and some would tease me about it, and I would feel worse. Once I had to do a presentation at secondary school in my science class. I felt my cheeks burning before I had even walked to the front of the room. Other kids loudly commented on my red face and laughed at me; they couldn’t understand why I was blushing and they probably had no idea of the impact of their teasing. The worst thing is when you become so focused on your blushing cheeks, it makes them go even more red and burning and you start to feel like you might actually be on fire.

What’s strange is that I’ve realised I can’t really tell if I’m blushing or not. A few years back, I did a presentation to 400 people when I was working with a large charity and I spoke about how important the cause was to me, and said “that’s why I’m stood here in front of you, red in the face”. Afterwards, I was asked why I said that because I wasn’t blushing. Even though I felt like I was. That experience has helped me because I don’t always know whether my fiery cheeks are noticeable to others so I’m not so focused on it anymore. Although, it does still happen. When I applied for my place on the Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Programme with the School for Social Entrepreneurs last year, I had to pitch my business idea to a panel dragons-den style. The mentor I ended up with was on that panel and the thing he remembered most about me was that I was red in the face during my presentation!

Two ways I managed blushing:

  1. Growing my hair long, wearing it down all the time and using it to hide my face – I know this is quite common amongst people who feel socially anxious. The idea was that no one could see my red cheeks, but of course they still could; I wasn’t walking around like Cousin Itt from the Addams Family! Still, I think this strategy may have actually drawn more attention to me.
  1. Avoiding every situation in which I might blush –  so that was basically every situation in life I could choose to avoid. I used so many creative excuses to keep out of these situations, turn down invitations and stay hidden. I sabotaged good opportunities and when excuses and sabotage failed, I just hid in the toilet.

As I’ve got older, I’ve become more comfortable with who I am. While I still blush, I feel like that’s ok now. I discovered some research about how people who blush are perceived as more trustworthy and they are likeable. It got me wondering about the way I used to think about blushing and all the things I imagined people might think about me because of it. Maybe all those things I used to believe about blushing aren’t true at all. Maybe blushing is actually ok.

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