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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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I Blush, Therefore I...

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Jun 16th 2009

The Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009 edtion of the New York Times Science Section, ran an article about blushing and its effects. As the article aptly points out, those with a tendency to blush either in social situations, when they are caught in a lie or another embarassing situation, believe they have betrayed something negative about themselves when they blush. In other words, they expect to be judged negatively.

In point of fact, the article, written by Benedict Carey, cites recent research that blushing has a positive social function.

"Yeah, try to tell that to those of us who blush!!!"

But, in fact, the findings appear to be correct and those of us who blush need to take this into consideration. Here are the findings:

One of the fundamentally important aspects of social interaction among human beings is face to face communication. Facial expressiongs convey lots of meanings along with gestures and verbal statements. The research has found that, when someone has done something clumsy or embarassing, the blush softens the reactions of others. This softening and forgiveness for the clumsy behavior strengthens social ties, helping to build social cohesiveness and inclusiveness.

A study was done at the University of Wisconsin Department of Psychology where fraternity members were invited to participate in an experiment. Members were invited in four at a time. In each group, two fraternity members were seniors who were brothers from the start and the other two were new members. The members were asked to tease each other using nick names and sarcasms. The interactions were carefully studied and recorded by the researchers. What was consistently found, from group to group, was the new members who frequently blushed seemed to have been accepted and befriended by the seniors much more quickly than those who did not blush.

I have frequently pointed out to patients who complained about their habit of blushing that there is nothing negative about it and that it is very endearing and welcoming.

The problems seems to be that those with the greatest amount of social anxiety who also blush are the most critical of themselves for the reddening of their cheeks. I have found this to be true for both males and females.

It is important to clarfiy the fact that lots of people who do not suffer from social anxiety also blush. The blushers who are not socially anxious are much more self accepting than those who are anxious and blushers and this is supported by older research.

I really believe that self acceptance is the real name of the game. There is no end to the ways that people can find fault with themselves. That fault can range from someone believing they are too fat, too flat chested, too short, too tall, too bald and onward into an endless stream of self dislike and even hatred.

If this is true of you, whether it is blushing or any other type of self criticism that causes you real discomfort, then the next step to take is psychotherapy. Why? The answer has to do with removing obstacles that stand in the way of your living a full and involved life.

Your comments, experiences and questions are encouraged.

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at dransphd@aol.com for details.

    Reader Comments
    Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

    Blushing Question - Allan N. Schwartz, PhD - Nov 10th 2009

    Hi Beth,

    If someone is behaving positively towards you and you blush, it sends a positive message right back that you like, respect and take them seriously and feel good about them. It invites more interaction.

    Dr. Schwartz

    Blushing Question - Beth - Nov 10th 2009

    I wonder then, what would be the reasons behind blushing when someone is behaving positively toward you? Humility? Interesting.

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