Hope you had a beautiful holiday break!
I have been thinking about blushing lately. About going to lectures or conferences and the speaker seems fine, but all of a sudden you notice huge, blotchy red welts on her neck or around her ears. About some people feeling absolutely comfortable being the center of attention. About my 8 year old daughter covering her face and reddening when she found out she had won a family competition. Before the break, we had a staff meeting at work where my boss paid me a compliment, and I felt my face getting hot and red. I was frustrated and annoyed that I couldn’t control it, and when a co-worker told me I was blushing, it only made it worse. This occurs less frequently than it did before, but it made me wonder why people blush. I mean, what could possibly be the evolutionary reason for blushing? What did our ancient ancestors get out of turning red?
As a high schooler, I was a frequent blusher. It happened when I raised my hand to ask a question, if I had a presentation, if a boy asked me out etc, etc… It would go something like this: I’m talking and people are looking at me. I wonder if I am saying anything offensive. What are they thinking? Maybe I am not doing as well as I thought. Oh shit, my face feels hot. Inevitably, the popular girl, the outspoken and extroverted one would say, “Your face is turning red!” Oh, the humiliation! Apparently, there are people who are so scared of blushing in public that it becomes a fear of even leaving the house. It’s called “erythrophobia” and can be partially corrected with a fairly invasive spinal procedure. I am not even kidding.
Blushing works something like this: Adrenaline is released from your sympathetic nervous system, a fight or flight response is then initiated whereby your blood vessels dilate, particularly those in your face, then voila! A reddened face is presented to the public. This means that we can blush anytime we are feeling a bit vulnerable or when all eyes are on us. Researcher Ray Crozier, Honorary Professor at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom, says that we evolved to blush prior to established language in order to show others that we have done something wrong or apologize for our behavior. He also says that those who blush are clearly emotionally intelligent, and are very aware of the feelings and judgments of others.
Now that makes sense to me. As far back as I can recall, I have been hyper-aware of others. Genetically bestowed with empathy, I cried at movies (or commercials even!), made feverish attempts to make others feel better when they were feeling low, and cringed at the thought of speaking publicly or even having a celebration in my honor (my wedding shower was almost painful). However, as Crozier found in his research, the gift of aging has reduced this primal fear to more like a pang. A spotlight seeker I am not, but I am still very much in tune with the feelings of others. In suburbia, I am still concerned about you: how you are and who you are. Your joys and your sorrows are mine, too. It’s part of being a community to notice and react to those around you. Suburbo-types is a project about neighbors and social supports and friends and feelings; all within this place we call home.
But it’s nice to do it from my computer, where no one can see me blush.