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Problems opening gifts in front of people... how do i get over this phobia?

(23 Posts)
SummerOfLadybirds Mon 27-Jul-15 17:56:25

I've developed a strange phobia. For the last decade or so I've found it increasingly awkward opening presents in front of people (including DH and close family). My heart races, I feel sick and panicky and want to run away. It's got worse over the years. My DH thinks it's bizarre that I get panicky opening gifts from him, he's learned the best way is not to wrap them or even better, leave them for me to open alone (which I'm fine with). I don't know why it happens, maybe some sort of performance anxiety over making correct responses? I generally like the gifts but am so tense over the process of opening them I worry people think i don't like them. At the last family reunion, I (secretly) took 10mg diazepam before we all opened presents around the Xmas tree but still found it very nerve-wracking.

I'm heavily pregnant and relatives keep sending us gifts for the baby. Luckily this is usually via post not face to face, but I still find it stressful when DH insists I open them (I'd rather watch him open them or open them alone). But I know I need to get over this.

Anyone else have this problem or any advice? Ironically I love choosing and wrapping presents for other people, it's just receiving that I struggle with!

offside Mon 27-Jul-15 18:00:16

I could have written this post!! It also leads me to being extremely embarrassed to call people up and say thank you. And it isn't because I'm ungrateful, I absolutely am not, I just find the whole receiving of presents quite daunting. But I too LOVE to give gifts to people.

woowoo22 Mon 27-Jul-15 18:03:41

I would get hypnotherapy. Should fix it.

Handywoman Mon 27-Jul-15 18:05:05

I'm very similar - I HATE IT! To much pressure! Plus I'm not particularly interested in 'things' and if people buy me tat to clutter up my house it gives me utter heartsink followed closely by the rage

Love buying gifts though.

OiledBegg Mon 27-Jul-15 18:05:24

I have felt like this before although not as strongly as you are. I remember one secret Santa and I just wanted to die when I opened my present, especially as it could have been adult themed (luckily it wasn't!) - my whole team was watching I hated it! I dreaded it for the whole day. My hands were shaking and I was sweating - lovely!
I've also felt the same with birthdays and things especially when there's lots of people watching. What's helped me, is observing other people like my family and friends when they opened presents and then try to adopt their reactions. By watching others I realised the way I was reacting was fine. I've also found the deflecting onto the gift-giver is helpful by saying "lovely, where did you find it?" Or if there's other people there, saying "look so-and-so, you'd love this sparkly bracelet I've been given!" It takes the attention off you and into someone else. I don't know if this will help you but worth a try!

ImperialBlether Mon 27-Jul-15 18:06:30

Is it because you think it'll be something you don't want?

What happens if you ask (say) for a particular perfume for Christmas, you see a box of the right shape and you have to open it? Do you panic then?

ImperialBlether Mon 27-Jul-15 18:07:41

I think people who love to give but hate receiving are actually really selfish.

SwedishEdith Mon 27-Jul-15 18:09:49

I used to be like this when I was younger. I now just assume most gifts won't be that great so prepare a with a suitable "gift-receiving expression" and have stock phrases like, "Oh, that's really kind of you." I just don't really think about what the present is until later. And, if it's a really great one, I can respond accordingly/more naturally. But, I'm really not bothered about getting presents any more so they are all a bonus now.

LosingTheWillToSkate Mon 27-Jul-15 18:28:23

Not to the same extreme, but I feel quite anxious when I receive a gift that's a surprise. I'm not an overly emotive person in that sort of situation and I worry about seeming ungrateful. I get very easily overwhelmed, and fret about reacting how the person giving the gift would want me to act. It sort of takes away from the gift tbh.

SummerOfLadybirds Mon 27-Jul-15 18:45:56

Glad I'm not the only one! Thanks for all the responses, some good ideas to try out...

Imperial it's not that I'm worried about not liking something... but I do worry I won't be able to convincingly express pleasure if I don't like it (or that if I do like it I'll be so overwhelmed/tense other people might wrongly assume I don't like it). I hate to disappoint people by showing the wrong reaction or for them to think i'm unappreciative. I tend to overcompensate by saying several times how lovely the gift is and showing intense interest in it, whether I like it or not. Re the perfume box scenario, I'd still panic as I have to open it and it may be something else. If it wasn't wrapped I'd be fine as I could take my time to spot it and thank the person calmly.
Why do you think it's selfish to like giving but hate receiving?

I've received a few gifts where I've wondered 'what is it?' even when unwrapped, and had to read the box carefully or ask what it is, so I dread being puzzled by something while everyone watches!

Oiled I can totally empathise with the secret santa thing. I always opt out at work. Last year my friend received a Rampant Rabbit in secret santa, she opened it in front of everyone and no-one ever confessed to it! blush
I really like the tip about observing others' reactions to gifts and role-modelling how they deal with it.

Offside I hate making thank you phone calls too, but I'm fine with sending cards or texting/emailing to say thanks. Maybe because cards/texting allows you more time to express gratitude without worrying it comes across wrong.

NoSnotAllowed Mon 27-Jul-15 18:53:32

I find it uncomfortable. The worst is Christmas at the in laws though - they take it in turn to open presents and each present has a clue on it - if you can't work out the clue you're not allowed to open the present. Everyone watches you whilst you try and work it out confused

CrystalGlitz Mon 27-Jul-15 19:45:47

I'm with you OP. I almost cried at my last birthday (I'm 41) when I was made to open my gifts in front of everyone at a family dinner. And then of course I felt wretched afterwards at having tried to wriggle out of it because I appeared ungrateful and selfish.

I am well aware that I need to get over myself, btw.

DisgraceToTheYChromosome Mon 27-Jul-15 19:58:18

Not as uncommon as you might think, especially in people with ASD traits. It's about novelty and control. Novelty has to be on the recipient's terms, or loss of control triggers anxiety.

Which is why I like socks or book tokens.

pocketsaviour Mon 27-Jul-15 21:43:20

Have you looked into CBT or hypnotherapy? I think either of those might help you manage your anxiety around this topic.

Do you remember an occasion - probably as a child - when you were given a gift and didn't make what the giver considered to be an "appropriate" response? And were then given a load of grief or ignored by the giver as a result?

springydaffs Mon 27-Jul-15 23:27:52

Aha! You may well have shed some light on my mum and present-opening - thank you!!

My poor mum has social phobia - extremely well-hidden. But I know she goes through agony upon agony. Selfish doesn't come into it! [looking at you IB..] - she is so selfless in hiding her difficulties and going through things that are pure torture for her. Yy she hides her difficulties for herself but for other ppl too. To the point hardly anybody knows - I only know bcs i have put 2 and 2 together.

Read an article at the weekend about stage fright - not dissimilar eh! I think this is a complex disorder ie many stands - you may not be socially phobic, just in this one thing; there may be performance anxiety; you may dread hurting some one..

There's treatment op! Unlike for my poor mum born in the 20s

GatoNaranja Tue 28-Jul-15 09:20:11

This is me too. I'm dreading my fortieth next year already as I may will probably have to find myself opening gifts in front of people. I know that may sound ungrateful, but actually it's not. For me it's in a way about self-esteem:

I somehow don't think I'm worthy of having money spent on me and I'll be worried about people secretly resenting having to have done so.

I have slight OCD and worry about not liking the gift, being out of control and having to act surprised. I don't like lying or being insincere as I'm a very direct person.

I hate being centre of attention.

Doodlebug300 Tue 28-Jul-15 12:33:52

This is a big anxiety thing and I hope that this thread has helped to reassure you that it's more common than you might have thought. I have anxiety over any situation where I am 'trapped' - especially where escaping would cause me embarrassment. I don't get too anxious about gifts because I'm a greedy mare it's over quite quickly and usually it's just in front of people I know and love, but I do get anxiety in similar situations where people are focusing on me - like for example if I start telling a story at a dinner party and everyone looks at me. Aaaaargh! I've had some CBT and am trying to get some more as I feel in need of more help at the moment.

Immersion is the only way through - stop avoiding opening presents and keep doing it regularly. Maybe practise by getting your partner to buy and wrap you something each week (I want to do this therapy!!!) Your anxiety levels will gradually drop in the situation but if you avoid it then your anxiety levels get heightened as you are teaching yourself that the only way to be 'safe' from the situation is to avoid it, whereas in reality of course there is nothing to be afraid of.

I highly recommend CBT but I also recommend being open about the situation. You can say 'I love getting gifts but I always find opening them a bit nerve wracking with everyone watching!' as you open it. Sharing the experience rather than feeling locked in your own head might help reduce your anxiety.

Needaninsight Tue 28-Jul-15 12:38:44

Oh god, me too!!

Wrapdress Tue 28-Jul-15 13:10:06

Yes! I have childhood photos of me surrounded by un-opened Christmas presents. I just wanted to open them alone (and I really didn't even want the gifts in the 1st place). Presently, I don't tell anyone when my birthday is. It's all too painful - the obligatory gifts people really don't want to give. I don't like the attention. My real feelings show on my face no matter what. This issue probably belongs over in the Stately Homes thread - lol. I imagine it's all connected.

SummerOfLadybirds Tue 28-Jul-15 18:27:06

I somehow don't think I'm worthy of having money spent on me and I'll be worried about people secretly resenting having to have done so

I feel a bit like this too. I feel embarrassed that they've gone to the trouble of getting me gifts... and when it's something I love I feel unworthy of it and unable to express how much I love it. People often ask 'do you like it?' several times even when I've said i love it so I guess I'm not good at expressing pleasure.
I even get panicky when DH comes back from a work-trip and starts unpacking his suitcase as he always brings gifts... I love it that he thinks of me when away and am very appreciative, but opening the bags/parcels makes me panicky. I prefer it if he just puts something in my hands unexpectedly, with no packaging and a clear 'this is a gift for you' before I have a chance to get worked up.
Sometimes if someone just hands me something I'm not sure if it's a gift or not so I freeze and go bright red. I worry it might be for someone else and they just want me to hold it! Like when a guest hands me a bottle of wine or flowers without saying anything... I know it's likely to be a gift but I daren't say anything just in case it's for someone else (or they just want me to put them in water or something!) blush

Interesting about the link with social phobia. As a teenager I had severe social anxiety and had years of CBT and counselling, and in my early 20s I had NLP for low confidence. So I guess it's left over from that... I'll certainly look into more therapy as it really helped before.

NoSnotAllowed grin at the presents with clues!! I'd become incapable of solving the clues just to delay the present-opening smile

pocket I don't remember a time in my childhood when I reacted inappropriately to a gift, although in my early teens I remember my mum being disappointed if we didn't get excited over presents. So we all faked excitement and pleasure. My dad prefers to open his presents in private too, and she always coaxes him not to (he's allowed to open birthday presents in private but is expected to join in with the family at Xmas.)

Offred Wed 29-Jul-15 09:41:18

I feel like this too. For me it is like a kind of performance anxiety which is based on being phobic about being the focus of attention. I also do not want my photo taken, struggle with having official positions at events like weddings etc where I know I will be visible, I cried in bed for two weeks when I found out I was having twins last time around partly because I really didn't want to be a mum with 4 DC because it would make me really visible to other people - I find it hellish.

I've never found a way to reduce the anxiety despite not avoiding situations that provoke it but it's good to know other people feel similarly.

Offred Wed 29-Jul-15 09:45:16

I do know where my feelings come from though... It's having a mother who is very overbearing, interfering, inconsistent and judgemental and a difficult childhood where I was rejected and abused. I have a deep seated fear of being scrutinised because and feel situations like this are that.

Offred Wed 29-Jul-15 09:48:45

I think also because my mum has always seen her children as part of her and what they do/think as a reflection on her own value. This meant there was a huge amount of pressure on all of us to perform in all things to her satisfaction but due to inconsistency it wasn't clear what would satisfy her. She also has no respect for privacy and digs and manipulates in order to find out what she wants to know.

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