It doesn't matter if you're acing your classes, climbing up that career ladder, or brave enough to sit front-row at spin class — you still might be totally terrified to confront a crush. Sometimes, even the most confident bosses out there would rather swim with sharks while on their period than make the first move. If texting your crush first makes you nervous, you can rest assured that you're not alone. I spoke to Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, psychotherapist and author of Training Your Love Intuition and Dr. Dominique Samuels, the resident psychologist for relationship-health app Emi Couple, and they gave me the low-down on what exactly causes this texting paralysis.
According to them, most people secretly struggle when it comes to putting themselves out there, and research has even revealed that making the first move is among the most common fears. While our hypothalamus seeks the emotional and sexual pleasure you can get from a crush, it must compete with another part of the brain's limbic system, the amygdala. "The amygdala serves as a trigger-happy sentinel that is just looking for signs of your emotional state and of danger of any kind, including being rejected and emotionally hurt," Dr. Wish explains. "Making that first move with your crush and getting rejected certainly qualifies as a dangerous situation."
When your amygdala recognizes fear (often before you're even aware of that fearfulness yourself), your amygdala reacts by releasing stress hormones to protect you from potential danger. "Being vulnerable is scary, and unfortunately, our brain cannot distinguish actual harm versus emotional harm," says Dr. Samuels. "So we respond in kind, even if the threat is not the same." These stress hormones overtake your ability to reason, and as a result, you may hesitate — or totally avoid — making that first move. "After all, you might get rejected, judged, laughed at, or dismissed as not being 'good enough' — all the responses that your amygdala registers as danger to you," Dr. Wish adds.
But here's the good news: You can minimize your amygdala's power and stop fear of rejection from overwhelming you. Dr. Wish says your first step should be recognizing the signs that your amygdala has "hijacked" your ability to think logically. "Those signs include shaking, feeling conflicted as to what to do, ambivalence, and minimizing the importance taking action, such as contacting this person first," she explains. "You might even try to talk yourself into believing that your crush is not right for you — without really ever getting to know that person."
Your next step should be addressing your amygdala's defenses and tackling them head-on. "Say out loud, write down, or at least think repeatedly in your head something like, 'OK, this is my brain's warning system in overdrive,'" Dr. Wish suggests. "Repeat this awareness several times. Recognizing your brain's reactions has a calming effect."
According to Dr. Samuels, it also helps to actually name those fears. "Ask yourself some questions: What would actually happen if this person rejects me? Am I afraid others will find out? What happens if that happens? Am I afraid they would in turn reject me? How plausible is that in reality? What would I tell a friend to do?" By answering those questions, you might realize your fear is unfounded. As Dr. Samuels points out, "Feelings are not facts."
The final step is to rebel against your brain's warning signals, which you can accomplish by doing the opposite of what your feelings are telling you to do. In other words, just do it — even if you're scared. You might end up feeling rejected, judged, or dismissed, but you'll never know unless you take that chance. "Something can feel terrifying, but be completely safe," says Dr. Samuels. "Rollercoasters depend on that fact!"
However, Dr. Wish points out that the reason you're hesitating to text your crush first may have to do with more than fear of rejection. "You might find that your instincts about this person being appealing and good for you are wrong," she says, which would make you question your own judgment. Another possibility: You might discover that your crush is like other partners who have hurt or disappointed you in the past. As Dr. Wish explains, "You might worry that you have emotional radar for people who are not good for you — and you don't know why."
It's also possible that reaching out first goes against your deep-rooted view of the courting process. As Dr. Samuels explains, "Have you been told that you should never be the first to reach out, or that you will look weak if you show interest? Those are important beliefs that should be considered, and often, challenged."
The best defense for all of these issues is becoming emotionally secure enough to know and trust yourself. "Read more books, seek counseling, keep a diary, and boost your awareness," Dr. Wish suggests. Once you better understand your fears, it will become easier to find what you're looking for and overcome your hesitance to make the first move. And try not to blame your amygdala for your texting fears — that cluster of neurons is just trying to protect you, boo.