Most people look forward to getting gifts during the holiday season. But some people have a phobia of getting presents that takes out all of the joy of receiving presents. The New York Post reported that 26-year-old Sam Das loved Christmas, but dreaded the moment she would have to open gifts in front of others.
“I’m a big fan of Christmas … But the moment that someone gives me a beautifully-wrapped present, I freeze. I go hot and cold then fear washes over me. Sometimes I can’t even talk, other times I start shaking. It’s not because I’m scared of what’s inside, it’s because I can’t deal with the pressure of being watched while I’m ripping off the paper.”
It all started at Das’s 21st birthday party. At one point at the party, the music stopped playing and all 50 guests in attendance gathered to watch her open her gifts. She hated being the center of attention and could feel the panic set in.
“I’ve always been a bad liar and I’m terrified that if I don’t like what’s inside, I won’t be able to pretend I like it or give a good enough reaction. Just the thought of someone watching me — eagerly awaiting my reaction — is enough to bring on a bout of anxiety.”
Das received gifts that she enjoyed, such as perfume or makeup, but then she opened a present that turned out to be a pair of socks which she described as “garish.”
“I managed to say, ‘Oh, right! They’re really nice’ but it was obvious I didn’t think that at all. The family friend who got them for me looked so uncomfortable — I was mortified … I got really hot and sweaty, my heart started pounding and I got short of breath. I still go red thinking about it, especially because he left the party straight afterwards.”
Since then, Das refused to open gifts in front of friends and family members because she was afraid of disliking the gift and not being able to hide her feelings.
“For the last five years, Christmas has been a nightmare. It’s ruined that special part of the festive season for me — and all my loved ones. They all know presents are a no-no. The night before Christmas I usually don’t get much sleep thinking about it. I get so self-conscious that I might not like the present and I’m convinced the person will know and I’ll cause offense. I hate to let people down.”
Das said that her husband, Albert, understands that she needs to open her presents in private, in their bedroom. Her mother-in-law stopped buying gifts for her altogether.
The Huffington Post quoted Mark Leary, Duke University professor of psychology and neuroscience, who said that a fear of opening gifts is not uncommon and is a form of social anxiety.
“The situation is not all that different from many others that we encounter in everyday life that involve intense social attention, ambiguity and the possibility of not managing the situation well, like when we have to introduce ourselves and say something about ourselves to a new group of people.”
Anxiety increases with opening gifts in front of others because they are assessing the receiver’s emotional response to the gift.
“The onlookers are highly attuned to your reactions. Being the focus of everyone’s attention always raises the interpersonal stakes … everyone is more on their guard when lots of other people are watching.
This may increase anxiety because not only are people watching, but they also have to respond positively to the gift.
“People want to be seen as appreciative, but one always runs the risk of not conveying the appropriate level of appreciation. Or, worse, not being being able to conceal one’s confusion, consternation, or lack of enthusiasm if a gift turns out to be strange, inexplicable or just plain lame. People may worry that they won’t respond as the gift-giver hopes and might even hurt someone’s feelings.”
Das said that people have been generally understanding of why she doesn’t like to open presents in front of others.
“I’ve been so stressed out about it all in the past, I’ve burst into tears. Whenever I explain to someone about my phobia, they’re usually surprised but are more sympathetic when I explain why.”
According to Leary, Das is not alone in her fear of receiving gifts, something that may be taken into consideration before the season of gift giving gets into full swing.