Anxiety Disorders » How To Overcome Public Fear The What Ifs
How To Overcome Public Fear The What Ifs
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Sir Laurence Olivier, the famous English actor, was revered and respected as one of the greatest actors of our time. Yet, after almost fifty years of performing, the terrors struck him unmercifully at age 57 while on stage in The Master Builder. The panic attacks lasted unabated for five and a half years.
So terrified was Olivier when performing on stage, that he gave instructions to the other actors to not look him in the eyes: In spite of being revered by both the audience and his fellow actors, he expected to see disapproval and disappointment reflected in their eyes.
Stage fright is an animal, a monster which hides in its foul corner with-out revealing itself, but you know that it is there and that it may come forward at any moment—Sir Laurence Olivier, On Acting
Why would an accomplished talent like Olivier have been plagued with such unrealistic fears? It goes back, in large part, to his childhood and his relationship with his parents, particularly his father. My fathercouldnt see the slightest purpose in my existence, he wrote in his autobiography.
We come to see ourselves as that which is reflected in our parents eyes. If this is disinterest, we see ourselves as uninteresting. If its disgust, we see ourselves as dis-gusting. Later, we view the world through the wounded eyes of the child; somewhere in the audience always lurks the disappointed or disinterested parental face that makes us feel shame, causing us to wish we could disappear. We lower our eyes to shut out the pain of the perceived rejection and, symbolically, to disappear from the others sight.
If you were born with a sensitive nervous system to boot, you experience double jeopardy: an expectation of rejection from others, and a heightened sensitivity that allows you to quickly and intensely pick up these cues. Such was probably the case with the sensitive Sir Laurence Olivier.
The Attach of the What Ifs
Before a performance, we all feel some stage fright and self-doubt. How many what ifs have floated through your mind before starting your act?
What if others notice Im nervous?
What if I get jelly legs?
What if I forget my lines?
What if I play the wrong notes?
What if I pee in my pants?
What if someone asks me a question and I cant answer?
What if my mind goes blank?
What if I forget what Im supposed to say?
What if I trip, or spill my water, or do something else humiliating?
What if I have a panic attack?
How badly these what-ifs trip you up depends on your perceptions and expectations, as well as on the nature of the situation: the characteristics of the place and the audience, your familiarity with the situation, and how much you are the center of attention.
Almost all shy people experience stage fright, though only a fraction of people who experience stage fright experience shyness.
How much you risk to lose: The greater the consequences of your failure, thegreater your stage fright.
How well you believe you will perform: The worse you expect to perform, basedboth on real past failures and imagined present ones, the greater your anxiety level.
Sensitivity to others reactions: The more you are bothered by and notice disapproval—a frown, a shake of the head—or disinterest—whispering, staring around the room, getting up and leaving—the greater your self-consciousness and anxiety.
Introversion/extroversion: The more introverted you are, the more quickly and intensely you become overexcited and the longer it takes for you to calm down.
Size: Generally, the larger the audience, the greater the stage fright, since there are more people to scrutinize you.
Power: The more important and influential the audience, the greater you perceive your risk.
Competence: The more skilled or knowledgeable your audience, the greater their ability to detect flaws in your performance.
Performing alone or in a group: The more you are the center of attention, the greater your jitters.
Competition: The better the other performers relevant to your presentation, the worse you feel you may come across.
Place familiarity: The more a place differs from where you are accustomed to performing, the less predictable your performance and the more you worry about what could go wrong.
Audience familiarity: If you know members of your audience, the more likely a poor performance may be remembered and discussed. On the other hand, familiar people may be more likely to root for you.
Role familiarity: The more you find yourself in a new and unfamiliar role, the lower your confidence level and the greater your stage fright.
All the worlds a stage. —William Shakespeare
Now that you know what frightens you about performing or speaking in public, and now that you can identify the situations that exacerbate your fear, how do you over-come stage fright and knock them dead? As with other phobias, you need to attack stage fright on four levels:
1. Physical: You need to learn how to modulate physical excitation so you dont feel overwhelmed with anxiety.
2. Thoughts: You need to stop destructive thoughts.
3. Emotional: You need to learn how to quell your uneasy feelings and panic responses.
4. Actions: You need to learn techniques that make performing easier.
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