Ask Parvati 39: Overcoming Stage Fright and Performance Anxiety – Part 2: The Fear of Being Seen

BY Parvati

Playing It Small And Hiding

We all had coping strategies when we were children. No matter how loving our parents were, they were not perfect. No one is perfect. Everyone on this planet casts a shadow and is also somehow growing and evolving. We may have hoped to find the perfect love from these imperfect beings. But how can we find absolute love from people who were also learning to love? In the process of growing up, we tended to make unconscious compromises to try to get the love we needed. Most of
us ended up with contractual relationships with family members as a means to find some stability amidst the whirl of issues, synergies, conflicts and personalities that make up every family life.

Ideally, our caregivers were open to receive us like the budding, young flowers we were. Yet, they too likely felt thwarted and unloved in their own way, perhaps feeling stressed to pay rent, alone to put food on the table, isolated in an dysfunctional marriage, or unhappy without the space they needed to deal with their own unresolved childhood issues amidst the work of childrearing. Whatever the situation was, often family life can be less than ideal for finding the unconditional love we hope to find. So we develop coping strategies.

Most children tend to be perceptive and creative. When we were young, we may have observed that by not speaking up, we added less stress to mom and dad’s busy lives. We may have figured out that by not saying what we needed, we kept the peace, perhaps even avoiding being yelled at. So we concluded that to give voice to our needs created some discord, or in extreme cases, attack. In our early years, giving voice could have felt like a risky thing. So we learned to bury what we felt deep inside in the silence of our inner world and plow forward towards growing up.

As children, we discovered that hiding was a way to keep ourselves feeling safe and protected amidst a turbulent world. Our parents were our source of food and shelter. Our very survival was keyed into making that relationship work. Our coping strategies worked for a while. Perhaps in the world of our imagination, we could safely play in our room, or escape watching TV or run free playing at school or with our friends. But when we grew up to be independent adults, the silence we once hid behind started to become deafening.

We must move through the playing it small and hiding if we wish to fulfill our dreams and find the love we wish to find. Though, as adults, we have long since left our parents’ home, we may still live with and react to them in our unconscious mind. In some sense, we carry them with us and see them wherever we go, until we face our deeper childhood fears and speak up and risk not being loved for who we are.

We bring our unconscious childhood fears into the boardroom or out on stage when we step up to the plate to share our work. We in essence do not see our colleagues in front of us as we start to present our work, but our childhood environment, be it sisters, brothers, or caregivers who we wanted to love us the way we needed. We do not see our boss evaluating our performance, but our mom or dad. We needed our parents’ approval as children to survive, so we equate that need to survive with our performance today.

The thoughts and beliefs that exist in our unconscious drive our lives. So in effect, that compromised child is really the one who wears the business suit as we go off to our jobs, or who sits in the chair across from our spouse as we try to make sense of an argument, or who stands on the stage as we get up to perform. We will continue to allow this child to drive our lives until we make friends with her, let her know she can be who she is, that we will take care of her as she needs. As adults, we need to learn to embrace and befriend our whole self, care for and accept who we are so we may feel safe, relaxed and loved in this world.

(Continues tomorrow with “To Risk Speaking Up and Saying How You Feel”)