by Dr. Ken Larsen
After hearing person after person report the same fear, I began to see this as a “normal” response.
Then when I see the frequently reported hierarchy of fears, with public speaking ranked above death, I am once again convinced this is a normal reaction.
Don’t misunderstand me. Just because I see it as “normal”, (which is actually a statistical term not a psychological description,) I wonder just what causes this nearly universal terror that seriously afflicts the mental health and happiness of many. Especially five minutes before giving a talk in front of others.
I have a suspicion, however, that one cause of this terror is the conviction that to be afraid of public speaking is NOT normal, and it is a sign of weakness or some character flaw. This is often triggered by seeing an apparently confident speaker seem immune to stage fright, giving a relaxed talk with no evidence of nervousness.
This is what I call comparing your insides with someone else’s outsides.
The fact of the matter is we don’t know what is going on inside the seemingly confident person. I remember Johnny Carson talking about his anxiety before giving his nightly monologue. And this was after decades in broadcasting.
Bruce Springsteen talks about using the energy of the pre-performance jitters to push his performance to a higher level.
I believe that once we accept the fact that just about everyone else has the same butterflies before a performance, we can settle down, accept our jitters, and move on.
Buddhists have an interesting insight into suffering from an affliction. There is the affliction itself, such as fear of speaking, and then there is what is called “the second arrow”. This second arrow is when we add to our affliction by thinking of ourselves as weak, or inferior, or in some way different than the rest of our species.
If we will choose to avoid this “second arrow” of self-blame, we can focus on doing what others have done before us. Feel what you’re feeling, understand it for what it is, and then move beyond it.
This is an important part of our ongoing quest for mental health and happiness.