90 Percent of People Feel Stage Fright

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Social anxiety refers to the nervousness we feel when we are around people.  It is different though from the fear of public performance,. also referred to as "stage fright."  But let's look for a moment this thing called, stage fright.  What is a "stage, anyhow?" Well, that's open for interpretation.  Note, what Shakespeare says:       

All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.  They have their exits 
and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.....(Shakespeare, As You Like It)

 Ninety percent of people feel stage fright when they face the prospects of a public performance, such as public speech, a recital, a dance performance, or a stage acting. At the beginning of one's career,  most every public performer experiences stage fright.  If one keeps on performing, it begins to diminish .  Individuals who experience social anxiety have a different kind of stage fright.  For them, the whole world is a stage and even informal social situations are nothing less than public performances.  Meeting and interacting with other people in an everyday social situation, such as in a work setting, a social club, a concert, etc., is like performing under the scrutiny of an  "audience."  The audience, for a socially anxious person, is not perceived as a gathering of friends and fans, but of unsparing critics.      

 Genetics plays a major role in social anxiety.  Life experiences in interaction with those with shy or anxious temperament contribute to self-consciousness.  The more self-conscious a person is, the more inhibited he or she will be in people-encounters.   Self-consciousness raises anxiety about self-presentation, that is, "How will I act and appear to others, " and about other- condemnation, that is, "Will they disapprove of me or reject me?"  These manifest themselves in physical changes such as, stomach "butterflies," sweaty palms, shaky legs, lumpy throat, dry mouth, and a swimmy head.  As these physical symptoms repeatedly occur, one begins to see oneself as a hopelessly shy and nervous person.   

 Social anxiety has been with us since the beginning of the time when human beings started hunting and living as a group.  Every  culture through stories, nursery rhymes, and fairy tales, tries to bring the problem of social anxiety out into the open, holding out hopes to future generations that the problem can be overcome.  Take as an example, our own culture.  We have the Bashful in the story of the Snow White and the Seven Dwarf.  The Piglet in Winnie-the-Pooh is shy and nervous.  The Lion in the Wizard of Oz is "afraid of everything and everybody."  

 These stories play an important part in the formation of the psyche of every child.  Through the characters such as, the Bashful, the Piglet, the Lion, children have an opportunity to identify with that part within that is timid and fearful.  Furthermore, notice how endearing these characters are.  They also happen to possess qualities that are highly valued in a society.  They are modest, sensitive, tactful, and non-intimidating.  When we feel frustrated and upset with ourselves, or we feel ashamed of our fears, we can derive comfort from these characters and recognize our own positive and likable qualities.

 Since I was raised in a different culture, I missed these wonderful fairy tales of the West in my childhood.  The other day, I laid my hands on "The Wizard of Oz" and I was amazed.  These "tales" are a psychological primer of human emotions, foibles, and frailities.  Take for example, the character of the Lion, it takes you to the psychological depths of fear and courage.  Here is what it taught me about fear and courage. 

 The Lion was "afraid of almost everything and everybody," is a description of a person who has a pervasive social anxiety and severe social phobia .  The Lion was "afraid of his own shadow,." which is telling us that a socially anxious person is scared by his or her own thoughts and imagined fears. 

 The Lion wishes to be courageous but his path is thwarted by a wicked witch.  Socially anxious people too, want to get rid of their fears but their path is thwarted.  The stumbling block, that is the "wicked witch," is our reluctance to face the fear.  Like the characters of Oz, we must approach (and not avoid) that which we irrationally fear.   

 Let's now look at what Oz has to say about courage, which is my favorite:

"But how about my courage?' asked the Lion anxiously.

"You have plenty of courage.  All you really need is some confidence in yourself.  Every living thing is afraid when it faces danger.  True courage is facing danger even when you are afraid, and you already have that kind of courage."         L.Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz 

 Later, Oz gives Lion the final piece of insight on courage, "You know that courage is always inside."  Yes, Oz, that's where one should look for it

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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