Stage Fright

Do you ‘freak out’ at the possibility of getting up and talking in front of a group of people? Why? I mean, really why? Over the years I’ve heard many answers to this: I’ll make a fool of myself, I’m not good enough, I’ll forget what to say, I don’t know the topic, I don’t look good enough, no one will be interested, I can’t handle all that attention focused on me, my voice is too quiet, I’ll make mistakes, I can’t do that, I don’t have the confidence, etc. etc.

At one time or another I’ve given all these answers as reasons, or rather, excuses, myself. But are they really the crux of the issue? Are they causes or merely effects? I’d like to share some experiences of my own to explore this question with you. Perhaps you can relate.

First memorable stage failure – not showing up at all.

I was five years old and the students at my school were required to do a song and dance concert. Mum made me a gorgeous costume; I loved it. But I didn’t want to perform, and I got sick and never went to school on concert day.

Second memorable stage failure – voiceless.

Until I was eleven years old I loved to sing in the school choir – everyone feeling the oneness and contributing to the total harmony, no individualism, no competition, no recognition of anyone being better than anyone else.

One day I was pulled up onto stage by myself and asked to sing a song I didn’t know. Well, in those days, it wasn’t ‘asked’, it was ‘demanded’. You did what you were told! The teacher got angry and forceful with me, demanding that I sing.

I felt separated and abused, and I lost my voice – no sound would come out. I was sent from the stage in disgrace, failure and embarrassment. For decades afterwards my voice was not able to sing, not even when I was alone.

At university, along came the mandatory requirement to do assessable presentations in front of an audience. Again, I dreaded it…. doubly so, because now my performance determined my grades! What to do?

No matter how much mental control I exerted, I could not stop the terrible physiological reactions of nervousness and fear. The first time, I tackled the situation by absolutely memorising my talk. But fear kills memory! But not memorising would be even worse, as fear also kills the ability to bring forth any expression. So I concluded that I could only speak on stage if I knew my topic so well that it could just flow out of me.

By my third year of undergrad I got an A+ for a talk on natural selection, but I was still covering up the feeling of being very stressed and racked by nerves, and fell in a heap afterwards. In retrospect I realised I had to ‘harden’ myself to be able to get up and do talks.

Fast forward to the early nineties…

Awake all night with frequent vomiting, diarrhoea, nausea and trembling – does this sound like food poisoning? Well it wasn’t – it was my body’s reaction on the night before I had to give a conference presentation on the medical research I was participating in!

Apparently I handled the talk and questions very well, and was congratulated on a great presentation. I completed it despite feeling faint and staggering on my feet the whole time from lack of sleep, no food, and a night of involuntary physical purging, followed by being almost paralysed with terror on stage.

Then along came business meetings and presentations in the early 2000’s. I was getting an inkling that true sharing up on stage had something to do with ‘being myself’ and ‘connecting with the audience.’ I did a few talks, and I was getting better at it. But I still had to ‘harden up’ in order to push down the faintness and fear so I could speak to an audience.

I told myself that my early experiences of ‘performance abuse’, like the singing incident, had conditioned in me an intense anxiety and fear reaction at the thought of having to perform on stage. That seemed a reasonable theory at the time. After all, our strongest experiences leave indelible imprints on our personalities, bodies, responses and reactions, right?

But is this going deep enough? Are we right back to causes yet? How is it that when I had only just turned five, I was already in dread of performance to the point of illness, though I’d never had any stage experiences before?

I was the first child and the first grandchild of my family. I feel that might have something to do with it. I didn’t realise this until much later in life, observing how babies and little children are expected to ‘perform’. Not only expected, but encouraged, pushed, even harassed to act in a certain way, and rewarded when they do, not just by their parents, but by all their family and in fact all of society.

Just being here, being adorable, open and full of love seems to be not enough. The little ones have to learn to smile on cue, laugh on demand, make cute and/or excited expressions and body gestures and be entertaining when adults require them to.

Babies can sense a feeling of unhappiness, dissatisfaction and hurt rejection coming from adults when they don’t get what they want from the child. On top of this, the babies have to make a big show of pooing, peeing, walking, talking, eating, reading, writing and counting; in fact, every moment and movement of the child is some kind of performance that has to meet certain standards to keep adults ‘happy’. Before we can even crawl, we are ‘on stage,’ having to front up and perform, whether it’s our natural expression or not.

Why do adults crave attention and reactions from babies? Is it that there is such a lack of love for ourselves and so little real love expressed between adults, that only little children offer a ‘safe’ place to get the love that is missing? But does enforced performance provide love? No. And what does it satisfy? How can superficial, elicited attention and emotional reaction be love? They are a substitute for love, untrue both to the baby and the adults.

What is the baby learning from this? That real love is unacceptable, and that emotion and performance are what love is? That you are ‘better’ if you ‘perform’ better than others? In other words, better at stimulating emotional and mental satisfaction in others.

Is it thus possible that the stage fright myself and many of us experience, actually stems from being expected to be untrue to ourselves, from feeling the rejection of our real love in favour of performance?

We know the truth within – that expected performance is not loving, and that it comes with separation and competition in conflict to our natural sense of equality, brotherhood and co-operation, and is thus abusive. Wouldn’t that be enough to produce physical ill-ease and lifetime stage fright? I reckon so!

Is performance anxiety only about talking in front of groups? What about feeling inadequate to ‘perform’ in work, in relationships, in parenting, in sex, in fashion, in looks, in coolness, in smartness, in humour, in kindness, in goodness, in business acumen, in intelligence, in knowledge, in ethics, in just about any and every realm of life, all the time?

Is the original and continuing experience of lack of love behind the anxiety in every one of these scenarios?

Are we nervous and/or hardened all the time because we are asked, and even expecting of ourselves, to perform to outer standards in everything in life regardless of how we feel inside? We know we are not being true to ourselves – isn’t that enough to feel rotten about?

But what if we were able to do everything with and for ourselves and others, not from ‘performance’ expectations but from the true, soulful, loving impulse to express and share as a non-separate equal? For example, going on stage impulsed by our own love?

This is what turned it all around for me.

One day I felt impulsed to share with Universal Medicine students what I had discovered at a science talk, and how it could help bring science back to love. Serge Benhayon encouraged me and supported me to get up on stage, with not a drop of pressure, judgment or expectation. I went through the old physiological nervous response beforehand, but this time what followed was very different.

I knew that I was loved, accepted, that the audience was full of friends (even the ones I hadn’t met yet) and it didn’t matter to them whether I screwed up, looked stupid, blanked out, etc. What they wanted was me, the real me, and my love expressed. Awesome! The lifelong stress response fell away.

Since then I have done many talks on stage, from my love, from my caring for the future of humanity. And this unblocking of my expression has unlocked a lot of other things within me too, and changed my life.

Serge Benhayon has continued to unimposingly, lovingly support me to express whatever I feel needs to be shared with people, and now, in my sixties, I am finally beginning to do the work I was truly meant for in this life, with great appreciation and joy (and no stage fright)!

by Dianne Trussell

Further reading:
How To Free Yourself From Performance Anxiety and Stage Fright
Music: Detaching Singing From Performance
Anxiety – Unfolded

661 thoughts on “Stage Fright

  1. Having seen you present many times on stage Diane, it is hard to believe you experienced a lot of stage fright in the past. It is beautiful that you have moved through the stage fright as what you offer all the students now around science has made it easy to understand and enjoy science in such a simple and practical way.

  2. I can so relate to your stage fright as I am aware alot still goes on in my head to sabotage my confidence in standing up and speaking to large groups. Everyone sees you and there is no place to hide up on stage… so I continue to give in to that part of me that wants to be a wallflower to ensure I keep hiding amongst the crowd. But reading your blog has been very inspiring and has left me much to ponder on Dianne so thank you.

  3. It is fascinating how whenever I go into needing or wanting to perform I lose track of my thoughts, what I am saying, get self conscious yet if I were to do the same thing just with myself none of that would be there. For me it seems to come from wanting to impress others by recalling knowledge and information rather than from the knowing that I am already more than enough just being me. So when I do find myself in the ‘stage’ scenario so long as I do not think I need to have to recite the right words then I have the perfect words. I love how we are provided with everything we need when we surrender and allow.

  4. I think it’s really helpful to recognise if we’ve gone into a kind of ‘performance conciousness’ were we think we have to put out a certain picture or image or get a certain response from the audience (however big or small) rather than simply present from who we naturally are, without trying to put on a show so to speak.

  5. Every time you present, Dianne, your joy about the science and your love for humanity just beams off the screen and I want to hear every word that comes out of your mouth. A true living inspiration.

  6. “I was getting an inkling that true sharing up on stage had something to do with ‘being myself’ and ‘connecting with the audience.’” The love, wisdom and ability to make supposedly complex subjects easily understandable and fun when you are ‘being yourself’ on stage has been an inspiration to many to willingly present on stage and in life.

  7. Thank you Dianne, this was so supportive to read again. It’s such a common experience to dread doing a talk, I read that it’s the number one fear ahead of death and divorce! It makes sense all you have shared here about the reasons why we hesitate because of a lifetime of being expected to perform, and fill the emptiness of our audience instead of sharing the love we are with others who are equal in love to ourselves. Nothing needed or expected, just to share from the same essence of love.

  8. For years I would shake in my boots when I had to speak in a group, at a meeting or in front of people but that is all in the past now as I often speak in front of groups. I put this down to having attended workshops run by Universal Medicine where we speak in front of a small group with a given topic, no research or practice.

  9. Currently I am feeling a strong lack of confidence to being me, relaxed and content within my own body. To avoid feeling this tension I’ll entertain thoughts of me deliberately hiding away in a very judgmental tone, force doesn’t work as your school experience shared. It’s in these moments of avoiding my feelings that I seek support from others that is non judgmental nor providing solutions but allowing me the space to be gentle with myself and face what I am feeling. Being gentle and caring for myself helps to overcome situations far simpler than trying to force myself through until next time.

  10. Taking the stage is always part of a movement. The question is what is the movement that brought us there? Is it a movement that seeks recognition, approval from others based on reducing ourselves to that which we offer or is it a movement that offers reflection, connection, love and wisdom based on who we are?

  11. The ease with which you now connect with an audience and present science in such a relatable way is inspiring and a great role model for others to share their own wisdom.

  12. It is horrifying to feel how stage fright can start so young because of the way we impose on children and demand that they perform to satisfy our needs. It will only be when we let go of any expectations and support young people to stay true to themselves that stage fright will become a thing of the past.

    1. It makes me realize how much it is made about the parent than and not at all about supporting the child to be her/himself in their fullness, which is what parenting is actually about.

  13. It’s great to be questioning the behavioural demands coming from adults to our very young. Imposition of beliefs is one thing, but the constant demand for a performing seal act is not only imposing but also shaping and grooming an entirely unhelpful form of reward-seeking behaviour in the child as they get to understand that what wins points isn’t an expression of their innate self-worth but a level of worth that must be earned by doing and is hostage to the degree of external recognition it can achieve.

  14. The quality we live our lives in along with our purpose can really support us with being seen and expressing our truth in full.

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