I am about to give my last speech in Toastmasters. Not because I don’t need more learning, but because it’s time to move on to a different approach. Working on my fear of public speaking (the #1 fear in North America) has been very good, and their approach works, to a point.
At the root of my decades-long fear was ‘being judged’. I do know people who don’t care what others think about them or what they say or do. But generally they were raised to feel they ‘could do no wrong’ – doting parents who seldom criticized, always encouraged. On the other hand countless people like myself were raised with at least one critical, judgmental parent. And I believe the icing on the cake for me was being moved to a suburb at age 11 – a sensitive age at the best of times – where the dominant culture was very judgmental and competitive.
We could not afford to compete, and the school system was more advanced than the one I’d left behind (though that one had been more ‘user-friendly’). I went into a state of confusion, emotional regression, lost my previous self-confident contentment and became a miserable, ‘hyper-sensitive’ adolescent who didn’t have a clue how to ‘succeed’ in that little life.
I did get lucky as a young adult and acquired social skills — one to one. But the fear and trembling triggered by trying to speak in front of a group never left me — until recently. Many and varied therapies helped me overcome many issues related to how I was parented. But despite speaking courses, hypnosis, etc., the fear of speaking hung on.
And then in recent times I found myself focusing on tiny details in my thinking, and in my interacting with the world, and working away at those tiny details of feeling until they changed. I started with ‘practising’ contentment and pleasurable feelings instead of chronic depression and negative thinking. This changed little things like eating patterns, resulting in healthy weight loss. And now I’ve been doing the same with this fear of speaking, practising elation in place of fear, including whenever I talk about it. I realized I had been literally practising the fear, all these years.
I think of it as ‘consciousness’, paying attention to the here and now, practising feelings, and so on. I think some people ‘in the biz’, think of it as ‘mindfulness’. Whatever it is, it’s a wonderful thing. And it is helping to make life a great pleasure these days.
There is still a little anxiety hanging on in the background, but it has to do with the broader society that I’m conscious of. The ‘great unwashed’ that my first husband used to refer to, are missing a shameful amount of awareness, and are too easy to manipulate. So I always feel the possibility of finding myself someday surrounded by a transformed crazy world – like nazi Germany in the thirties for example. Now that was a seriously critical-judgmental society!