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The Fear Of Public Speaking (A self Conscious Paradox)

The fear of public speaking is one of my greatest fears. It seems though that I am not alone. Apparently, it ranks up there as number two in the list of our greatest fears. As expected, the number one spot goes to the grim reaper. Why do ninety per cent of people fear public speaking? […]

The fear of public speaking is one of my greatest fears. It seems though that I am not alone. Apparently, it ranks up there as number two in the list of our greatest fears. As expected, the number one spot goes to the grim reaper. Why do ninety per cent of people fear public speaking? What is really going on here? I have been plagued with the terror of public speaking all my life. It has stopped me in my tracks so many times that I have lost count. Yet, despite my fears, I have created a talk that I would like to deliver to the world one day. At the moment, it's nothing but a pipe dream because the incessant conflict of hope versus fear threatens to derail my dreams and aspirations at any moment. But I think I have finally found a solution and no it's not ‘just do it’. Thanks Nike, but no thanks.

Being a firefighter, I would choose a fire over a stage any day. For me, I would feel a lot safer in a fire than on the dreaded stage where all eyes are focused on me. The mere thought of everyone staring at me is my personal version of hell. Upon my initial investigations into my ‘unreasonable fear’, I thought that the deeper reason was that I would make a fool of myself in front of others. However, when I examined my fear a little closer I realised that the real fear was the dread of being the centre of attention. Yet, lurking behind ‘being the centre of attention’ was a self-conscious paradox that now makes perfect sense.

It seems that all is not what it seems and that my fear was anything but unreasonable. In fact, there was plenty of reason for my ‘unreasonable’ reaction to public speaking. Under the lens of metaphor, I can see now what was happening. Taken literally, yes I was terrified of all eyes being focused on me but that explanation ends in the dark cul-de-sac of misunderstanding. If I went to a cognitive therapist I am quite sure that I would have been encouraged to face my fears by gradually exposing myself to them and eventually taking the plunge. That to me is like urging me to swim not realising that a concrete block is tied to my ankles. I have since discovered what that concrete block actually is.

If literalism obscures then metaphor illuminates. If literalism is the mirage then metaphor is the oasis. Metaphorically, my terror of being the centre of attention is revealing a poignant truth. The truth I uncovered is that all my life I have dreaded focusing any attention on myself. My deepest fear has been to put myself under the spotlight and be the centre of my own undivided attention, not in a narcissistic way but in a quiet, authentic way. My fear is spilling the beans on my deep insecurity and the only way to become more secure is to cut the rope to the concrete block that is dragging me down. My fear of public speaking isn’t a fear of public speaking after all. It goes much deeper and has its origins in my life story.

I can see now why public speaking is one of our most common and debilitating fears. It brings our insecurities to the forefront. There is nowhere to hide on that stage and if you have been living a 'staged' life for most of your life then those deeper insecurities will bubble to the surface for conscious resolution. The concrete block that has been weighing me down all my life has been low self-esteem and a high dependence on the opinions and approval of others. The action I need to take is to approve of myself and live from a place of inner dependence.

For me, I uncovered a staggering paradox in my deep dive into my fear of public speaking. I was about to wrap things up having uncovered the metaphorical intention of my dread of attention (attend to myself) when something profound struck me. As I have said, I have always felt extremely self-conscious in a situation where I have to publicly speak. My wedding day comes to mind. Thinking back I was terribly self-conscious giving my speech yet the paradox is that I wasn’t self-conscious at all. Please allow me to explain.

If I was truly self-conscious of my amazing power beyond measure, to borrow Marianne Williamson’s words, then I wouldn’t have felt uncomfortable at all. I would have been in the other ten per cent of the population who have high self-esteem and don’t fear public speaking. If I was truly self-conscious then I would have a sense of self that nobody could belittle or lessen. If I was truly self-conscious then I would be fearless and connected to my inner greatness and heroic bravery. If I was truly conscious of myself then I would believe in myself. The irony, of course, is that my self-consciousness is alerting me to the need to become self-conscious. That’s why self-consciousness hurts so much. Pain is the self’s way of getting our attention to give ourselves attention. Clever pain. Wise pain.

So if my fear was the fear of being the centre of attention then maybe, for example, yours is the fear of judgement. If your fear of speaking is the fear of judgement in disguise then maybe you are guilty of judging others too harshly and are unconsciously expecting your judgements to come back to you in the form of a judgmental boomerang. Liberation will be found in the realisation that your judgements of others are the parts of your own shadow that you have creatively disowned because they threaten you in some way. Ownership and the creation of a non-judgemental relationship with yourself are the antidotes to your fear of public speaking disguised as the judgemental jitters.

Do you fear public speaking? If yes, then what specific fear is speaking to you?
It’s food 4 thought,
Steven.

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