Joan Acocella’s comprehensive New Yorker piece (August 3, 2015) “I Can’t Go On!” concludes: “There seems to be no cure for stage fright.” That’s not true. For stage fright to be cured or at the very least tolerably minimized, a deeply personal understanding must be found for each person’s fears.
I’m a psychoanalyst who treats stage fright and audition anxiety. Every person is different. Yet, one thing is sure: there’s an overbearing judgmental voice inside each performer’s head. And, when you’re unable to believe anything else, the audience becomes that voice plus eyes that watch for you to fail.
If you’re a performer, you probably have extremely high standards for what you do. Add to that never feeling good enough to measure up – and you have the perfect storm brewing before you step on stage. That makes you want to run. What are you running from, though? What’re you afraid will be exposed?
Boot That Judgmental Voice Off Center Stage
Acocella quotes Stephen Fry saying that when stage fright hits: “the audience sees the shriveled penis in your head.” For Bette Midler it’s, “Will people like you? Will they ask you back?” You’re afraid you’ll reveal some imagined inadequacies. At least that’s what the judgmental voice in your head tells you.
Acocella’s article discusses several treatment options: beta-blockers, which stop only the physical effects of anxiety, yoga or meditation, cognitive-behavioral therapy, Emotional Freedom Technique, or E.M.D.R. (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). These methods distract from negative thinking but don’t get to the bottom of things.
Psychoanalytic therapy does, but there’s no mention of it in Acocella’s “I Can’t Go On.” That’s unfortunate. It’s the only treatment I know in all my over 35 years of practice that actually makes for lasting change. Psychoanalytic understanding can quiet that judgmental voice, get it out of the way, and boot it off center stage.