The Pleasure Principle
Healing Stage Fright: Attune Your Nervous System
By Maurice Taylor, MA LMFT
Nervous system resilience--or regulation--is our ability to stay engaged and present, to stay in our bodies and avoid unhealthy fight, flight or freeze when confronted by potentially triggering stimuli in the environment.
Nearly everyone has experienced the stress of being teased or laughed at in environments from home to school to playground. Each such incident is an examples of negative mirroring that suggests we are wrong, incompetent, or stupid. Very often these incidents are traumatic.
Traumatic experiences generally result in involuntary plunging into unhealthy fight, flight or freeze. Needless to say, these traumatic experiences result in a disconnect with our resources--our intelligence, articulateness and authenticity, as well as our ability to protect ourselves.
Such triggering is common for many standing in front of a group, when consciously or not we revisit memories of shame and humiliation. This is one of the primary causes of stage fright.
My own experience attending a Speaking Circle weekly for five years gave me the opportunity to literally create new neural networks associated with safety, comfort, and ease in front of groups. The experience demonstrated for me the cardinal principle of neuroplasticity, that is, the potential for the almost unlimited physical rewiring of our brains. Though past experiences of shame and humiliation are not eradicated, new neural networks associated with success, achievement and accomplishment in front of a group are wired in.
So the more experiences we have of this safety and ease in front of groups, the greater the likelihood that we will stay present and regulated when faced with challenging social situations in any area of life.
The scintillating talks I've witnessed in these sessions by "ordinary" people who courageously show up despite painful social histories are a mind-blowing testament to the principle of neuroplasticity.
Every time these corrective experiences happen, whether we are the person up front or we are watching someone else do it, a new neural network for that kind of mastery is strengthened. This is what builds nervous system resilience.
One of the goals in contemporary psychology is to facilitate the building of resources in our clients that contribute to nervous system resilience. This resilience allows our nervous system to stay "pouncy" in potentially stressful environments, like the animal in the jungle that is ready to appropriately fight, flee, freeze, or otherwise engage.
We humans (despite what we often see in the movies) typically are not running away or fighting. But when we need to be firm or emphatic, when we need to be able to stand up for ourselves in a situation where we are being confronted or aggressed upon--when we have to lean into a situation that might be frightening--we need a nervous system that has this kind of resilience.
Many modern psychotherapeutic modalities include attempts to build the resources that lead to nervous system resilience and regulation.
One way nervous system resiliency can be facilitated is by building a catalog of experiences of success and ease. This can be done through experimenting in a safe group by getting up and making no sense at all, or making the most eloquent sense in the world, or singing or crying or being silent while that group continues to hold us in non-judgmental appreciation and acceptance. This experience over time builds access to resources that facilitate nervous system resilience and regulation across all environments.
Ultimately, for all of us, the possession of a supple nervous system that does not easily go into unhealthy fight, flight, or freeze, allows access to and expression of our greatest dreams, our clearest thinking, and our finest deeds.
© 2015, Maurice Taylor. All rights reserved.