Does Work Make You Nervous?
"I live behind a curtain...People would never know I have this problem."
What you have learned, you can unlearn. With practice, you can balance your “mind states” so that your thoughts are not dominated by messages like “You must be perfect,” “You don’t have anything to say,” and “Everyone can tell you’re nervous.” You can’t stop those thoughts, so invest in letting them go. Instead, focus on balancing them with positive messages that will cause your critical inner voice to recede.
Nurturing, objective, and open-minded thinking will dial down that negativity. Feeling like a deer in the headlights when the CEO asks you for an update? Remind yourself that your company hired you for a reason; acknowledge your success. Objectively summarize the facts in your mind: The boss wants to know x. And open yourself up to new ways of handling requests and locating information. Practice responses such as “I’ll get back to you”; offer a time frame; and live up to your promises.
Integrity is an important piece of the puzzle. When you compromise your integrity with avoidance, you become angry with yourself, feeding your anxiety.
Over time, balancing your mind states will become second nature. Your anxiety will recede. The adrenaline flow will become a prompt for action. And you’ll have the freedom to succeed.
EXCERPT, "WORK MAKES ME NERVOUS"
Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc.(www.wiley.com) from Work Makes Me Nervous: Overcome Anxiety and Build the Confidence to Succeed by Jonathan Berent and Amy Lemley Copyright (c) 2010 by Jonathan Berent
Your Critical Parent Mind State
The Critical Parent mind state is energy that represents authority. It makes rules! It teaches “shoulds”! It evaluates and analyzes. It passes judgment and criticizes. And that can be a very good thing. When your parents told you not to touch a hot stove, that was good criticism. You need your Critical Parent for guidance. The Critical Parent serves many important purposes: It keeps our primitive urges in check. It allows us to consider how we performed and how we might do better (For example, I have taped hundreds of my television and radio shows and analyzed and critiqued them for the purpose of improving my performance.) For society as a whole, the police represent the collective Critical Parent, because without them our primitive urges would overtake us and there would be chaos.
But when our Critical Parent gets too loud, it no longer serves us positively. Often the critical script with performance anxiety goes something like “You’re going to get nervous,” “You will screw up,” “You will make a fool of yourself,” “People will see who you really are,” “People will not get to see who you really are because you will screw up,” “You’ll embarrass yourself,” and so on. Not very helpful, is it? These are obviously negative suggestions. This is a state that must be decreased.
Here’s something to remember: It’s wonderful to be involved in the pursuit of peak performance. It’s absurd to be paralyzed by fear of not being perfect.
Who is perfect? Nobody. The fear of not being perfect is an example of excessive internal critical script, which is often a part of perfectionism. While the critical script is important in facilitating achievement and success at work, its excessiveness is a major cause of performance anxiety. Look again at the Unbalanced Mind States graph. See the twin towers? If you suffer performance anxiety, the Critical Parent is a primary cause of your problem because of its unrealistic expectations.
The Critical Parent is a learned script—but it is your own internalized script, not merely the voice of the parents who raised you. It is a product of your values, your parents, your teachers and authority figures, your peers, your culture, and society. It is acquired through experiences that you then interpret as good or bad. For example, Shelly was the CFO of a billion-dollar company. She had experienced a panic episode during a board of directors meeting about a year before she contacted me. Since that time, she had been obsessing that this panic could occur again. As she said to me, “What if I go on television and have a panic attack? The viewers will obviously think there’s something wrong and the stock of the company will go down.” I did not disagree with her, but I did disagree when she said there was no reason for her anxiety.
When we explored her background, I gained insight into her critical script. Together we began to map out a way to balance her mind states. Shelly’s father was a very successful businessman who was also an avid hunter. I’m not an advocate of hunting, but the story has an interesting and important point. When her father went hunting, he took one bullet with him. His thinking? If he could not get the animal with one bullet the animal deserved to live. How’s that for a perfectionist challenge? This kind of thinking integrated itself into Shelly’s internal critical script and prompted her own endless quest for perfection. That drive to be the best led her to become tremendously successful in her career. But it also caused her anxiety problem.
"It’s wonderful to be involved in the pursuit of peak performance. It’s absurd to be paralyzed by fear of not being perfect."
Again, I ask you: Who is perfect? Nobody. When a person tries to achieve what is impossible, anger and frustration result. Anger, when repressed, recycles. It is a force that drives anxiety and obsession, among other problems. Anger is deep-rooted and may not even resonate on the surface because of detachment. People with anxiety don’t want to feel that anger—and so they don’t feel it consciously. They are so busy operating in the Adapted Child mode that they don’t allow themselves to feel it, and they haven’t been conscious of its development. Instead, they stuff it down into the unconscious. It is hidden, but it is by no means gone.
TUNE IN: Take a long slow deep breath in through your nose now, 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4 . . . and slowly exhale for 4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . What’s the temperature of your hands now? Warm? Cool? Again, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some vasoconstriction going on right now given that you are currently attaching to potentially highly emotional content. What are you thinking? What are you feeling?
It is often our observations, not any words we actually hear while growing up, that help to form our internal critical script. Though Ethan owned a successful construction supply business with 25 employees, he was unable to enjoy his financial success. Looking at his upbringing, he remembered his parents as always “flipping” houses, never staying in one place for too long and always working. He never remembered his parents having fun or enjoying things. Over time, he internalized the message they seemed to be giving him: Work hard, but don’t have fun. It’s not as though his parents told him directly, “Don’t have fun and always work.” But this is the script that he learned through osmosis during his growth and development.
As I have mentioned, our Critical Parent script is not only the voice of our actual parents, but also something we ourselves devise based on a number of different experiences and interpretations. The messages can come from anyone, anywhere.
Remember Carol, the ovarian cancer survivor who said anxiety was worse than chemo? When Carol was in 10th grade, her Spanish teacher called on her. In front of the class, the teacher said, “Oh, look, you are blushing.” For some people, this might not be a big deal. For Carol, however, being singled out in that way caused humiliation and shame that was paired with her blushing. The result was that she hated her blushing and tried to avoid it at all costs. This sequenced into her repressing her curiosity and spontaneity (NC) and her objective understanding that asking questions was sometimes necessary (A); she was that much afraid of being the center of attention. She gave up the career in medicine she really aspired to. (You can hear Carol’s interview at www.socialanxiety.com, “Public Speaking Anxiety and Blushing Resolved: Carol: Ovarian Cancer Survivor.”)