Understanding freeze moments
Close your eyes and imagine yourself in front of an audience: any person or group who makes you feel insecure. Maybe you’re about to confront an authority figure, like your boss, or maybe you’re in front of hundreds of people, and you’re about to give a speech. Anyone (even one person) can qualify as an audience as soon as you care about their opinion of you.
Now think about how you feel in this scenario. Focus on your body: Is your heart racing? Do you feel wooden? Is your mouth dry? Are you frozen like a deer in the headlights? Do you feel exposed, vulnerable? Is your mind blank? Take note of all these sensations. They are your personal ‘freeze’ signals. They can range from mild, where you feel stiff, to extreme, where you literally can’t move or speak. It’s common to think we freeze because of the situation, but these moments of freezing are actually caused by an inner insecurity, an insecurity you may not even be aware of until you lose the ability to express yourself.
How we’re influenced by insecurity
Insecurity destroys people’s ability to connect with one another. Over time, insecurity makes you dull and uninteresting to other people, and, paradoxically, it makes you ungiving. Insecure people are so obsessed with how others perceive them that they give almost nothing of themselves. As a result, they feel even more alienated.
The ability to connect to others is essential to success. The most important opportunities in life come from other people. People give you opportunities, because they feel connected to you. I know an extreme example of this. My best friend is a world-class theoretical physicist who teaches at a major university and is a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences. He has a colleague who is far superior to him in ability, but who has never been nominated for the academy. Why? Because his insecurities make him competitive, jealous and hard to work with. Despite his superior ability, he has limited his professional advancement.
Over and over again, we see how hard it is to make insecurity go away. Facts and logic don’t work. When people feel insecure, they often go to extraordinary lengths for some goal they hope will make them feel better — they’ll lose weight, get an advanced degree, work 24-7 to win a promotion. But every time, the sense of inadequacy returns; insecurity seems to have a life of its own.
Why is it so difficult to get rid of? The answer will seem very strange at first, but inside each of us is a second self, a living being we’re deeply ashamed of. No matter how hard you try, you can never get rid of this second self. This second self is called the “Shadow.”
Who (or what) is the shadow?
The Shadow is everything we don’t want to be but fear we are, represented in a single image. It follows us wherever we go. The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung was the first to say everyone has a Shadow regardless of their appearance, talents or accomplishments. The Shadow determines how you see yourself. Now perhaps you can see why insecurity is so hard to get rid of. You can eliminate a specific flaw — but you can’t eliminate the Shadow itself. It’s part of being human.
To see what your Shadow looks like, go back to the feeling you had when you closed your eyes at the beginning: You’re in front of a group of people who make you feel insecure. Focus on the emotions this brings up. Now push those feelings out in front of you and imagine they form a being with a face and body.
You’ve just seen your Shadow. Make a careful note of what it looks like. Don’t worry whether you have the ‘right’ image; there isn’t one. Everyone’s Shadow looks different. But no matter what it looks like, its appearance is probably unsettling: the handsome ladies’ man whose Shadow looked like a lumbering troll; the successful female CEO whose Shadow looked like a lonely, weeping eight-year- old girl. It might be unlikeable, ugly or stupid. As you work with it, its appearance may change.
The Shadow is the source of one of the most basic human conflicts. Everyone wants to feel that as an individual we have value. But when we look inside ourselves, we see the Shadow, and we’re ashamed. Our immediate reaction is to turn away — to look outside ourselves for some evidence of our worth. This takes the form of looking to others for approval and validation.
The problem is, no amount of approval from others can make you feel worthy — because no amount of validation can eliminate your Shadow. We’ve seen famous patients who are constantly showered with validation and fawned over in the press. This worship doesn’t improve their self-worth; it makes them fragile and babyish. They become dependent on attention the way an infant is on a pacifier.
No matter who you are, when you crave the approval of others, you give them power over you. They become authority figures who define your value. Like Roman emperors, they cast their thumbs up or down in what seems like a final judgment of your worth. No wonder you freeze in their presence.
The picture above diagrams the state of affairs in someone prone to freezing (almost everyone). The person is ashamed of his Shadow and does everything possible to keep it hidden inside him. This is illustrated by the box around the shaded area labelled “Inner Shadow.” The audience figures in the upper right are big because the person experiences them as having the power to define his value. This power comes at him through the arrow labelled “Outer Authority.” Since he’s hiding his Shadow, the external force causes him to freeze.
As the picture makes clear, looking outward doesn’t work any better than looking inward; either way, a sense of self-worth tends to elude us.
There is a way to find it; it involves a profound secret. What appears to be a weak and inferior Shadow is really the conduit for a higher force, and it’s this higher force that provides us with enduring self-worth. You can best understand its nature through experiences you’ve already had with it, experiences you’ve probably discounted or forgotten because they happened when you were a child.
The higher force: Self-expression
Watch little kids, particularly when they play. They aren’t self-conscious or insecure. They express themselves freely and exuberantly. They almost never freeze. The reason they don’t is that they’re filled with a higher force called the “Force of Self-Expression.” It has a magical quality: It drives us to reveal ourselves in a truthful, genuine way — without caring how other people react. As a consequence, when connected to this force, you speak with unusual intensity and clarity.
Everyone has experienced this force at some point in their adult lives — maybe in an excited discussion about something that’s personally meaningful, maybe when comforting a friend in a crisis or when making up a bedtime story for the kids. In each instance and a thousand others, you’ve lost yourself in the experience, allowing the Force of Self-Expression to speak through you. You’ve become a conduit for something wiser and more fluent than your normal self.
The spoken word isn’t the only way the Force of Self-Expression emerges. There’s a degree of self-expression in almost every human activity. One example is writing. A patient described it like this: “When I finished my script, I had the feeling I hadn’t authored any of it. I’m just not that good. It felt like the whole thing had been dictated to me, and I copied it down.”
The power even functions without words. When athletes say they’re “in the zone,” they’re really connected to the Force of Self-Expression. Watch a great basketball player make an impossible move. He isn’t thinking, “Which lane is open?” or “How tall is the defender?” He’s stopped thinking, stepped aside and let this higher force take over. In fact, any human endeavour can provide a place for this force to express itself.
When you’re connected to the Force of Self-Expression, a part of you speaks that’s usually silent. You’re speaking from your deepest inner self. This inner self has its own authority that’s not dependent on the approval of others.
As we grow into adults, we turn away from this inner self. All our attention and activity becomes focused on the outside world. We start to look there for approval; by the time we’re adolescents, we crave the acceptance of our peers as if it were the Holy Grail.
That creates a new problem: We have to hide anything about ourselves that others might not like. Amazingly, that hiding place is our own inner self. We use it as a garbage bag, dumping everything that’s unacceptable about ourselves into it. The inner self is still there, but now it’s buried under our worst qualities. In the process, we turn something that was beautiful — the inner self — into something we despise: the Shadow. It may seem like the worst part of us, but really, it’s the doorway to the inner self. Only when that doorway is open can we truly express ourselves. But achieving that is not easy when you’ve hidden your Shadow your whole life; it takes a powerful tool.
The tool: Inner authority
“Inner Authority” is not an authority that comes from the approval of anyone outside you; it’s the authority you can get only when you’re speaking from your inner self. To use Inner Authority, you must be able to see an image of your Shadow. Practise conjuring it up until it becomes easy.
You learn the tool by using an imaginary audience. It doesn’t matter if it’s an audience of one or a group; it doesn’t matter if they’re strangers or people you know. The only thing that matters is that it’s an audience you feel insecure about addressing. You’re going to use the tool to unfreeze yourself, because you have something to express.
How to use the tool
Imagine again that you’re standing in front of your audience. See an image of your Shadow off to one side, facing you. Ignore the audience completely and focus all of your attention on the Shadow. Try to feel an unbreakable bond between the two of you — as a unit you’re fearless.
Together, you and the Shadow forcefully turn toward the audience and silently command them to “LISTEN!” Feel the authority that comes when you and your Shadow speak with one voice.
Once you’ve used the tool, it should feel like you’ve cleared a space where you’re free to express yourself. All you have to do is stay focused on the connection to the Shadow. If you don’t feel freed up, repeat the tool until it creates a sense of flow.
The tool consists of three steps: projecting the Shadow image, feeling a bond with it and then silently commanding your audience to listen as you turn to face them. Practise these steps until you can move through them quickly. You want the steps to become second nature, so that you can use them in front of people, even while you’re speaking.
As you practise the tool, the Shadow’s appearance may change. That’s not a bad thing. Like anything else that’s alive, the Shadow evolves. What’s most important is that its presence forms an unbreakable bond you can feel. The picture below shows how Inner Authority works.
When to use the tool
More than any other tool in the book, Inner Authority will not work if you wait for a big event — such as speaking before hundreds of people — to use it for the first time. These events are so intimidating that you’ll freeze unless you work up to them. If you practise the tool when you’re alone, doing it again and again until it feels like second nature, you’ll soon be ready to try it in front of people. Start by using the tool when you’re around someone who doesn’t make you anxious — a family member, a co-worker, a good friend or your spouse. Most of us feel some need for acceptance even around these people.
Use Inner Authority any time you feel the pressure to perform. This is much more common than you think if you define a performance as any situation where you’re subject to the judgments and reactions of others. This could take the form of a job interview, sales meeting, presentation or awkward social situation, such as a blind date or big party. Calling such instances performances doesn’t mean you have to put on an act. In fact, the goal is not to try to gain the approval of the audience. Rather, you use the tool to overcome that pressure and express yourself freely.
Once you make Inner Authority a natural part of your daily life, you can use it for big events, such as important public speeches or asking for a raise. When you use Inner Authority during these intimidating occasions, something amazing will happen: You’ll start to look forward to some of them — not because they’re stressfree, but because you’ll feel excitement at the prospect of expressing yourself.
Learning how to use Inner Authority is like gradually increasing the weights you lift in the gym; it requires a steady buildup. For one of my patients, Jennifer, her awareness of performance anxiety helped her realize that she felt insecure even when she wasn’t in front of other people. Thinking about an upcoming blind date, she realized she was anxious, and she used Inner Authority to calm herself. She even started using it in front of the mirror in the morning. “I’m the most judgmental audience I’ve ever faced,” she admitted. Together with her Shadow, Jennifer began to dispel the insecurity that had plagued her for her entire life.
Our need to please an audience is a deeply ingrained habit. The best way to break the habit is to replace it with a healthier one; that means using Inner Authority every chance you get. If you do this consistently, you train yourself to rely on your inner self, not on the reactions of others.
Using the tool in relationships
Inner Authority lets you overcome shyness, particularly around people you’re interested in romantically. Many people who have a lot to offer in a relationship never give themselves the chance to have one — the act of meeting someone new is too scary. The people who get the most opportunities to connect romantically aren’t those who make the best partners; they’re those who put themselves out there the most.
Jim suffered from a lifetime of crippling shyness. Meeting new people was unpleasant; social events were frightening. But he was most handicapped when it came to the opposite sex. Seeing that he was tall, handsome and obviously sensitive, women often gave him a chance to approach them, but he would freeze every time. Paralyzed with self-consciousness, he could manage only a sickly half smile. They would misinterpret this as condescension or lack of interest and put up their own defences. This just made him more self-conscious.
When he began to work on his Shadow, it appeared to him as a grotesque monster, but seeing it clearly was a relief for him. He started to practise Inner Authority alone — it was a big step for him to even try it in front of a mirror. When he did, to his surprise, he felt that for the first time he could look himself in the eye. From there, he began to practise on shopkeepers and passersby, since the stakes were low. Months later, he got to the point where he could talk to women without freezing — and soon he had a social life.
Inner Authority allows you to connect to your loved ones with more emotion. The way you communicate, especially the emotion you express, is more important than the words you use. When you speak without emotion, you can’t have enough impact on others to form a real connection.
The Tools, by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels, $30.
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