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Michael (23)

Updated: Sep 7, 2023



Michael is a 23- year-old man who works full-time as a primary school teacher, & most of the time he enjoys his job.


However, Michael is terrified of public speaking. He is okay when it’s just his class, but whenever he is asked to speak at assembly or in front of a larger group, he makes excuses to not do it. Recently, Michael called in sick to work because he was supposed to talk about a new club he’s running at assembly- but he felt too scared to do it.


Michael feels frustrated with himself & wishes he could feel more confident with public speaking. He is worried at some point his excuses will run out & he will be forced to do it.


Michael's situation is one we can all probably identify with on some level. Public speaking is a very common fear- & it makes sense when we understand how our human brains work.


As humans, being accepted as part of a group is essential to our survival. Humans cannot live in isolation from others. We need a group to help meet our essential needs of food, shelter, & socialisation (ensuring the ongoing survival of the species through reproduction). Therefor, many of our emotions are designed to create & strengthen bonds with others.


The fear of public speaking is really a fear of judgement & rejection by others. It's a fear of possibly being ousted from the group- which to the primitive part of our brain feels like certain death!


This is why we so often get fight/ flight (sometimes freeze) symptoms related to public speaking. Our brain has detected a potential threat & is pumping stress hormones at extreme levels to get our attention. Sweating, shaking & racing heart anyone?!


The problem is though, we're not actually in danger. Worst case scenario we stuff it up & some people may judge us, but we're not going to get ousted from society & cut off from all elements essential to life- that's just not how our society works in modern times!


If fear was valid & helpful (like if Michael was actually in physical danger by doing public speaking), he would want to act on that fear & either run away or fight off the danger.


But when the fear doesn't fit the actual facts- e.g. Michael is not in mortal danger- acting on the fear can make things a lot worse! For Michael, his avoidance of public speaking has escalated & avoiding it has made it worse. This is often the pattern when we avoid things we are afraid of that aren't actually dangerous for us- anxiety thrives on avoidance!


In working with Michael, he learnt firstly why he was having these fight/ flight responses- & tried not to judge himself too harshly! Then he worked on what we call, 'opposite action' skills.


Opposite action involves a few steps:

  1. Identifying if the emotions & urges FIT THE FACTS & are HELPFUL

  2. If the emotions arising in the situation (in Michael's case, fear), do not fit the facts (he's not actually in danger) & are not helping him, we should use opposite action skills.

  3. Michael would then act fully the opposite of the emotion urges. The urge that goes with fear is AVOIDANCE. The opposite of avoidance= APPROACH.

  4. Michael would work to fully approach public speaking, as if he were not afraid. What would a confident body posture look like? How would he speak? What eye contact would he make? What would he be saying to himself in his mind? You get the idea.

  5. This doesn't mean the fear goes away instantly- Michael will still be feeling fear in his body, especially at the start. But by practicing opposite action, Michael will notice his fear starts to decrease. He notices he can get through greater & greater amounts of speaking in front of others, building up to being able to speak in any public setting!

  6. The thing with opposite action is that it is INTENTIONALLY TAKING BACK CONTROL from emotions such as fear. By intentionally feeling fear, but being able to control his actions, Michael built confidence in himself & his ability to not have fear rule his life.

  7. Michael learnt his emotions can't MAKE him do anything. They can trigger urges & uncomfortable feelings, but Michael gets to decide how he responds. Yes Michael!!!

If you would like help with anxiety, emotions or opposite action skills, get in touch with us. Taking control back over responses to emotions is empowering & very possible- give it a go!


Alex.



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