Is your discomfort with self-promotion or your fear of public speaking preventing you from succeeding, or from fulfilling your dreams? Does the fear of putting yourself or your work into the spotlight seem like an impossible obstacle that you will never be able to overcome?
I know exactly how you feel!
When you are out and about, your brain is taking in all kinds of data from your environment and reacts to that data by releasing various hormones into your body to prepare you for action – or inaction. You have no control over this. When you are in a room full of people, your brain may have already decided for you that you are safest to keep a low profile. To walk around trying to speak to people, much less stand up in front of the entire room may cause your brain to send adrenaline shooting through your body preparing you to run and you will not be able to stop it. Near or total panic ensues as you make your way through or to the front of the room.
I have drilled down to where this fear comes from, and am providing you with a hack to literally end this debilitating, career dulling, dream crushing fear.
Fear Of Self-Promotion = The Anticipation Of Rejection
The Curse Of Modesty
“I don’t want to seem like I am boasting!”
Entire swaths of our population have been brought up to adhere to an extreme form of modesty. Whether it is your gender (female) or the color of your skin (brown), if you are a member of an immigrant group traditionally expected to “serve” the wealthier class, or even working in an industry known for domineering bosses. It also used to be common for children to be “seen but not heard” in the company of adults, with no clear cross over to adulthood.
To be modest means staying in the background literally in every facet of life. Hide your body, intellect, skills, opinions, and above all, never insert yourself above someone else in a dominant position. Historically the tradition has been to “put you back in your place” if you ignored the social order. In an abusive relationship or social construct, the punishment for this infringement could be injury or even death. For this reason, there is a deep rooted fear of emerging from the background that can be multi-generational.
Some might call the fear of self promotion “insecurity” or “Impostor’s Syndrome”. I call it wisdom. Or generational trauma. Offending the wrong person by demonstrating that you believe you are their equal, or that your voice or idea has a place can set you back…way back. Carefully choosing your words and audience is incredibly strategic. If you are in a vulnerable position, being “put in your place” can be devastating to your career and income. You could be “ejected and rejected”. How does one break free from this oppressive expectation of modesty…especially when we know rationally that we are not actually in any physical danger? We will work on that very real experience of fear.
What is at the root of this fear? Why is it so painful to get rejected?
Studies have shown that to the brain, the pain of rejection is the same as intense physical pain. People have taken their own lives to escape the agonizing pain of rejection. Don’t beat yourself up about feeling debilitated just fearing the onset of this pain. It is a valid fear.
From ancient times, survival depended upon us being seen and wanted by the group that we are a member of. If the group is too large, we can be overlooked. If it is too hostile, we will not be protected. We are incredibly in tune to whether or not we are welcome or accepted by the people surrounding us even if not a single word has been spoken and we are only reading body language. This awareness emerges when we are in our teenage years, and it is a real shock to a young person who suddenly becomes aware that friends they once played tag with are suddenly potential sources of heart wrenching pain. It can be too much to bear.
An additional unfortunate truth is that some people have learned that they wield power by controlling your acceptance into a group, and they abuse this power.
Are you feeling stress in any part of your body while reading this article?
If this article is resonating with you, it is likely that you are feeling stress in your body. Where are you feeling it? Write it down. This is very important information, because often our body reacts to stress before we are aware of its origins, and if we can recognize our body’s messages, we can learn to interrupt our thought process, thus helping our system relax. That is what this hack is all about.
What causes this fear to become so overpowering in some people?
As infants we are born with the ability to smile, and to respond to smiles. A shared smile establishes safety in acceptance. At some point in our lives, whether it was before you can remember, or something that happened in your youth, or a traumatic experience as an adult, when someone experiences an extreme form of loss of feeling protected, it can be hard to shake. An incident that gives you the awareness that your gender or skin color or appearance is a disadvantage puts your brain on edge. If you fall through the ice, you will likely always be wary of ice throughout the remainder of you life. A traumatic or even slightly unnerving experience can put our brain on high-alert. Our entire body’s system is engineered to make us feel good when we are close to people who love us, and afraid when those protectors are not around, because as a species, this is what kept us alive. Our brains are hardwired to believe that we need to be in an accepting group to survive.
Why does this fear cause people to isolate, reduce their circle, or hide behind work?
You would think that this fear of rejection by a group would cause a person to make their circle huge thus increasing the chances of being accepted by at least someone or some part of the group. However, one more important characteristic about survival is predictability of your environment. If you have been through a traumatic experience, you may tend to keep your environment predictable to the extreme. On the far end of this fear, being totally alone is the most predictable, and even the presence of one other person can feel terrifying. There is safety in predictability.
What does NOT stop the fear: preparing mentally for rejection
If you are an avid camper, you prepare for emergencies by bringing extra water, an emergency kit, food, a bear bin, and other safety equipment. Being prepared for emergencies gives you the confidence you need to head out into the woods.
You can try to prepare for rejection, such as telling yourself that people fail a lot and eventually succeed, that you can re-work your idea, or that you can leave the country…
But preparing for rejection isn’t enough if you are too afraid to even do the thing that you might be rejected for. Preparing for a snowstorm does not prevent the snowstorm from happening. The pain of rejection is so acute that your goal needs to be not just preparing for the pain, but preventing it from happening in the first place.
If this fear of rejection is elevated due to trauma, or some unidentifiable reason, it can be pre-conscious. It is in your body and is not accessible to your rational mind. Because of this, no amount of preparation or self talk will work. You need a brain hack.
What Is The Brain Hack? Visualize Your Crew Helping You Escape.
The first brain hack that I created in 2011, “Quieting The Inner Critic”, is a short process of making best friends with that inner voice. You learn to quiet it with kindness and humor.
Rejection, however, can be so agonizing that taking yourself to that place of pain simply to converse with it is not likely to be beneficial. What then can be done? You have to stop the fear from even happening. You have to convince your brain that you have a crew looking out for you, and that you will not actually die if someone doesn’t buy your widget.
The Cure For “Fear Of Self-Promotion”
Train your brain to recognize that rejection does not equal danger.
- Create a fool-proof visualization of your crew whisking you away
- Practice your vision interrupting your fearful thought process
You might be wondering if training your brain that it is o.k. to run away from the slightest upset is a good idea. Yes, it is. Because you aren’t ACTUALLY running away, you are just imagining it, thus calming down your brain and stopping the flow of fight or flight hormones. Soon you will be able to recognize the early beginnings of this fear, and with your vision, stop it before it gets even part way through the door.