Overcoming inhibition

October 26, 2007 at 06:07 AM · I am very inhibited in several aspects of my life: socially (I'm shy, self-conscious, and not a natural conversationalist), physically (I have some sort of mental block against dancing for example - I feel like I literally can't let myself do it - and freedom while playing), musically, and expressively (I tend to be withdrawn, and this definitely applies to performing). I would say I am less inhibited when in private, so self-consciousness is obviously a big factor, but even then I feel like I have some sort of deep, ingrained aversion to “giving my all.” Have any of you experienced this kind / degree of inhibition? Is there a way to overcome it? (In a way, it's too bad that personalities are just about impossible to really change - or so I've heard.) I feel that general inhibition is truly the number one problem or obstacle that is negatively affecting my playing and the enjoyment I gain (or wish I could) from it.

Replies (26)

October 26, 2007 at 07:21 AM · Hi Elena. I would say that all of us experience some degree of the difficulty you face. I know that I have been extraordinarily self conscious, I get the wobbles up just playing for my teacher, it has taken 18 months of lessons with her to get to the point where only 15 minutes or so of a lesson are really badly affected.

One thing that has helped has been to watch and listen to other learners performing - when I realised that I really enjoyed it, and it truly didn't matter that a mistake was made. It was just such a kick to see people who were prepared to get up and have a go. So then I realised that most people feel the same way - they don't come to the table expecting perfection, they don't think I'm a goose because Im not perfect, and they still get a lot of enjoyment from the playing just because they get a lot of enjoyment from it.

What is it that most concerns you about just letting go - do you hate the thought that you might not achieve perfection, that others will talk about you, that someone will criticise? Do you have an underlying belief that you don't deserve to enjoy things. Or a fear that if you do give in to the enjoyment that it might be taken away from you?

Some times it helps to write down the stuff that comes up when you are practising - I find when I think about situations that worry me, suddenly a whole lot of other experiences or anxieties from the past will surface, and I realise I'm sharing the emotion of one experience across to others, where in fact they only belong with themselves. Just knowing that lets you beging to confront it.

Our underlying beliefs and value in ourselves really do impact on us in so many ways, I wonder if that is what is happening for you.

October 26, 2007 at 07:30 AM · Oh, and I forgot to say, everyone can change and change is always possible. Personalities are just internal bits of us - we can all choose to change behaviours, and sometimes changing behaviours leads to changing attitudes and beliefs and emotions and responses. I definitely see that I do not have the same responses and feelings about things now at 47 as I did at say 23, so in some respects I guess the outward manifestation of my personality has changed. I think a lot of people would agree that this has happened for them.

October 26, 2007 at 08:24 AM · I know that feeling of playing violin with applied handbrake very well, what certainly helps is playing as often in public (family, friends, neighbors etc.) as you (or they) can. If you can manage to do so regularly, you'll gain significantly fast self control and even fun to play while you'll come more and more out of your shell.

At the beginning it's fairly bothersome - keep it up!

If you feel you really suffer from these issues generally and you don't feel you can control it - ask a psychologist for advice, at least he/she can provide you with some ideas to escape out of recurring situations.

One key is sports - you'll improve your self esteem, have fun, make up your mind. If you set reasonable goals and do it regularly, you can, if you start running for instance, get great results after just a few weeks. Both in condition and mind. Or other things - I never danced and understand your depiction of you & dancing all too well, I couldn't do either, in fact I started to envy those dancing people. Dancing became a kind of metapher for me (happy people moving, expressing themselves), so if you like dancing generally, why not learning it? There'll be lots of courses in latin or jazz dance. I'm convinced there's hardly anything healthier for a mind than dancing, and though I still have to conquer shyness (and I'm dancing like Robocop), it's always worth the trouble.

October 26, 2007 at 10:09 AM · Hi Elena,

thanks for starting this interesting thread. I've been there, being shy, introverted, having stage fright and everything.

As a child, I took piano lessons and had the opportunity to play in little recitals (in front of fellow pupils and their parents). Did I grab this wonderful opportunity? No - I cut myself off from it, using every kind of excuse to avoid it - now I regret it, but those times will of course never come back.

What makes us so afraid to be on stage or to perform in front of others? In my opinion, it is a fear of losing face, of revealing that we are less than 110 per cent perfect.

How to overcome it? Actually, there is no other way but to do it. If you feel you cannot, why not start things in a group. Instead of giving a solo (or chamber music) recital, why not hide in a group (orchestra, choir, ...)?

How did I overcome my stage fright (and let me tell you, it was BAD): I got drafted into the church choir, I helped lighting the stage for an amateur theatre group (and then had to stand in for an actor who had fallen ill - only during a rehearsal, but I knew his lines just from watching him so often).

Once you experience that you can perform a little bit in front of others, you will like that feeling (applause, admiration, ...) and will like to get more of it.

During my training as a square dance caller, my coach said that he would put the needle on the record so that my badly shaking hands would not damage the vinyl. Now, 18 years later, I can still remember that feeling of utter distraction, sweating profusely, hands and knees literally shaking. But - if you push yourself through it - you will see that you survive. You even survive if you goof, nobody will shoot you, hit you or something like that.

By the way, performing for a small circle of friends (even worse when they are fellow violinists) is a lot harder than facing an anonymous large audience.

One way out of the predicament might also be to not do a "serious" performance but rather a comic, clownish one. Now, all you clowns out here, I know that you are very serious performers, but if one is afraid of falling on one's face during a "walk show", why not fall on your face deliberately and make it a "not able to walk straight" show.

By the way, stage fright will never go away completely - it shouldn't, either, because it gives you the heightened levels of adrenaline you need to perform your best. Some very succesful performers, after decades of living onstage, still have almost debilitating attacks of stage fright - but they overcome them, because they know they will succeed.

Believe in yourself, use every opportunity to perform (maybe in another field) and - as Churchill said - never, never, never, never give up.

You can do it!

Best of luck, Jürgen

October 26, 2007 at 10:13 AM · I was very much like that--still am--I recognize myself in many of the things you wrote.

It is one of the pleasures of maturing that some of this kind of stuff starts to bother you less. I seemed to take a big leap forward when I was about 27 years old. Before that, I had had industrial strength performance anxiety. I hated anything to do with performance, only got up in front of a group under duress. But by then I was working on a Ph.D. and I felt I needed to improve my public speaking skills in order to give scientific talks and presentations and defend my thesis. I took a public speaking class and I started going to Toastmasters: http://www.toastmasters.org/. It turned out that I really enjoyed Toastmasters more than I expected I would. One of the Toastmasters' activities is called "Table Topics," 5-minute impromptu speeches. At first I couldn't do it at all, but near the end of my first year, I actually won the Table Topics round at my home group and went on to compete in Table Topics at a regional contest. I also became confident enough in giving my PhD thesis talk that I went to the universities of a few friends and gave seminars there as well. This newfound ability carried over to violin playing, which I had given up in graduate school and started to do again after I got my PhD.

But even with all that, I would like to offer a slightly different perspective on inhibition, introversion, and shyness. I don't think it is trait that has to be "gotten over" or changed. Introversion is not a moral deficiency. I actually feel the same way you do about dancing--and I had several dreadful years of ballet lessons as a child. I enjoy dancing alone in my room to music of my choosing, but I don't feel like I have to dance for other people. My husband doesn't like dancing either and it's a relief for both of us--if other people dance, fine, we can watch and there's no pressure to have to do it ourselves. I don't enjoy it, why should I force myself into doing something I dislike? Life is too short . . .

I think modern society places too much emphasis on extroversion and performance in general. Shyness is painful enough without having to grow up feeling deficient, like you always have to work on changing yourself. Many of these fine arts--music, dance--can be enjoyed on a small, intimate level and bring much pleasure, even profound joy. If your temperament is more suited to that level, there's nothing wrong with that.

October 26, 2007 at 12:33 PM · Elena: You're getting great advice and support in these responses. Let me add one more suggestion. The characteristics you feel you lack are (at least in part) learned social skills. I strongly suggest that you look into the Gabriel Richard Institute (Christopher Leadership Training Course). They offer a short and inexpensive group experience which is very well structured and yet "stretches" you so that you improve quickly in self-confidence, comfort in speaking in front of others, and similar issues. They don't "teach" these things as mindless techniques, but rather use a highly supportive and "fun" group experience in which you find out what it means to speak "from the heart" and from your inner core values. It's a great course, and is ideal for the problems you have shared with us. Google them and see if there is one in your area, and talk to them about it so you can judge for yourself whether it's worth doing.

Cordially, Sandy

October 26, 2007 at 02:03 PM · Elena, I am sure what you are doing is beautiful regardless what you think (it's that). It does take time to learn to appreciate what you do. I have made choices about what to put on recordings the past oh... half a decade, which I am rather shocked about. Some stuff I thought wasn't ready was ready – it wasn't that abrupt of a decision though, for me.

October 26, 2007 at 03:51 PM · There are a number of different avenues open to you to address your concerns. Sander has made one very concrete solution, I would add two others--you can try working with a performance psychologist or sports psychologist the concerns are very similar and the means of addressing thiem are also remarkably similar. the other thing I would suggest is to take your courage in your hands and find a good beginner's acting class. It will be painful at first and you may well hate it but it will open you to many useful experiences that can finally give you the freedom you so ably articulated.

October 26, 2007 at 04:46 PM · Clearly it depends strongly on your self-definition. If your are convinced (as e.g. I am) that life has no sense whatsoever other than the sense you give it - in other words you (and only you at the very end) tell yourself what sense you want to have in your life, then you can overcome all these problems within a few days, actually.

My practical experience: I went from freaking out level stage fright and similar experiences when doing anything (from singing to playing, dancing to jumping) in public to a situation today where I couldn't care less about it. Today I work and present in front of cameras, live or recording (don't care how many), microphones and audiences of any size including or excluding my family members and friends with no problems at all.

If it is e.g. the self-defined sense of my life to present and/or teach so people can get better along with their lives, their professions, their relations and now (maybe after years of struggling for the opportunity) I am finally able to follow this my sense of life: What other feelings than joy and gratefulness are appropriate (meaning not utterly stupid) at this occasion?

If other, disturbing emotions come up then you either have forgotten what the sense of your life is; you just do not think of it actively anymore. Or your "disturbing" emotions tell you that you should give your life a new, better sense asap. And I found it a useful exercise to spend a few (3-5) days off and away from family, friends and familiar places every 18-24 months to rethink your self-defined sense of your life. Just to make sure your intellect gets a chance to prevent disturbing emotions by finding what you really want before major catastrophies take control of your life path.

BTW I strongly oppose the suggestion to use any kind of competitive action (e.g. sports) to overcome inhibition. Most of my inhibitions got lost when I left a team of swimmers preparing for the Olympics. Just look for your birth certificate: There might be all kinds of information on it. ONE information isn't there for sure - the information that you have been born to compare yourself and compete with others. If comparing and competing would be the self-defined sense of your life then you will be lost before you even start. You might be forced to compare and compete but this you have to position as an deviation from your life path, even when you might not be able to avoid it. Comparing and competing are tactical compromises at best, the importance of winning should not be overestimated.

With the sense of your life you should also define what success in your life is. Winning something, "against" somebody, is never a success, being able to fulfill the sense of your life is it.


October 26, 2007 at 08:57 PM · A superb CD out there is called "self hypnosis for musicians." Get it.

October 26, 2007 at 10:49 PM · "So then I realised that most people feel the same way - they don't come to the table expecting perfection, they don't think I'm a goose because Im not perfect, and they still get a lot of enjoyment from the playing just because they get a lot of enjoyment from it." - Sharelle

I actually realized this myself a couple of months ago. What's strange, to me, is that knowing that others do not expect perfection or require it in order to enjoy a performance has not changed the way I feel about performing. I know "perfection" is really not achievable and I've (mostly ;)) reconciled myself to that, but I continue to place quite a lot of pressure on myself. Recently, I've been attaching a lot of importance to every little performance (and even my lessons), saying "this will be the one, this will be the breakthrough," and of course it never is - I think I need to start realizing not just intellectually but completely that any growth will be a gradual process. But anyway, I think when I've performed lately, the issue has not been so much what I fear others will think of me, but what I will think of myself. I don't think I actually suffer from severe stage fright, just moderate jitters and butterflies (and, oddly enough, I don't have any problem with "public" speaking - although, granted, I've never spoken in front of a large group of strangers - and I actually participated in a "junior" Toastmasters program at my school). When I say inhibition, I don't necessarily mean classic stage fright. Also, Jay, I think an acting class is an excellent idea - one I mentioned to my teacher a while ago and that he enthusiastically supported, but that I haven't actually followed through with. I have a sneaking feeling I might even enjoy acting, if I can work up the nerve to join a class; I did actually enjoy performing a monologue for my school a few years ago.

I am seriously considering the option of seeing a psychologist, something my teacher has mentioned more than once.

I don't want to change my personality to be extroverted, but I do think that successful performing, and successful communication, requires putting oneself out there. I feel that whenever I perform, or actually whenever I play period, I am never fully committed to the music. If only I could truly focus on the music and realize that it's about the music, not me, that would be approaching my ideal...but that is very, very hard (for me).

Adding to my original post, a more specific example of my inhibition would be my lessons: my teacher will demonstrate something, but for some reason I never quite imitate him; I never give 100% and use just as much bow, or just as much expression, or just as much energy, or whatever. Something stops me from doing it, and in a way I suppose its become a sort of habit, but while I wish it weren't the case, I think I must not truly wish it, or I wouldn't still be doing it. Also, I have no rational explanation for my aversion to dancing, especially since I am probably viewed a much odder for refusing to dance than I would be for dancing badly (and it's not just dancing that I won't do; I won't even move to the music). And when I explained to my teacher that I physically feel unable to sing when he asks me to, as though my throat constricts, and he asked me to think what is the worst thing that could happen, what am I afraid of, I couldn't come up with an answer.

It's strange - I think I've come to view these inhibitions as integral aspects of "me," of who I am; they're not just things I do, they are me. Perhaps part of my reluctance to lose them, despite thinking that I want to lose them, is that I am actually afraid that I wouldn't be myself anymore.

Sorry for the rambling post; I hope it wasn't too boring or incoherent. And thanks so much for all the responses and support. :)

October 26, 2007 at 11:44 PM · I read your post and thought..."that was me!" I recommend reading Don Greene's book Fight your Fear and Win. It was helpful to me, anyway.

What helped me probably the most was a discussion with my mother about the exact same issue. She told me frankly and honestly that sometimes, "It's not about you." It has freed me from a lot of self-doubt. I'm still not a great conversationalist...

October 27, 2007 at 12:48 AM · One trick that sometimes helps is imaginary role playing, like most of us did when we were kids. It wasn't me swinging the plastic bat at a whiffle ball, it was Mickey Mantle belting another one out of the ballpark. It's not you practicing scales in your living room, it's (insert favorite virtuoso here) giving a life-changing performance at Carnegie Hall to a full house and a standing ovation. Such mind games can sometimes be quite liberating, and may even make you aware of playing strengths not previously realized. Good luck!

October 27, 2007 at 04:41 AM · Greetings,

well, you overcame your inhibition enough to write to hundreds of people for help! Well done.

I agree thoroughly with FMF s post.

One thing that might be useful is to work on expanding your comfort zone by consciously doing something that you feel difficult each day. It might be soemthign as banal as picking up the phone and ringing an old friend from a yera ago. Another useful and cheap book is `Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway.`Get from Amazon.

But don`t forget we all have these fears in differnet aspects of our lives at differnet times. Much of life is about moving into a new space where our fears are irrelevent or disappear. Lots of it is to do with love.



October 27, 2007 at 04:55 AM · Everyone has fears. The interesting thing is that everyone has DIFFERENT fears. This leads to the realisation that there is frequently a lack of real risk behind these fears; they are merely bits of unrealised or undeveloped personality.

While in many ways they seem to define one's personality, that is an illusion. They are not a part of you; they are a block to the further development of you as a person.

For the most part, fear is a door that bars you from becoming your true self. The only way to deal with it successfully is to face the fear, and push thru the door.

Or don't. It's your life; you won't get another. Use it as you see fit.

October 27, 2007 at 10:17 AM · I'm an uninhibited dancer, but my violin playing is still very shy and withdrawn (and of course there are coutless accomplished violinists who have no talent for dancing). I would advise that you don't get hung up on the notion that you must succeed at dancing in order to overcome any social phobia.

Social dancing (at a hoe down or ceilidh) is great because it combines exercise, music and meeting people, but another good alternative is to join a walking/rambling/hiking group. The benefits are exercise, contact with nature and fresh air. Because people speed up and slow down during any reasonable length hike, mingling and dipping in and out of conversations just happens naturally without any effort.

All the advice given above is very beneficial, and we've probably all felt, or feel, the same way as you do.

October 28, 2007 at 03:48 PM · Take a Dale Carnegie course.

October 28, 2007 at 03:52 PM · Our Concertmaster took acting class to help him get over his stiffness

October 28, 2007 at 06:16 PM · Hi Elena,

So many useful things have been said but maybe one example of moving on a bit could help. I completely agree with Juergen - to just DO IT. Even in groups if possible initially. This ties in with Mischa's suggestion of playing in public as often as you can. The group thing isn't always possible - finding people to play with around and free/willing to do so. Like Sharelle, I've even been nervous with my teacher (bouncing, scratchy bow!) Now, a year later I'm more confident, though I don't always copy things exactly as she shows them for lack of confidence. My only success in 'finding a group' to play with is at church. Some folks encouraged me to play though I felt far from ready. I decided to attend practices just to learn some of the songs, and someone recorded a few onto a CD for me to play along at home. I was then more confident to play with the group during a practice session. The first attempt at church didn't go quite so well - back to bouncing bow (very trembly right hand). But the second time was better. I still turn my back to the 'audience' or congregation because it would be too much to face them as well. I can just about get away with it making it look as if I need to see the 'leader', or the way the mic is set up. My daughter told me last time it looked 'stupid' (encouraging comment!) and I should face the other way. With time, I hope I can. I'm sure what made me more nervous is another musician who sometimes leads who would rather only have professional or more experienced players in the group. So it sounds good. He is a performer.

Juergen mentioned that fear can come from fear of making mistakes/being criticised. I believe it does, though it may be a learned response from being overly criticised as a child (I was). Learned responses can be unlearned, it just takes a lot of time and hard work. There are also folks at church who feel it is OK to try, make mistakes, learn. Many who actually really enjoy my playing. But focusing on that positive is far harder than on the one person's negative vibes. I have to keep telling myself that it is OK to make a mistake, and in live playing it is always a possibility, but hey, in live playing, you only hear it ONCE and I for one, greatly enjoy a live amateur performance even with the odd mistake in it. You appreciate all the good bits someone got right!

Elena, you have as much right to be on this earth, to do what you do as anyone else. And to be yourself. And yes, if there are things you wish to learn, to change you can!

October 28, 2007 at 10:09 PM · Others have all made very good points. I’m particularly agreeing with FMF, Buri and Bob.

No matter whether being considered as an introvert or an extravert, we all share the sense of fear, self-consciousness, feeling shy, etc. It’s up to us to have different ways coping. The ways of coping are by and large learned skills and learning these skills has everything to do with being who we are: we are what we choose to be and how we define and redefine ourselves who we are.

I’m really not a big fan of personality analyses and I think the approach can be contrary to self-defining. It doesn’t explain anything other than providing excuses. Take the Myers-Briggs type of tests for example, people I know well in my life (such as my husband and close friends) who are all considered to be introverted in many cases are much less shy and self-conscientious than I am, such as in cases of public speaking in English and negotiating anything to do with money. I’m very extroverted these days. I think the ESL thing may affect my confidence in speaking under a circumstance where more nuisance is required. Part of the upbringing and value (i.e., the moral aversion towards the whole thing about money) might affect me in my ability of monetary negotiation.

I can also be introverted and very much withdrawn if I choose to do so. I was very introverted during some of my high school years because I felt this was the safest way to be, under the circumstance I was in during some of the most extreme years of Communist regime in China. I talked little and had only a couple of very close friends. I spent most of my time locked my self in a small room studying things weren’t allowed to be taught in school. It was not just that I acted introverted, I felt I was being me to be introverted. The similar thing happened when the first a couple years when I came to Canada in my mid-20s. There are a lot to be said about the view that we are very much the creatures of our environment.

Why is a person considered to be an introvert never shows any sign of shyness (such as my husband) and why am I able to move from being extraverted to introverted and extraverted again throughout different periods/stages of my life? One answer to this may be such categorization of personality does not explain what’s going on with us at all. Nor does it help to direct us to any particular useful direction when we are facing concrete issues such as being shy, self-conscious, or withdrawing under some circumstances.

Like many others have said, we each only have one chance. We either take a forward looking approach and make the person we want to be, or revert back to habits and comfort ourselves with the notion of having the type of temperament we have or it’s my right to be the way I am, etc. For me, when I’m running out of excuses, I know that I’m ready to move forward being free in this area. But I also frequently check with myself and others around me to see if I'm in a healthy working and living environment.

Finally, if you were happy about the situation you are in right now, we wouldn’t have this discussion. Something else may be going on and the inhibition you described may just be the symptoms of that. It's not a bad idea to work with someone who has the expertise.

October 28, 2007 at 08:03 PM · I'm still a fan of reframing this as more of a trait that you work with, rather than as something you have to "lose" or change about yourself.

I think your gut is telling you something wise when you're feeling uneasy about changing in this way. My own "inhibitions" have saved me more than once from wading in and saying or doing something really stupid.

Something struck me when you were describing your lesson with your teacher, that you "didn't imitate him 100%." It seemed as if you were looking at that as somehow bad or negative, as if you "should" have imitated him 100% immediately. I'd encourage you to question that assumption. It may be that you really need a week to really understand what he is telling you and for your subconscious to process it. You're not a trained seal, after all. But you are very observant and thoughtful. Try to work with all that: take a lot of notes at your lessons and review them later. Record yourself at home if you can and analyze that and come up with more questions for your teacher. Don't just rely on him to demonstrate something and then beat yourself up for not being "fully committed" to his agenda. Use those powers of observation and the mental space that your "inhibition" gives you to synthesize information and take it to a higher level.

October 28, 2007 at 11:06 PM · Thanks so much to all of you for your advice, wisdom, and for sharing your experiences. You have given me hope :) - and a better perspective.

November 3, 2007 at 08:00 AM · Elena, performing in no-pressure background situations (e.g. community events with people just strolling about and chatting) really helped me. I do these as often as possible to keep my confidence up.

Also: don't think about what anyone else might be thinking: focus only on the music and your enjoyment of it.

November 3, 2007 at 08:20 PM · You would have benefitted from lessons with Louis Krasner when he was alive. My friend violinist Carlos Flores was a former pupil of Mr. Krasner. He would always tell me that Mr. Krasner used to say "Like a stripper, you must not feel afraid to show your stuff". LOL

November 4, 2007 at 01:09 AM · Orchestrating some small successes for yourself might help. You were brave enough to share this with us. I'd consider that a small success!

November 4, 2007 at 11:59 AM · Eddy Rickenbacker, a WWI Ace fighter pilot,once said, "Courage is doing what you are afraid to do. Without fear, there is no courage." For you to open up with honesty and candor you are very brave. I was born with a traumatice anxiety disorder and in time I learned to become a performer on stage and clubs. A very close friend has Social Anxiety Disorder (S.A.D.) What has helped me is medication and council from a qualified social worker. My congregation is another big help.

When I was 12 our city orchestra conductor noticed all of us stressing out and she told us to pretend that the audience was wearing only their underware. We all laughed and snickered through the 15 minuets recital.

I'm playing violin again after a 23 year hiatis and what is helping me also is playing a song that friends and or their children sing or play along. Small groups no bigger than 6-10 even less. Taking my meds, seeing a councilor, playing with friends and their kids, people who love me and readily remind me that they are not perfect either andgive possitive reinforcement like, "Hey, you realy are getting good/better with that, whens the next recitle? And setting small goals to achieve bigger goals. I hope this helps.

Take Care,


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