My story began when I was a young piano student, only 11 years of age. I was studying under a prestigious teacher with extremely high standards who expected a great deal from her students. She was regarded as one of the top teachers in the area and many of her students were being groomed for Julliard. I worked exceedingly hard for my teacher. I had much respect for her and never wanted to disappoint her. After all, my parents were told that I had talent.
During that spring, I was expected to perform for a panel of judges in a competition. I did and my performance was wonderful! I was delighted to receive First Honors in the Junior category. Shortly thereafter, all high placing students were to perform in an Honors Recital.
On the day of the Honors Recital I was to perform first. However, when I went on stage, I froze! I could not remember even the first note of my piece! Absolutely mortified, I could only walk off the stage where I was met by my teacher’s clearly disapproving face. To this day, I still remember the grimace she held. My teacher took me by the shoulders, swiftly turned me around, and pushed me back out on stage with the stern reprimand, “It’s F!” I then did what all good students do. I walked back up to the piano, sat down, started with “F.”
This was not my first competition, nor my first award, but it was the first time I experienced pressure greater than my maturity level was able to handle. This is what hypnotherapists recognize as the first initiating experience. This is when the experience of performance anxiety took seed in my subconscious.
The performance was never spoken of again. As a result, the recital further reinforced the utter shame I harbored for failing my teacher and myself. This event laid the foundation of insecurity which I battled with for many years. It also destroyed my hopes and dreams of ever believing I could attend Julliard and play amongst the best! Whether this was a reality or not, it didn’t matter. It was what I chose to believe. This was my perception.
I perceived this event as traumatic. When a traumatic event is tied to a strong negative emotion, they become linked in your subconscious. This becomes your operating belief system for all future events. It becomes your reality and your truth. Whether your operating belief system is true, partly true, or completely false, it doesn’t matter. Thoughts are powerful!
My later performances were not all bad, but I tortured myself, overcompensating by obsessive practice. I was extremely insecure and didn’t trust my abilities. I was so fearful that I would lose my ability to perform at any moment and wouldn’t be able to save myself. My anxieties manifested themselves physically with cotton stuffed ears, sweaty hands, and uncontrollably shaky legs. I had a deep-seated fear of memory slips. All these anxieties blocked my joy in playing and prevented the music from speaking through my soul.
If music were not my first love and passion, I would have given up completely. For a time, I struggled to find direction. In college, I temporarily pursued a degree in drama, but I continued to accompany voice majors on the piano. Eventually, I returned to the piano. As there was no option for a degree in Piano Pedagogy at that time, I pursued a degree in Piano Performance as a means to achieve the most demanding training in order to teach.
Unfortunately, I continued to be my own worst enemy. When I walked off stage after my nerve-wracking Senior Recital performance in college, I swore I would never perform again. I was so heart broken. I felt beaten down by disappointments. I had created a monster in my head that had total control of my psyche. My self- mistrust had grown so enormous that any compliment fell upon deaf ears. If I decided it wasn’t good enough, then it wasn’t good enough! Who was I hurting the most? MYSELF.
But this is not the end of my story. One day, as I was sharing my fear of performance with an adult student who happened to be a friend and hypnotherapist, he offered me his professional services. I went to three sessions of hypnotherapy that helped me more than any book or therapeutic counseling I ever had in the past. Not only was he able to assist me in releasing my personal fears, past and present, but he also taught me to develop a self-help tool that reinforced my memorization and visualization skills.
The hypnosis I underwent was the turning point of my performance history. When I was next able to perform, I experienced an ease and control that I never had felt in the past. It was a JOYOUS, EXHILARATING EXPERIENCE!
To this day, my anxieties surrounding performance are controllable. The physical manifestations of cotton stuffed ears, sweaty hands, and shaky knees are gone. I prepare and practice my music using self-hypnosis tools, which reinforce confidence and security. My former negative thoughts have been replaced by powerful positive beliefs that I continue to reinforce through my subconscious.
Why have I chosen to share this painful story with you? I desperately want you to know that performance anxiety does not have to be your story!
Why did hypnotherapy work? Because I was ready to change! I wanted to experience peace and satisfaction within myself and with my music. I found a person I trusted to do this work with me and I was ready to suspend my disbeliefs and fears about hypnosis. I was open and willing to change! I allowed myself to release the crippling past belief system and replace it with a belief system that honored my deep desire to connect with my love, my passion, and my soul’s expression through music!
What will be your story?