Supportive Families and Performance Anxiety

I have dealt with performance anxiety for most of my performing life. How can something that you love doing so much terrify you so much?

I think the more supportive your family and friends are in your formative years, the less terrifying performing is. However, that’s not always the case. I’ve had students with terrible anxiety who have wonderfully supportive parents. I’ve known people who have received no familial support throughout their lives who shine on stage and who create their own family unit from their theatrical peers.

I’ve mentioned Alfred Lubrano before, the author of Limbo: Blue Collar Roots, White Collar Dreams. For some people, the feeling of not fitting in impacts them both in the families they grew up in and the careers they choose to pursue. I think that is a major factor in my own performance anxiety issues. The feeling of being a fraud and that people will find out and kick me out of the lofty perch to which I’ve aspired – back to the old neighborhood where I was thought of as stuck-up.

My mother was not supportive. My father was, in his own way. He may have thought what I was doing was unrealistic, but he came to my performances – by himself. Mom came to the first Miss West Allis pageant I did, but it made her so nervous that she thought she was going to die of a heart attack. (She told my college advisor that she’d had to have a schnapps beforehand to calm her nerves, and Sister Ann asked me later, “Christine, does your mother have a drinking problem?” “No, Sister Ann, she has a drama problem.”) The next year I did the pageant, I begged her to come and she wouldn’t because she was afraid she’d die. (Hey, I was the one in the swimsuit!! ) Dad came. And I took 2nd runner-up that year. He also came to my first professional opera, Carmen (I was in the chorus – Florentine Opera, 1980!).

He came to many things until he had his stroke and could no longer drive. Once Mom was in the driver’s seat, literally, she was also… in the driver’s seat. If she didn’t want to go, she didn’t go. So he couldn’t go either. She was in control! (Any wonder why she got so mad when the doctor said she couldn’t drive any more? Or when she thought I’d sold her car while she was in the hospital? It was being repaired and detailed, but she was certain I’d sold it just to keep her from driving.)

Controlling mothers – there are pages and pages about them in textbooks and novels. Maybe if I’d gotten out from under her influence earlier, I could have had a better relationship with her later. It took me a long time to find my own voice in so many ways. It’s too bad she really didn’t want to hear it. I loved her very much and only wanted to please her. Once I decided I needed to please myself, she didn’t like it.

There are also pages and pages about performance anxiety. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting up and doing it until you stop falling down. I’m going to try to remain upright for as long as I can.

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