Phobias Acquired Later in Life

Some 70% of my students and clients recall that from early childhood they were shy and didn’t speak up. The other 30% who suffer from public speaking phobia have a different story. There people were once excellent speakers. Generally outgoing, some were active in drama and debate clubs, were class valedictorians or presidents of school societies. They report this kind of experience:

I have about a hundred people working for me, and there I was, in front of my entire staff, nervous but doing all right, I guess. We had just been awarded a major contract and this was to be the announcement. Suddenly I looked at them and I couldn’t say a word; or even think a word. They just looked at me and the room got very quiet, and I started to get very warm, and I could feel my face turning red... And I was totally speechless. It was the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to me. I can’t talk in front of groups anymore.
- James, commerical real estate developer. 

Behavioral psychology tells us that phobias happen after a traumatic event - usually an experience that shakes the individual to his core - like a psychological near-death experience. One’s sense of personal control and safety is utterly shattered at the deepest levels of self, resulting in post-traumatic stress syndrome. The stress reaction can appear immediately or up to two years after the traumatic event. 

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Precipitating Events

Another interesting fact about phobias is that they follow the rule, “Different strokes for different folks.” For one person, the precipitating event could be tragic, like the death of a parent or child, a catastrophic illness, or a past sexual abuse, rape or incest. For another, moving to a new community, going away to college, or losing a job can produce a similar post-traumatic stress reaction. 

No matter what the cause, or the variety of precipitating events, the result can be a phobia, such as fears of flying, driving, fear of heights, or enclosed places. The phobia, triggered by a particular event, can then generalize to other areas, such as fear of escalators or trains, or a sudden panic attack in front of an audience. 

The panic attack causes an episode of thought-blocking and becomes another traumatic event that will not be forgotten. The next time an opportunity for speaking arises, you are psychologically transported to the past - and that moment when you were speechless. You simply cannot do it; you decline with some excuse. One avoidant experience leads to another, and in a very short time you have glossophobia: an irrational fear of speaking in public. 

And so you join the silent many. Your voice is no longer heard, your reputation as a speaker, a thing of the past. You are silent, just like the person who cannot speak because of humiliation in childhood. 

Understanding Why

These “late bloomers” are always relieved to discover why they suddenly lost their ability to speak in public and that this mysterious malady can be healed with training. Time and time again I hear students say, “I lost my mother and we were very close. So that is why I became speechless at that meeting.” or “It happened to me when I started college and I was so afraid I couldn’t hack it.”

One man who called me before he attended the TalkPower Workshop said he had no idea what could have caused a sudden panic attack he experienced at a Rotary Club meeting he was chairing. Later, when he attended the TalkPower seminar, he said, “I was thinking about what you told me, and then after several days I realized that we tragically lost our little girl to a terrible illness around that time.” If you suddenly, for no apparent reason, have had an episode of speechlessness, understanding why you lost your ability to speak in public will help to motivate you to work with the training methods in a TalkPower Workshop

© 2000-2013 by Natalie H. Rogers

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