As you know, one of my favorite topics to talk about is shame, especially how it affects improvising and performing.
Nobody has done more research on the topic or is filled with more of it than I am. That make me an expert on the subject.
In all seriousness, it is killing me. Shame is the number one leading cause of death to artists.
If you don’t know what shame is, you certainly know what it feels like. It’s the feeling of embarrassment when you bomb in a show in front of your co-workers that you invited, and the next morning, you feel so humiliated you call in sick.
Shame is as powerful as drugs and alcohol. It’s a mood altering substance.
For years, I thought for years the best way to deal with shame was to avoid situations where it may come up. But that is impossible in the arts.
In improv you often hear, “There are no mistakes.” I’ve found that people aren’t really afraid of making mistakes; they’re afraid of the feelings that come from thinking they made a mistake, and 90 percent of the time, that feeling is shame.
I want to discuss three types of shame that I continue to suffer from, in the hope that you can identify with me and share with me some of the ways you have overcome them.
- Performance shame
This is the most common type of shame for improvisers. You do a show and it doesn’t go well so you feel terrible. You may have said something during the show you wish you could take back. You may have made a move that nobody on your team picked up. You took a risk and did a new character and it bombed.
Then you feel stupid and embarrassed in front of a paying audience.After the show, you beat yourself up. When you get home, you keep going over and over in your head what you “should” have done differently.That night you get no sleep. You convince yourself your improv career is over. When you wake up, you feel like you want to die. But you can’t, because your two-year-old daughter comes into your bedroom to wake you up and wants to have breakfast. (A true story)
I am pretty sure anyone reading this blog is pretty familiar with this kind of shame. It’s the common variety.
- The Buzz Kill
The second type of shame is more tricky — it’s called The Buzz Kill. It is more sneaky and subtle and leaves no fingerprints.With this type of shame, you actually have a great show, class or rehearsal and you have such good time and really enjoy yourself that you find something wrong about your life or about the show to ruin it.Most of the time, the thing you start to obsess about has nothing to do with the show (since it went well). Maybe you got charged a $10 service fee from you bank for an overdraft, or someone sent you a snarky e-mail, and one of these things makes you feel shame.
I can take little stuff like that to feel shame about. Why do I do that? Because I have hard time taking in good.
I know it sounds crazy. That’s because I am pretty crazy.
And yes, it looks, sounds and tastes like self-sabotage, but once you bite into the jelly doughnut, it’s not filled with strawberry filling, it’s filled with shame.
I can’t tell you how many times I have had incredible shows and leave the theater feeling elated, walking on air with peace in my heart. I am one with the world and my place in it. Then 30 minutes later, on my drive home from the theater, I find the tiniest little thing to kill the joy. By the time I am walk through the front door I feel like a loser. This 100 percent self-induced.
- Real-Time Stage Shame
The third type of shame is the deadliest shame of all. And this is where I need your help. It’s called Real-Time Stage Shame.Unlike performance shame, it does not wait until after the show to try to kill you. It does it while you are on stage performing in real time.When this happens, everything stops. You go into a black hole. Your brain shuts down and your mouth goes dry. Words can’t be formed into sentences. You pray an anvil drops from the sky to puts you out of your pain.
Sometimes you bounce back. Most of the time you don’t.
Not only has this happened to me, I have seen it with my students in classes and workshops. God help us all.
How to Get Over Shame
There has to be a cure. Or at least some tools to get our emotional car unstuck from the mud.
This is where you come in. If you have experience with any of these types of shame and you have any tips or tricks to get out of them, please share them in the comments portion below and we will run them in an upcoming blog. Think of all the people you can help, including me.