How an introvert can overcome their fear of the spotlight

 Overcome performance anxiety – and be seen, valued and recognised for who you are


You know you have a special gift. Something you can’t keep to yourself and even if you’re not very clear what “it” is. You know you have to allow this gift to be seen if you’re going to move to the next level in your life. This may be in your career, or because you’re seeking a beautiful person to share your life with, or because you feel strongly called to move in a new direction.

You’ve been to all the seminars about how to be more successful. You’ve read all the books about what you need to do to achieve your goal. You know what you should do. But if you’re an introvert you can’t see how you’re going to carry that out.

Fear of the Spotlight

Because most of the things you need to do require you to do things you’re not very comfortable doing. It requires you to be in the spotlight and you have a love-hate relationship with the spotlight. It may also require you to socialise, go to parties and networking events – and your pet hate – get on the telephone and talk to people you don’t know and feel you need to impress.

And that’s a huge stretch.

telephone photo
Is “cold calling” your pet hate?

Introverts’ natural terrain is within. That’s what an introvert is. They excel in the written word, with thoughtfulness. They write brilliant letters and emails. And they are wonderful listeners.

Many introverts are brilliant designers, engineers and inventors. They can work things out in their mind to the tiniest detail. But verbal communication and action is another matter. The introvert has to make a big adjustment whenever they move out of their area of comfort and into verbal expression. Then they can become tongue-tied, inarticulate and clumsy.

So when it comes to moving into the spotlight, whilst there may be a part of you that really wants to be seen and valued for who you are… there’s another part of you that much prefers to hang out on the sidelines.

When it comes to moving into the spotlight, whilst there may be a part of you that really wants to be seen … there’s another part of you that much prefers to hang out on the sidelines.

You actually enjoy watching everyone else having a good time, and that can be a huge asset. You’re a great friend, a wonderful listener or parent and everyone values you for that.

That is one of the wonderful things about being an introvert. You are at your best in a one to one situation when you can wax lyrical on a whole range of topics. Then it seems you have no problem expressing yourself verbally. You are equally fine when someone calls you up. Then your phone phobia disappears like magic!

But you know you can’t rely on one to one situations and people phoning you up if you’re going to be successful in the way you want. And the way you deserve to be.  In order to make a breakthrough, you know you have to move out into the world. You have to stand in the spotlight and face your audience.

How Do You Get Better at Being in the Spotlight?

But how do you get better at standing up in front of groups? How do you get better at networking and communicating with strangers? How do you get better at talking to people you haven’t met on the telephone?

Believe me, it can be achieved. I am an introvert and I am good at all these things. I fool the Myers Briggs test in terms of the behaviours I exhibit. I can stand up in front of groups and express myself confidently. I love events where I get to meet new people. And I find it very easy to make friends. I appear for all intents and purposes to be an extravert. I have managed to acquire many of the skills that an extravert naturally has. And as a result of that I feel a lot happier and have achieved things that simply would have been impossible – if I hadn’t broken through the walls of my introversion.

Hiding Behind Walls

However for many years, long before I even knew what an introvert was, I hated the spotlight. Ihated people paying attention to me. My quiet voice could hardly be heard and people were constantly telling me to speak up. This only made me withdraw into my shell even more.

Although nobody exactly told me this, I felt that there was something wrong with me. It seemed I wasn’t like other children, I wasn’t a good mixer or team player. I didn’t fit in with how I was supposed to be. Or so I thought. According to statistics, at least one in three people are introverts. If I had looked around me I would have seen that a lot of other children were just like me.

This is fairly typical. Many introverts feel as they are separated from other people. They cannot EVEN see the other introverts around them.

In my case, it was as if there were walls between me and other children. I was trapped within those walls – unable to come out. So I withdrew within and found a wonderful world within. I read and read, the rich world of my imagination provided for my every need. And for a while, I was totally content to be within those walls. I was safe and I was protected.

Is there something holding you back? A wall you can’t seem to break through?
I was trapped within those walls – unable to come out.

But I also knew that I wasn’t very happy. I couldn’t share the rich world within me with anyone else. No one knew who I truly was. Everything was bottled up inside me. I wasn’t really being myself – the self that came out from time to time in private.  In actual fact, I didn’t really know who or what my real “self” was.

And there was a part of me that really wanted to find that bit of me. I knew that there was a free spirit within me that was just dying to be let out.

Surprising Everyone

And then I surprised everyone during the school play when I was about 9. I had been cast in a very small role. And even though I hated being in the spotlight, this was bearable because I was sharing the spotlight with other children. Whatever happened made an impression on my teachers. The quiet girl who wouldn’t say “boo to a goose” came out and revealed herself as being rather expressive!  Perhaps too, a little bit of that locked away spirit was able to come out.

And this is fairly typical for many introverts. Acting can be a vehicle for many introverts to express the deeper parts to themselves. In fact, many actors are introverts. Alec Guinness, one of the finest English actors was one. He was a private man who never gave interviews. But this did not stop him from turning out a magnificent performance and having an exceptional career. He perfected a minimal style of acting that has influenced generations of young actors.

But in my case sadly nothing happened for years, because there was very little drama in my further schooling. And what was there was too overwhelming. I was either chosen to be the fourth soldier (a non-speaking part), or I was put in a situation where I was put under pressure to perform and that only made me clampdown.

It was only in my twenties when I discovered drama in a safer context that things began to shift. Then all the hidden and buried parts of me began to come out. I could express feelings that previously had been barred to me. I could speak up in front of groups, and people began to see me in a very different light. I appeared to them confident, assertive and intelligent. Can you believe that one teacher in my early schooling labelled me as stupid! An experience that is shared by many introverts, even though as a group we have above-average intelligence.

What Makes an Introvert Tick?

So how do come out of your shell?

Before I uncover the wonderful process in which an introvert can come out of their shell, you need to understand a little bit of what makes an introvert tick.

Having a protective shell is a natural part of being an introvert.

An introvert is a bit like a snail or a mollusc. It has a shell which it can withdraw into whenever predators are about. When a snail comes out of its shell it is extremely vulnerable. And this is how many introverts feel. They will only come out of their shell when the conditions are safe. And they retreat back into that shell only too quickly at the least sign of threat.

And so this is an important thing for you as an introvert to learn. To appreciate the gift of your vulnerability and to allow it to be seen.  You don’t need to hide it away. And indeed in most situations, your vulnerability will be appreciated. It will melt the hearts of the people around you if you present it in an authentic way.

Why is Verbal Expression So Difficult?

Being an introvert is not caused by any psychological fault. It isn’t due to some trauma you experienced as a child that scarred you for life.

The difference between the brains of introverts and extroverts is the way we respond to the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine usExtroverts

Dopamine is simply more active in extraverts. This means they are more verbally proficient. Introverts use a different neurotransmitter called acetylcholine which is what enables them to excel in the area of thinking and deep reflection. See this article on recent research of the introvert brain

Another theory is actually due to the alpha brain waves in the cortex of the frontal lobes of your brain. Extraverts simply have more of these than introverts and this means they are more verbally proficient. Introverts have more brain waves in other areas which is what enables them to excel. See research from 2001 about this theory.

So it is important as an introvert to recognise all the areas in which you excel. Notice and appreciate the richness of your inner world even if you don’t think you have one. Notice how beautifully or elegantly you write, how deeply you think about things, your way of seeing things that other people don’t see, and your ability to discover new things about the world or yourself.

You may find it very easy to meditate or to go within. You can hang out for hours in your day or lucid dreaming and that is where all your best ideas come from. You may have a deep and fulfilling spiritual practice, and have a profound ability to enjoy Music, Nature or Art.

You also do not always hang out on your own. Think of all the stunning and rich moments you’ve had with other people. Your capacity for depth and intimacy, and your ability to know and understand someone deeply.

The Walled Garden

An introvert is also like a walled garden. You may be aware of the walls of your garden, walls that separate you from other people. This can make you feel isolated from them. And it also makes it hard for you to share or reveal the beautiful garden within that you have tended and nurtured.

Colourfull Garden
Sharing the beautiful garden within that you have tended and nurtured

Many introverts are not aware that these walls can make them come across as aloof. An extravert will see those walls and won’t know how to penetrate them. They just know they need to keep away.

Some introverts indeed feel as a result that they are invisible. Other people walk right past them without really seeing them. Even though the introvert may be very keen to be noticed and interact with those people.

If this has happened to you, painful as this might be, it may be that you are putting out a message that is actually pushing people away from you. And if you have experienced these rejections often enough, as many introverts have, this can have an undermining effect on your confidence.

Many introverts that come to work with me, notice that this begins to shift quite dramatically. That the people who previously kept their distance begin to start to move towards them, and so they are able to enjoy the easy social interaction that can make life so pleasurable.

You may of course be one of the introverts who are totally content within your walled garden and feel no need to seek or share it with other people. This of course is a powerful choice, but many of the people I work with discover that this is a way of protecting themselves because they have been hurt, let down or rejected too many times.

The Fortress

And then the walled garden becomes more like a fortress. And like the long term captive who has become institutionalised, and can’t see how they’re going to survive in the outside world…

Many of my clients feel restricted and inhibited within their walls, and can’t see any way that those walls can come down. But then are surprised when the walls that have been such a feature of their lives, simply melt away.

Because it’s not about tearing down the walls. It’s about the blossoming of what is within the walls.

Bunratty fortress - Ireland
It’s not about tearing down the walls of the fortress, but allowing what is within the walls to blossom.

Then the walls transform and are no longer the means to keep other people out. The walls are in truth the walls of that beautiful garden, covered with creepers and vines of all varieties, on which wonderful blossoms can grow. These walls are there for the simple purpose of keeping the wind and the fierce elements from ravaging the garden. This is what keeps the garden so beautiful.

And then you will know that you are both the gardener and the garden. Because in truth the solution to the problem that most introverts face is not a technique, but a quality of being. Of being effortlessly and completely yourself. The self that you always knew you were but have forgotten. It is not about putting on a mask or pretending you are something other than what you are. It’s about letting the “hidden you” reveal itself.

Basking in the Spotlight

So in summertime, you throw open the gates and invite the world in to view your garden. You stand back and listen to the sighs of wonder and pleasure as your visitors admire the vast array of rare species that you have tended and grown. All the spectacular colours and the intoxicating scents that pervade every square inch of this peaceful place.

Then you can bask in the spotlight and allow yourself to be seen, valued and recognised. Not only for what you have created but for who you are. And there is nothing that gives your “audience” more pleasure. They can bask in your reflected glory and share that with you. Because you are not coming from a place of ego or the need to prove yourself. You are coming from a place of sharing your gifts and what you have come to bring forth in the world. And then it is easy to be in the spotlight.

Closing The Gates

And there will be a time to close the gates of the garden and usher your visitor out. Every introvert needs time for contemplation in their garden alone, without any distractions of the world for a while.

Then you can truly have the best of both worlds. You can operate potently in the outside world, sharing yourself and the gifts that you bring, and you can have quality time with yourself, restoring your energies and taking time to think, feel and conceive your next move.  The two together indeed represent a powerful concoction.

Gate Ajar
Take time for contemplation in your garden, without any distractions from the outside world.

© Claire Schrader

Want to learn how to feel more comfortable in the spotlight?
You may like to join one of my unique confidence building courses to help you gently move through the fear barriers of being in the spotlight.

6 thoughts on “How an introvert can overcome their fear of the spotlight”

  1. Hello Claire, my name is Ryan David Santillanes and I am twenty-one years of age. I am the epitome of an introvert. Speaking in front of large groups is currently one of my biggest fears. I am very uncomfortable in the spotlight and have extreme difficulties expressing myself. Breaking out of my “shell” seems impossible and has only lead to discouragement. Teachers are constantly pressuring me for input during class discussion, but shyness hinders my ability to speak up and appear knowledgeable about the topic. I wish to become more engaged during class discussions and overcome fear of being in the spotlight. Please help me understand why I am so socially awkward.

    1. Hi Ryan – thanks so much for posting on this blog and I resonate with your situation. It was about your age that I got totally fed up with being shy – and was determined to put a stop to it. One of the reasons that you are experiencing so much discomfort, is that the more your teachers put pressure on you to perform better – the worse it is getting. Pressure is not good for introverts – it makes them shrink into their shell even more. It also creates a trauma reaction – so now on top of the shyness you’ve also got trauma about being shy – and this makes it harder and harder to break out. You need a really safe place to break out of your shell – and if you were in London I could help you with that. If you haven’t got my free e-course then I suggest you do – it will help you to understand this a little better: https://www.makingmoves.net/free-e-courses/free-introvert/ Another really good book is Susan Cain’s “Quiet”. I hope this is helpful.

  2. Claire….you are just one word….Amazing!!!!!!!!!!!

    Your writting is one of the first to really get to the core of my problem and solve it.

    Really, thank you from the depths of my heart.

    Tons of Love, Khadijah.

  3. hi claire……….am stammerer….introvert…..shy…..am having problem to attend interview cos i can not stand the interviewee.
    i always tremble. pls was your advise. am troubled.

  4. Pingback: Article: promote yourself - overcome performance anxiety

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