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Int J Psychoanal. 1979;60(Pt 3):383-92.

Stage fright.


Stage fright is a universal human experience that occurs with varying intensity in everyone who stands before an audience. The anxiety generated in this situation stems from the re-emergence of certain key developmental experiences. The dynamics involved are related both to genital and to pre-genital conflicts. Shame arises from conflicts around exhibitionism, from concerns over genital inadequacy, and from the fear of loss of control. Guilt is produced from the aggression inherent in self-display and from the fear of the destruction of one's rivals, along with the dread of retaliation. A major portion of the stage fright reaction is the reactivation of the crisis of separation-individuation, which generates separation anxiety connected to the fear that asserting oneself as a separate individual will result in withdrawal of love and admiration by maternal figures, i.e. the audience. The various developmental experiences are differentially weighted in each individual's stage fright reaction depending on the vicissitudes of his early childhood experience. Perhaps it is fortunate that few performers ever completely master stage fright, for an intangible sense of communion between the performer and his audience might well be lost as a by-product of the mastery.

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