Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Camera Shy

My Inner Critic was slow to respond but when it did, its attack was devastating: “What a stupid thing to have done! Everyone will see how bad you are. You weren’t focussed, you hadn’t prepared, you asked leading questions, you were too prescriptive… And anyway, who do you think you are? There are much better and much more experienced people than you. What do you think they will say when they see your lousy performance?!”

That morning six of us had gathered at a studio in central London to make a couple of short videos for YouTube. I would be facilitating two Voice Dialogue sessions that would then be posted on our website and available for all to see on the worldwide web. With the cameras rolling and a small audience to play to, my Presenter - the extrovert part of me that usually takes centre stage when I teach seminars - had taken charge. He had strutted his stuff, delighted to be in the limelight.

But clearly, my Inner Critic hadn’t been impressed. Later that evening, when I was home alone with time to reflect, he made his views felt. On a private “MeTube” video in my head, he projected every aspect of the demonstrations in minute detail. He zoomed-in, paused, magnified and replayed each perceived mistake as I squirmed with embarrassment. “You were hijacked by that Presenter. You were not giving a seminar. It was an altogether more dangerous situation. What were you doing exposing yourself to the judgements of others who might disapprove, ridicule and reject you?! You stuck your head in the air asking the whole world to shoot at you! The only way to stay safe is to keep your head down!”

As I listened to this onslaught I began to recognise the rules of my primary protecting selves: don’t show off, stay in control, think things through, and be well prepared. I realised that my Inner Critic was simply trying to enforce these rules in order to protect the vulnerable parts of my personality - my young Shy and Sensitive selves - and to make sure that I would never expose them in such a way again.

Suddenly I remembered another situation involving a camera. It was 20 years ago when I was studying Voice Dialogue with my teacher Gail Steuart. I had done a lot of sessions with her and discovered many of my selves. I was aware that when speaking as my different selves my body language and facial expression changed. I wanted to see just how different I looked, so I bought a video camera and, with Gail’s permission, arranged to film a session.

We set the camera up behind Gail in the doorway of her consulting room so that it would capture me whether I moved my chair to the left or the right. After a final check to make sure everything was in focus, I switched the camera to record and we began the session.

First she talked at some length to a couple of my very competent primary selves - my Pleaser and my Rational Mind. They felt very comfortable and didn’t seem at all worried by the presence of the camera pointing at them over Gail’s right shoulder. Then a young and tender energy emerged that was very shy. It sat tightly curled on the floor, did not look at Gail and whispered only a few words in answer to her questions. It was very sensitive, anxious about the feelings and opinions of others and afraid of being judged or rejected.

When the session ended we were both excited to see the video. I had clearly gone through some physical changes and was eager to watch my selves in action. While Gail made us some coffee, I rewound the film and switched on the wide screen TV. We took our seats for the show and I pressed “play” on the remote.

I was intrigued to see how as my Pleaser I moved my chair closer to Gail and leant towards her when speaking. My body language was open and my face warm and friendly. I maintained good eye contact and it even seemed like I was playing a little to the camera! As my Rational Mind I sat further back and was sterner in appearance. My face was tighter and my body language more guarded, arms and legs crossed. Again, I was able to look directly at Gail as well as at the camera.

I could not wait to see how I came across as my younger Shy self. I watched as I sat on the floor but was then astonished to see myself move back until I disappeared completely from the screen! Gail and I looked at each other in amazement. I had moved to the corner of the room and curled up out of range of the camera. This was a part of me that really did not want to be seen. Neither Gail nor I had been conscious of this at the time.

To be on camera, or even worse on a video accessible to thousands if not millions of viewers, is terrifying to my Shy self. On reflection I understood that my Inner Critic’s harsh words were actually an attempt at damage control. To be self-critical is less painful than being criticised by others. It is a form of defence, a kind of pre-emptive strike. If I can say, “I know I wasn’t good - I wasn’t focussed, I hadn’t prepared enough, I asked leading questions, and I was too prescriptive,” it helps to shield me from the external barbs of those who might judge me.

The YouTube videos have been edited and are now available for all to see. Just search YouTube for “Voice Dialogue UK” and you will find them divided into 5 short sections. Alternatively you can view each one separately at: and Whenever I sit down to watch them, I invite all my selves to gather around. I put one arm around my Inner Critic, the other around my Presenter and place my Shy self safely on my lap. I invite you to watch the videos and to notice which of your selves are sitting with you. What do they have to say? How would they have behaved in front of the camera? Would they even have allowed you to do such a thing? I’d love to hear their comments. You can post them on this site by clicking the blue “comments” button below. Thanks.

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