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Performance Anxiety at Work: Persona & Soul

April 26th, 2016 · No Comments · performance anxiety at work

At this point in time, performance anxiety at work is pretty pervasive.  More people than ever before feel high levels of pressure and demand in the workplace.

performance anxiety at work

As we face the demands of 21st century work, we can easily start to pressure ourselves.  It’s easy to end up questioning whether you’re performing at the requisite level, — or even just outright living in the fear that you’re not.

Can I Perform?

In our time, as psychotherapists know, most workplaces are places of ever-increasing, ever-changing expectations for employees.  It’s fairly easy for employees to feel that their performance, and, in fact, everything that they do, is under intense scrutiny.  This can make us anxious and fearful.

We can fear scrutiny on several levels.  There is the question of just feeling competent at the tasks in our job description.  With ever increasing expectations, it would be the rare human being who never questioned his or her own competence.  On another level, in many organizations, the politics of the environment may be complex and difficult to negotiate, and staying on the right side of power can be a task that requires considerable effort and skill.

The Tyranny of Persona

It’s important for us to be conscious of our workplace persona.  For depth psychotherapy, the persona is our social self, the self we show to those with whom we work.  It functions both as a mask, concealing our true selves and true feelings, and also as a sort of window, allowing others to see those parts of our true selves that we allow, consciously or unconsciously, to come into the work place.

A lot depends on how we sit with our persona in the workplace.  Let’s say I’m a software engineer.  I could choose to be totally identified with that role.  In that case, everything — every last little shred of self-esteem I have, for instance — may hang upon how those I work with view me, or how the organization as a whole views me, as a software engineer.  If I’m given a poor performance rating, my self-esteem may be down the drain.  If I get a great evaluation, my self-esteem may be over the moon — but I will still depend completely on those who evaluate me for positive self-esteem.

So a lot hinges on how tightly or loosely I cling to my work persona.  The more I cling to my workplace professional identity, the more likely I am to have performance anxiety at work.

performance anxiety at work

Soul and Work, Anxiety and Individuation

Social psychologist Prof. Henri Tajfel (1979) of Bristol explained how social groups have an innate need to establish belonging by dividing the world into “them” and “us”.  The pressure to continually prove that one is one of the in group in a work place will always be there to feed our anxiety.

But, what would it be like to gain our identity from somewhere other than the work place?

I know some people in their 20s and 30s who are very fond of the singer Regina Spektor.  One of her songs seems very apt here:

 

Perfomance anxiety at work might actually be the impetus to lead us to a deeper exploration of our unique identity.  This can lead us to a much deeper understanding of our unique story and individual being than we can ever hope to obtain by fusing with our workplace persona.

The discovery of this deeper identity is a key part of the process that depth psychotherapists refer to as individuation.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)