The Barrier: Starting high school can be a difficult transition. I remember making a promise to myself that I wouldn’t show weakness to my peers. Instead, I would do everything in my power to seem invulnerable. I was painfully shy back then, and it was difficult for me to meet new people. So, I decided that I would try to make an impression in the classroom.
I would constantly ask myself, “how can I answer this question in the most insightful way possible?” and “how can I employ the most sophisticated language?” The more I tried, the more pretentious I came across and the more desperate I became. You see, there was a time when I was both arrogant and insecure. While I often looked down on class mates for acting foolishly, I didn’t think myself worthy enough to be friends with them. As paradoxical as that may sound, it’s actually not uncommon.
Arrogance and Self-Esteem: According to an article in Live Science, “narcissistic self-aggrandizement may hide deep feelings of inferiority.” Psychologist Erin Myers at Western Carolina University conducted a study in which she asked 71 undergraduate women to rate their self-esteem. They were all attached to a lie detector test; some were told that the detector was off; some were told that it was on. Women reported with high narcissism rated their self esteem higher when they thought the lie detector machine was off. When they thought they were being monitored, there ratings were significantly lower.”Narcissists may be trying to bolster their own feelings of self-worth by claiming to like themselves,” Myers said.
Now, I wouldn’t call myself a narcissist. Thankfully, my need to impress others never reached that level. However, reading this explains how could at I could be so arrogant and, at the same time, feel so insecure.
A Path Forward: My second year of high school, my best friend I decided to audition together. At the very least, we could lean on one another for emotional support. Little did I know that getting into the play would be the catalyst that would eventually cause us to drift apart.
Back stage, I knew I could no longer cling to my best friend. That’s when I learned that, if I was going to make it in the world of theater, I had to bring down the barrier. I had to open myself up, even I looked foolish or idiotic in front of people. My livelihood depended on it.
Vulnerability on Stage: Doing theater in high school ended up being one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. After performing in a full length production, I would go on to do it again and again. Eventually, I learned what it meant to be part of a thriving community. I also discovered the potential of vulnerability on stage. Even when you’ve mastered the dialogue, the blocking, and the mannerisms of a character, there’s still the feeling that you’re not in control; and, often, that feeling can be exhilarating.
Honing Empathy: According to psychologist Thalia Goldstein, being on stage can help actors develop their theory of mind, which refers to their ability to “understand what others are thinking, feeling, believing and desiring.” It can also teach people how to employ empathy. I won’t claim that doing theater made me a better person, but it certainly gave me the tools to enrich my life. I was able to broaden my circle of friends and push myself out of my comfort zone. In three years of doing theater, I played a grandfather, a farm hand… even an assassin; that allowed me to understand and empathize with people I once dismissed.
I ended up doing things that I’d never thought I’d do. I sometimes bared my soul. I explored emotions I’ve never really had to reconcile before. I learned that, by making myself more vulnerable on stage, I could improve my self esteem in every facet of my life. I may still come off pretentious, but I’ve come a long way from the shy, arrogant kid from high school; and, I have acting to thank for that.