In Presence, Cuddy speaks to performance anxiety and the resulting self-focus as narrowing, constricting, enshrouding our best selves with a disempowering emphasis on others’ opinions. She describes the “imposter syndrome” (in which we experience negative thought during high stress situations) occurring at exactly the moments during which it can do the most damage.
A feeling of unworthiness derives from the impact of significant others – e.g., parents, teachers, employees at work who delight in taking pot shots at their peers. She describes the plight of a female physicist who obtained her degree from an exclusive, prestigious institution, only to be derailed by someone who regarded her as incompetent. If circumstances result in one’s “fuzzy bucket” running on empty, there is little left to bolster the self-esteem of those who experience torment.
Bullies’ impact extends far past temporary physical discomfort. Their antics impede our ability to move forward, to present ourselves before others as individuated entities without fear or deep seated feelings of unworthiness. A lack of presence squares unpleasantly with what our audiences expect, opening us to critiques of “unusual demeanor,” “unenjoyable experience,” or “disengaging presentation.”
Conversely: when you’re on fire people take notice – applauding your efforts, asking for curtain calls and command performances from larger than life persons – those who leave us eating out of their hands. Lack of presence leaves us cowering, unclothed, grasping for words, over prepared but in the final analysis rendering an underwhelming final product – in an unseen, but perceived opaque fog of insecurity. Cuddy equates presence with personal power and disempowerment with anxiety – and the debilitating self-flagellation which occurs when we are less than stellar. Bullies leave targets’ self-concepts stripped, razed of the esteem affirming insulation of applause.