We might think about stuttering as a linear thing. I have a predisposition to stutter, so I stutter. That's it. I can hide it. I can accept it. I can try to manage it.
Well, it's a little more complicated. But let's try to make that complexity simple. I want you to be very clear how stuttering works and what we can do about it.
Stuttering is not a dot. It's not a linear thing either. It doesn't "just happen." Stuttering is an automated cycle that reproduces itself. So, let's see how it works.
At the very center you can see the neurological ground. What is that? Well, that’s how our brain works. Speaking is a complicated process where a lot of coordination is involved. Both mental (thinking, putting ideas into words and phrases), emotional (connecting with another person or the audience), and physical (articulating, producing sounds, breathing, engaging the body, etc.) Neurological predisposition simply means that our brain’s coordination of those processes is not perfect.
The consequence of that predisposition is the starting point of the stuttering cycle - insecure speaking structure.
As a consequence of the insecure speaking structure we get the next element in the cycle - speech impediments. By themselves they are neutral, they are not “bad.” “Regular” non-stuttering people have lots of glitches in their speech and they don’t feel anything about it. They don't bother.
In our case, when the insecurity in the speaking structure is rather consistent the speech impediments become consistent as well. So, we get to the next element of the cycle. That’s helplessness, feeling bad when we’re out of control. Our brain and body generate panic which leads to putting more force into trying to say it fluently which leads to more tension and more severe speech impediments. We feel shame, we feel bad, we feel defeated. We can call it different names, but it’s a negative color attached to speaking interaction as such.
The next stop in the cycle is stuttering anxiety, anticipation and tension even before speaking starts. Once we get here we can say that the stuttering cycle is formed and it starts to reproduce itself. Speech impediments get to the new orbit of automated tension.
I’m walking on stage and I feel a surge of anxiety and tension covering my body. Or another situation - I’m picking the phone and I can’t say “Hello.” In these situations, at this point, our body refuses to play this game. Our brain knows we’re going to lose the game of speaking and presenting ourselves the way we want, and it’s not a pleasant feeling.
Imagine you’re swimming in the sea. And suddenly you see a shark advancing towards you. Your body gets tense before you can think about it. When you touch a hot pan - you instantly pull your hand away - your brain reacts faster than you can think about it. These situations describe how refusal works with stuttering. When you get into a block or repetition or prolongation you can’t control your body doesn’t like that. Your brain doesn’t like that. Your body reacts with tension and withdrawal.
Your brain doesn’t want to play the game it’s going to lose. And it’s making the choice for you. Before you can process the situation. It wants to avoid stuttering, it wants to escape stuttering.
It's hard to see, it's hard to admit.
You might say, “No! I don’t refuse! I don’t avoid it! I’m not hiding stuttering!” Just yesterday, I got on stage and spoke to the audience!
Yes, sure! I got you! You throw yourself to this speaking experience, you say to yourself, “Go! Speak! Come on!” But it’s not happening. You can’t say it “normally, regularly, fluently.” So, you struggle through it.
This struggle represents your brain’s response. It’s separate and totally different from your conscious efforts. While you want to connect and express yourself, your brain wants you to withdraw and stop this game you’re losing.
The brain makes its own choice and we need to face it. It’s real. We can ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist or we can deal with it.
Understanding stuttering better is the key to developing an effective strategy with stuttering.
As long as we try to say it “fluently, regularly, normally” the refusal, avoidance, and desire to hide it are going to be there.
It’s like a stubborn 3-year old that doesn’t want to put on these blue shoes when you’re about to go walking outside. “It’s raining, man, we don’t want our feet to get wet, do we? Come on!” “No” is the answer. “What can I do with him!”
This stubborn “No” when we kind of want to do it - that’s what we really want to change to be able to express ourselves more authentically.
So, how do we unlock this stuttering cycle? How do we remove refusal and create a new cycle where we feel great about speaking interaction?
What usually happens, we start working on the visible elements - speech impediments and anxiety. Yet, as long as the speaking structure is insecure we'll have speech impediments. As long as we feel shame about being different, we're going to have anxiety.
So, instead, I invite you to work on the blind spots - things that we usually either don't see or ignore.
Bringing security to the speaking structure and being open about using the training speech, embracing your difference. This way we can feel that speaking can be relaxing, powerful and expressive. We can feel that there's nothing to hide. We can feel open, active and positive about speaking interaction. We can replace refusal with being truly present and enjoying it.
There are different tools and techniques how to feel more security in the speaking structure. I'm using and teaching the hand stuttering technique. I believe it's the most elegant way how to restore the structure of our natural speaking.
But what matters the most is your intention, your expectations, your identity at that moment.
Are you using your tools from the place of fear or from the place of courage? It brings totally different results.
Are you still trying to say it "regularly and fluently?" Are you trying to escape stuttering better? Or are you tapping into a new identity where you're not afraid of it because you're not ashamed of being different? You're not ashamed of using the training speech openly.
Instead of desensitising yourself to the negative feelings, it's way more effective to find a way to actually like it. When you like it you don't need to force yourself.
I encourage you to stop measuring the number of speech impediments, and measure your emotional state instead. Measure your activity. Measure how you feel. That's how you replace refusal with being truly present and feeling that you belong here.
If you want to go deeper into this topic of creating a new cycle where you feel truly great about speaking interaction,
I invite you to my free training
where I share my view on getting free from stuttering.
And for more interaction,
join the Free From Stutter Facebook group.
Please, don't stay isolated! It's crucial to feel you’re part of the community!