I'm a big fan of speaking exercises. But without a clear understanding of what stuttering is we move kind of in a darkness. Even holding the best map in our hands.
So, stuttering - what is it?
You might say, come on Andrey, I know what stuttering is! I stutter, so don't tell me what it is!
And I would say, sure! But right now, you have a perception, a view of stuttering from the inside. Let's try to get out of it. Let's try to get outside and let's try to look at your stuttering from the outside.
Stuttering is a word. If we think about a picture, an image what it would be for you? If you were given a blank piece of paper how would you draw stuttering? What would you draw?
What comes to your mind? Got something? Please leave a comment - I'd love to know!
There are many capacities in which stuttering appears or is being revealed to us or how we view it. Let's talk about four of its capacities.
Sometimes people ask me, "Andrey, are you completely healed of stuttering?" And that brings a feeling like stuttering is some form of a disease. It's like saying, "You know, I caught a cold, I caught the flu." I "caught" it, so it's not something that I usually have. It's not me. That's something attached to me that I want to take off.
And here comes a big question: stuttering - is it me or not me? Does it represent my true nature? Or you feel like no, no, no, my true nature is different, this is just a foreign attachment or some disease?
That's the question we come back to again and again. Consciously or subconsciously but this internal dialogue is going on all the time.
We often go thinking between these two extremes.
One extreme is that it's something external, it's not me. This extreme doesn't let us realize that in fact, it is part of me right now. It is the pattern that I'm having. It penetrates me, it becomes part of me. It is actually part of me and it does represent some part of my nature, it does! My nature produced that so yeah, that's part of my nature.
Another extreme on the spectrum is saying, "Since this is part of my nature and I have some genes inside me that produced that, then that's me! And that means that I can't do anything with that. There is no point in trying to change anything. I should just accept it and be fine with it somehow. I should even like it." Really?
I believe that if you're thinking about getting free from stuttering the truth is somewhere in between. It's a pattern produced by our nature. Patterns are hard to change, but it's something that we definitely can change.
You might say, what's the difference between a pattern and an automated pattern? Not much I guess. But I want to talk about this "automated" piece as a separate thing.
Imagine yourself as a computer and me as a computer, okay? We have hardware like nose, eyes, hair, something we can touch. And we have programs inside, the software, the code that makes us respond to a certain environment is a certain way.
We have all sorts of programs that already "know" how to respond to different settings. When we're in the middle of some process (like playing tennis or speaking) the discretion of our conscious mind is relatively small.
And again, there could be a discussion that we want to be present, mindfulness, awareness - all these are awesome and we want to work on those, but anyway it's absolutely true that when we're in some process like speaking or interaction with somebody we cannot get all of ourselves into that conscious mind and analyze everything and respond with that conscious mind.
Most of it goes automatically.
The practical point of that idea is when we try to use some tricks, some stuttering techniques to get through our speech impediments - what do actually do by that? We get through speech impediments. It can be using devices, using applications that help you get through speech impediments but we're not affecting the program, the software with these tricks and devices. And we do want to get inside to that code and to change that actually.
The practical point is that we don't need the tricks. They can help us with fluency but don't change the pattern. They don't get to the program itself.
Stuttering is not just a pattern. It's not just an automated pattern. It becomes much bigger and stronger than that. It's a state.
Now, what's the difference between a pattern or automated pattern and a state?
Imagine tomorrow you're giving a speech. How do you feel? What happens to you? You start thinking about it, you feel fear, tension starts to grow. You start thinking how to avoid that and how to hide your stuttering. And these thoughts would govern your thinking for all the time before tomorrow's speaking begins.
And you might say that every person would think about it, and feel anxious about the public speaking. Yeah, I would agree but in our lives this fear of stuttering, avoidance behaviors and desire to hide the impediment become more than just an anxiety. These things start to govern our behavior and how we navigate through life.
We start taking decisions in everyday life based not only on regular stuff like I want to do that because I like it, I want to serve people, I want to have a family, I want to have friends, etc. We start looking at life from the perspective how I can avoid speaking. How I can avoid that word. How I can hide my stuttering.
That fear, that tension, avoidance, hiding - these things become roots of stuttering. Extremely strong roots.
They support stuttering, they feed stuttering. Speech impediments become just a tiny top of the iceberg. Below the water stays a huge body of the iceberg that most people don't see.
And often we ourselves also don't quite realize how big it is and what it consists of.
The practical implication is that, okay now I can say what I want to say in a relaxing and confident way in the classroom. Let's try it in real life. No, no, no, no, no!
That internal "no, no, no" is my stuttering.
And each time I go "no, no, no" it takes a lot of courage and a lot of wisdom to get outside and take an external look at what's going on with me.
The concept of learned helplessness came into science after a series of experiments done by Martin Seligman and other researchers.
In one of the experiments, they took three groups of dogs. For one group of dogs, their freedom was limited. For the second group of dogs, again the freedom was limited and they were affected by electric shocks but there was a way how they could escape those shocks. So they quickly learned how to escape those shocks. The third group of dogs also was affected by electric shocks but it was done randomly without any rule and no matter what they tried to do, no matter how hard they tried to escape those shocks they couldn't do that; they could not escape the shocks.
What the researchers found after some time of the dogs being in those conditions was that the first two groups of dogs when the wall was lowered to the point they could simply escape the shocks by jumping over the fence - they simply did that. When they were affected by electric shocks again they just escaped jumping over the fence. And the third group of dogs just laid down, they didn't do anything to escape even though they had a clear chance to escape now.
So this came into a concept and it's really interesting how this inability to have control over our actions leads to this new state which is called "learned helplessness" where we don't even try to escape when you can escape.
And the practical meaning for us is that probably that's the core line of code in our stuttering program, in stuttering as an automated pattern and a state. That tiny line of code which says, "I can't escape that. Whatever I do I will stutter at some point."
And that's the line of code that we want to change to a different line of code which says, "Whatever happens, I can come back to saying what I want in a relaxing and confident way."
That's what regular people have. Because we all have glitches, we all have disfluencies from time to time. But we don't care. We don't notice them. And even if we notice we know that we can escape it, we can control it, we can come back to our regular speaking.
So, with those dogs, how did they start to unlearn that helplessness? They physically had to take those dogs and get them over the fence, do it once, twice, several times to physically show them that you can actually do that. That brought them that feeling back so they started to learn their ability to escape, ability to control the situation back.
Now, getting free from stuttering is a huge separate topic. The very core of that getting free from stuttering again is we want to grow a new type of confidence. Right now, I'm confident that I will stutter at some point. That's the core piece of that program that forms that tree with those huge and strong roots. We want to grow a different type of confidence which says, "whatever glitch I'm having right now I will come back to my regular confident and relaxing speaking; I'm able to do that."
Leave a comment - would love to know what you think!