Stuttering is a highly complicated subject. I have been a person who stutters since childhood, and for the last four years, I have been building a company to help other people who stutter. Yet, I am amused by the fact that almost every day, I learn (or re-learn) something new about stuttering.
My journey with stuttering
My story is not too different from that of others - I grew up being the only person around my family and friends who stuttered, which made me feel quite isolated as neither they nor I knew what was going on. About half of my stuttering events resulted in something to laugh at, and the other half an awkward moment (perhaps only for myself).
Speaking to my family and relatives, it was not any easier than with strangers, which, looking back, seems bizarre. I went to several speech therapists, but I did not gain much “education” around stuttering. So how could I expect that others had any knowledge of stuttering at all?
We, humans, are “fixing machines” - we love to fix broken things since it is in our nature. So, I do not blame anyone (including myself) who tried to “fix my stuttering”.
It is ok to stutter
The first time I heard something akin to “it is ok to stutter” was ten years ago when I attended a speech therapy course (The McGuire Program), and Allan McGroarty (my fantastic course instructor) said to me: There is 0% chance of death if we stutter! So go out there and stutter. This statement blew my mind because until then, I worried about my fluency as if my life depended on it… and I was no longer in danger!
The second time I heard “It is ok to stutter” was from Stamma, the British Stammering Association, some years later. I wish I (and my family and relatives) would have heard and understood this many years ago.
Over time, I decided to move from “it is ok to stutter” to “I want to show everyone that I am a person who stutters” mindset, all the time. This approach worked (and still works) wonders, because the fear of stuttering only fuels more fear of stuttering.
Our graphic designer, Willemijn, explains this well here:
"Stuttering itself is okay, but it can cause a lot of struggle in our daily lives. When we judge and fight our stutter, for example, it can make the stutter last longer and make us frustrated. It’s important to see that the stutter isn’t always the struggle, it’s that we are fighting it. If we reduce the fighting, if we do the actions that are healthy for us, fluency will be a side effect of doing that. Our app will help you stick to those healthy actions, so you become more comfortable in communicating."
Embracing the “It is ok to stutter” mindset without support is hard
I would like to summarise Willemijn’s statement as follows: "Stuttering is not the problem (i.e., it is ok stutter). The struggle emotions we feel and convey when we speak is the problem."
That struggle could be the result of:
1. The stress of not handling pressure while speaking.
2. Uncertainty of not knowing when a block will occur and/or last.
3. Feeling alone and different from others.
4. The frustration of chasing fluency unsuccessfully. This is a great representation of the problem (by Willemijn too!).
In my experience, embracing the “It’s ok to stutter” mindset is not enough to change lifelong habits of trying to do exactly the opposite. When I joined the McGuire program, I would have immediately left the room if the first thing they had told me was that “it is ok to stutter”. Rather, that mindset came two days after the program started, when I had enough peer support and knowledge to embrace that concept.
The journey towards finding joy in speaking never ends
We tend to copy people and people are people - there will always be someone out there trying to “fix” our stuttering. Active acceptance and remembering every day that “it is ok to stutter” is one’s life journey.
At Benetalk we believe that everyone’s journey to finding joy in speaking will be different: for some, their journey may be linear, while for others, it may not. In either case, it will depend on how we manage our emotions on a daily basis.
If we do not remind ourselves daily that we are people who stutter, and stop hiding our stuttering, we will go back to the fear of stuttering, fueling our cycle again. The more we show to the world we stutter, the more we desensitise ourselves from stuttering. Therefore, desensitisation from stuttering (pillar #4 below) is one of our most important aspects at BeneTalk, and the following diagram shows how we believe joy in speaking can be achieved.
BeneTalk also helps handle pressure while speaking (pillar #1) and reduce avoidance (pilar #2). Our app does not detect fluency, rather it encourages a slower speech rate (so we take our time when speaking), whether it is stuttering or not.
Reducing tension to gain some level of control when a block occurs can be very helpful. There are simple practices that help to “stutter more easily” (pilar #3) with less tension (have you tried “fake stuttering”? it melts tension away! 😀). For some people, this pillar may be critical because of their high levels of fear.
Combining all the above pillars makes it easier to ingrain an “It is ok to stutter” mindset and find joy in speaking.
What are your thoughts? I would love to read your responses or feedback!