It’s common for people who stutter to avoid the subject of stuttering. Many are simply too embarrassed to speak about it. If your stuttering has caused you pain in the past, this is surely a natural reaction. In daily life, you’d sometimes rather pretend your speaking difficulties didn’t exist. Not referring to your stuttering, not talking about it can seem an infinitely easier option than bringing it up in conversation.
Understandable though it is, avoiding talking about stuttering has some negative consequences. It communicates a message to your listeners that this sometimes obvious interruption to the forward flow of your speech shouldn’t be openly acknowledged. Most listeners are respectful and follow that lead. They take their cues from you as the speaker and avoid referring to the speaking difficulties they can so often easily see and hear.
If we think about that, it’s a rather strange dynamic where speaker and listener are engaged in a pretence, a fiction. The psychologist, researcher and expert on stuttering, Dr Joseph Sheehan, referred to this unspoken agreement as a ‘baby hippopotamus effect’. If two people are in conversation and there is a baby hippopotamus sat between them, but neither person refers to it, that would be unusual to say the least. Stuttering can be like that.
The alternative is to go right ahead and discuss stuttering with friends and acquaintances. This is a powerful way of bringing your stuttering out in to the open. It might feel awkward and take some courage in the beginning, but it can help greatly with self-acceptance. It’s a way of tackling your feelings about your stuttering head on.
As part of his Avoidance Reduction Therapy, Sheehan suggested asking people you know the following questions:
Have you ever known other people who stutter?
How does my stuttering affect you?
What do you think causes stuttering?
What do you think should be done about stuttering?
If you do this with several acquaintances, you’ll no longer be hiding your stuttering. You’ll be publicly acknowledging it and so less likely to fall into the trap of covering your stuttering up. This exercise allows for future fluency failure. You’ll be giving yourself permission to stutter, to be dysfluent. You’ll also be learning how generally supportive and considerate most listeners are. All of this helps reduce fear and tension.
As an extension of the exercise, as you grow more confident, you might try talking about your stuttering with a stranger or two asking the same questions as above. Many people who stutter have benefitted from that. You can too.