When we are alone, we often revisit the interactions that caused us embarrassment. For people who stutter, these interactions are quite frequent.
You think of the times you blocked while speaking to a teller at the bank. Or the times you blocked while placing your order at your favorite restaurant and now you try hard to avoid the place.
You think of all the fun you could have had if you went to the party this weekend, but then you decide against it because avoiding the trigger words is too much work anyway.
Even hanging out with friends seems exhausting because you have to rehearse every word in your mind multiple times before you can speak.
Do you see a pattern?
You are tired from the unwanted advice, looks of pity, and interjections. Many of us who have been stuttering for a long time find it easier to avoid the emotions, situations, and conversations that may trigger our stuttering than facing them head-on.
Make Room for Positive Thinking
We should begin our journey towards fluency by altering our thought patterns. Avoidance is the most harmful habit. It deprives the speaker of positive experiences that could have been, had they taken a chance. Avoidance worsens the fear and anticipation of stuttering.
If you have been stuttering for years, there is a good chance that you have already faced all types of listeners possible. You have met with the genuinely supportive ones and the critical ones. You already know what types of reactions you will receive while speaking in front of friends and strangers, and how to respond to them.
As a matter of fact, the constant vigilance is quite tiring. Keeping a mental note of all the words that make your stuttering worse and avoiding or replacing them may be extremely taxing if you have developmental stuttering.
It is much easier to just say what you want to say and stutter throughout your speech. It is a temporary discomfort that is a welcome relief from the continuous alertness you have been exercising so far.
Take Steps to Face Your Fear
Instead of avoiding all the situations and people that might make your repetitions or blocks worse, you should try to face them. You may believe that facing these situations contributes to anxiety, but that anxiety is temporary. Imagining all the things that could have gone wrong and subsequent avoidance starts a vicious cycle of anxiety that makes it incredibly challenging for the PWS to face their fears.
How can you start confronting your fears?
You can take the first step even if you haven’t started speech therapy formally. Here’s what you need to do –
- Begin by making a list of the words and situations that you fear most.
- If you stutter on a particular word, begin using that word deliberately and repeatedly in conversations.
- You can use one or more of the fluency shaping and block reduction techniques while saying a feared-word.
- Keep saying the word every day until you can say it smoothly and with ease.
- Then start practicing with the next word.
Continue this exercise until your fear of each word is gone.
Yes. It is a time-consuming process. You may fail the first five times. But, there is nothing to lose. Imagine yourself saying the words without fear and hesitation. Exercise the confidence you gain from that mental image.
If you are afraid of certain situations, try to go back to similar situations.
Don’t avoid your feared words. Instead, search for ways to reduce that fear and discomfort.
That also means bearing temporary embarrassment at times. However, for most of us who have stuttered for a long time, embarrassment or shame is not a new feeling. The only difference, in this case, is that we are in control and, this time, we will ride it out towards fluency.
Explore the Depths of the Unknown
Our fear keeps us from exploring the unknown.
Stuttering has never left your side when you were introducing yourself in primary school, presenting middle school projects, doing projects in college, and speaking during office meetings. You have learned to be afraid of the unpredictable nature of your stuttering. So, when you are stuttering, your natural instinct is to get out of the block or repetition as soon as possible.
In the hustle, you rarely pay attention to what your lips, tongue, jaws, and throat muscles are doing. Sometimes, you may blink rapidly, scrunch up your lips or tense up your jaws to get out of a block. These are all secondary behaviors of stuttering that don't help you get out of a block but may make it worse.
You may have engaged in similar behavior almost involuntarily in the past. However, paying close attention to what you are doing while blocking, repeating, or prolonging can not only help you recover from a block but even prevent it.
You may not have realized this in the past but most of these behaviors are controllable. You need to make small changes to the things you are doing while stuttering. Focus on the actions that seem to interfere with your fluency. To do that you will need to explore the areas of your stuttering that may seem daunting right now.
Once you find the courage to explore these areas, you will realize that stuttering is not a negative magical force. It is simply something you do while speaking. And soon you will also discover that you are able to exercise control over your stuttering and the fear of stuttering.
A good speech therapist and a psychological counselor may help provide you with the tools necessary to explore the roots of your fear and anxiety related to stuttering.
Celebrate the Small Victories
Setting achievable goals is one of the most crucial parts of recovering from stuttering. You cannot aim to achieve absolute perfection the moment you begin exploring fluency shaping and stuttering modification techniques.
You must remember that it is not an all-or-nothing process. Even the best-spoken public figures struggle with some level of disfluency in their speech. Therefore, if you start speech therapy today and notice that you are stuttering on half of your feared words by the end of the week, it’s not a sign of failure.
In fact, it shows that you are a person with tremendous willpower and dedication who has overcome the fear of saying some of their feared words.
Gunning for absolute fluency with zero stutters should never be your goal. That is an unachievable target even for professional speakers. You have lived with stuttering for years. So, expecting to rid yourself of it completely is not only unrealistic but also unhealthy for your self-confidence and self-image.
Instead, you should focus on the small gains that bring you great satisfaction. For example, saying “good morning” with a smile and lowered anxiety at the checkout of a mall. Or, receiving a phone from an unknown caller and introducing yourself as someone who stutters.
In place of hoping for complete fluency, set realistic goals like working on your breathing and lessening the tension on your lips during therapy.
Remember That Relapse Isn’t a Failure
Relapse is always a real threat during stuttering therapy. You should not quit practicing once you see improvements in your speech. That typically happens because you have learned and relearned stuttering and associated behaviors over time. Discontinuing therapy or personal practice allows the acquired stuttering behaviors to return.
A relapse can make you feel demoralized, but there’s always a different way to look at it!
If you are experiencing a relapse or you are afraid of relapsing, instead of courting failure you can think about the arsenal of fluency shaping and stuttering modification techniques that you already know.
You already know the particular exercises that can help you defeat your fear and anticipation of stuttering. You have already found ways to deal with embarrassment and anxiety.
Therefore, a relapse simply gives you the chance to exercise the techniques you have already internalized over the past few weeks or months.
You may consider taking your time to complete the three stages of learning –
- Establishing the new habit
- Transferring the habit to new and different situations
- Maintaining the new behavior
Reduce the Importance of Stuttering In Your Life
Take every chance you get to reduce the importance of stuttering in your life.
Put yourself out there. Go to parties, dinners and speak up at meetings. At first, it may seem terrifying, but soon, you will begin to enjoy the relief you get from facing your stuttering rather than circumventing every feared word and situation to avoid it.
You can attend group stuttering therapy. In stuttering groups, you will meet other adults who share similar feelings and attitudes about stuttering. You can explore the different aspects of speech disfluency and explore the various ways in which you are working on your speech.
Group sessions can be incredibly helpful in boosting your self-confidence and restoring your self-image.
Never forget the truth about stuttering
Stuttering is only a part of your speech. It need not define you or limit you. The truth is that you can do most of the things you want to do in life even if you stutter. A trip to Paris, applying to culinary school, playing pro-football or bungee jumping from the Burj Khalifa – your stuttering won’t come in your way!