Most of the clients who arrive at the Well Said: Toronto Speech Therapy clinic report that they want to “fix” their stuttering, often “for good”. This is one belief that I often challenge. For many people, the best solution is not to attempt to be fluent 100% of the time, but instead to embrace stuttering as a part of their identity, and learn to work with it instead of against it.
Those who feel significant shame and anxiety about their stutter often do not want to accept it as a likely-permanent part of their lives.
They see acceptance of their stutter as defeat, and living with their shame and anxiety forever. What they may not realize is that making their stutter a part of their personal brand, rather than fighting their stutter, brings benefits that for many people can outweigh the costs of stuttering. Although the full list of benefits would better fit in a book than a blog post, here are some pieces of information that I find myself repeating to clients time after time.
Take Pressure Off Yourself
For many people, stuttering happens most in the situations when they feel they need to be the most fluent. Punchlines are harder to deliver than jokes because of the importance of comedic timing. Introductions are difficult because people expect an answer immediately. Fluency when on the phone is a struggle because the other party is not able to see when blocks occur and they may misunderstand longer silences.
In those situations, people tend to try as hard as they can to control their stutter, using every strategy they have available to them (breaking eye contact, switching out words, etc.) to make their speech fall in line. When those strategies work, they bring relief. When they fail, it can bring shame and anxiety. Either way, it is exhausting to constantly monitor one’s speech for words that may not come out fluently, and to constantly apply different strategies to pass as someone who speaks fluently.
Getting rid of self-imposed pressure to speak fluently can provide many benefits, including:
• Desensitizing people to their fear of stuttering. Over time, this reduction in anxiety can actually make speech more fluent. This is sometimes called the paradox of stuttering.
• Letting people speak their minds. Many people who stutter will avoid saying something they want to say, because they don’t believe it’s worth stuttering to say it. They want to become fluent so that they can speak their mind, but acceptance accomplishes the same task much more easily!
• Improving relationships with other people. By leaning in to stuttering instead of trying to force fluency, people who stutter can focus on how they are participating in the conversation (what they are saying) rather than their fluency (how they say it), and have more energy for relationship-building.
There is no inherent good or evil in stuttering; however, it is certainly notable and memorable. At any given time, about 1% of the population stutters, and many fluent speakers have never before interacted with a person who stutters. In a world where many people try to stand out from the pack in job interviews, their workplaces, or networking events, stuttering can be an advantage. Stuttering is different enough to guarantee that a listener will pay more attention to what is being said, and may lend extra weight to the idea or message behind stuttered speech.
John Moore is one example of an individual who has effectively incorporated stuttering into his personal brand. As a marketing executive, Moore understands the power of a strong brand. In an interview for the National Stuttering Association in 2016 (link below), he described that he uses his stutter to “disarm” his audience, and to “form a bond” with them, and attributes his success on the stage in part to his stuttering.
Try it Out Independently:
For most people, it is very difficult to imagine feeling comfortable with their speech without being 100% fluent. If this article has been interesting to read, try the following activities:
• Start thinking about stuttering as something that does not need to be inherently negative by creating a balanced list of the pros and cons of stuttering. The only rule about what kinds of things to include on the list is that you must always have an equal number of pros and cons.
• Embrace your stutter and gain control over your speech by stuttering on purpose. The next time you are in an easy conversation with a person you trust, add one fake stutter to your speech. If this feels easy, add more, or try adding one with a less familiar person.
• Find a support group for people who stutter in your area, and speak with them about their experiences stuttering. Ask them how they have learned to live with their stutter, and what benefits this decision has brought to their lives.
John Moore’s profile for the National Stuttering Association: https://www.stutteringhelp.org/content/stuttering-public-speaking
Self-Therapy for the Stutterer (11thEdition), by Malcolm Fraser
If you found this exercise very difficult, and/or if you are interested in acceptance-focused stuttering treatment, you can reach out to us at the Well Said: Toronto Speech Therapy clinic using the link below, or by calling (647) 795-5277.