Blog by Voon Pang

It’s the holiday season and I thought I would finish my last post for 2013 by discussing the "gift of empathy." A wonderful colleague of mine at the Michael Palin Centre in London introduced me to the work of Dr. Brené Brown, an expert researcher on shame and the ability empathy has on extinguishing shame. Shame relates to stuttering by feeling defective, bad, or a "failure." For some people who stutter, feelings of shame can emerge in the school age years when he calls himself a "stutterer" and it is the way he is. These feelings can linger into adulthood and reduce the overall quality of life in adults who stutter as "shamed people want to hide."

Although feelings of shame may emerge as children get older, there are many things we can do to extinguish shame. In his book, Stuttering: An Integrated Approach to its Nature and Treatment (3rd ed), Dr. Barry Guitar wrote the following, "Shame can often be reduced by being more open about shaming experiences. When a child can talk to an accepting clinician about his stuttering experiences, especially negative listener reactions, his shame decreases. When he can talk to his parents about stuttering and they can listen and accept his feelings, his shame decreases more. When he can talk to his peers, maybe even his whole class, his shame may almost disappear.” (pg. 354)

Dr. Brown takes it one step further and says that three things are needed for shame to grow: secrecy, silence and judgement. "You put the same amount of shame in a petri dish and you dowse it with empathy, you've created an environment that is hostile to shame. Shame cannot survive being spoken. It can't survive empathy. If something very shaming happened to me, and I call you... and I tell you, and you express empathy, shame can't survive it. Shame depends on my buying into the belief that I am alone. " 

To wrap things up, give the "gift of empathy" to someone who stutters. It may be an easy gift to give, but we don’t often do it enough.

Happy holidays and take care everyone!