An excerpt of Chapter 23 from the book Advice to Those Who Stutter
By Paul E. Czuchna, M.A.
By the time most stutterers become adults they have become profoundly frustrated in their efforts to speak fluently, and irritated at themselves for their failure to do so. They feel that they have at least average intelligence, but have endured endless labor and energy expended during their efforts to communicate. They feel helpless about mastering their stuttering and wonder what is wrong with them. As a result, they fear stuttering more and more and enjoy speaking less and less.
For years most adult stutterers have received well meaning suggestions that have been directly or indirectly aimed at stopping the stuttering altogether. These suggestions imply miraculously quick cures and fluent speech. “Take a deep breath before a word on whicih you may stutter, then say it without stuttering.” “Think of what you’re going to say before you say it, and you won’t have any trouble,” etc.
You, like every other stutterer, have heard such prescriptions that imply and instill within him the belief that it is “wrong” to stutter. In his efforts to speak fluently, the stutterer becomes more and more fearful of being unable to cope with the intermittent stuttering that may occur. The more he struggles to avoid possible stuttering or attempts to hide or disguise the stuttering that cannot be avoided, the more he denies that he has a problem.
There appear to be two main types of stutterers: (1) the covert stutterer who attempts to avoid contacts with feared words and situations that might identify him as a possible stutterer to his listeners and (2) the overt stutterer who struggles laboriously through word after word as he communicates. Which one are you?
Let us look at some of the communicative behavior of the covert stutterer and some of his associated feelings. Covert stutterers scan ahead during their utterances and continuously look for any expected word difficulty that might result in stuttering. They must be fully and constantly prepared for any emergency so they can avoid these words and not unmask themselves. When they anticipate possible stuttering they attempt to avoid direct contact with feared words. They postpone words they must say by various means until they feel they might be able to utter them more fluently. Or, at the precise moment they must utter a particular word, they use various timing devices such as eye blinks, quick body movements or gestures. Rather than endure any obvious struggle that might be interpreted as stuttering, they may attempt to get others to fill in these “key words” for them or completely give up their intent to communicate. Covert stutterers have learned which kinds of speaking situations tend to produce unavoidable stuttering and they have become masters at avoiding these situations (i.e., walking a mile or two to talk to someone rather than use the telephone; sending others on errands which involve speaking, etc.). Do you do these things?
In contrast, the more overt stutterer seemingly “barrels on through” words and sounds quite directly when he expects difficulty during his communication. He may not like his struggling efforts, but he has learned to endure them. At the same time he may have a minimum of word and situation avoidance since he expects to stutter anyway. He may, however, postpone word utterances and do some avoiding of his more abnoxious behaviors during moments of outward stuttering. These stutterers sense the penalty they receive from listeners who become impatient due to the amount of time it takes to communicate. Yet they still like to talk and do so. They resnt other people filling in words for them or attempting to complete their utterances. These stutterers are often profoundly frustrated in their efforts to increase their rate of speaking, yet at the same time they exhibit many kinds of struggling behaviors that really interfere with accomplishing this. They stutter harder than they need to! They do things that actually prevent them from saying their words easily. Perhaps you do, too.
Stutterers do not need to learn how to speak fluently. They already know how to do this even though they rarely pay any attention to their fluent utterances. They may have to learn more about how to respond to the fear or experience of blocking, but they do not have to learn (as something new) to say words fluently. Some of the intense frustration comes from knowing how to say words fluently, yet finding themselves stuck and unable to do so. Stutterers need to learn what to do when they do stutter if they are to eventually reduce the fear and frustration involved. As a tenative reachable goal to shoot for, they must learn to move more easily through stuttered words rather than recoiling from them. They need other choices of ways to stutter when they expect to stutter as well as other ways of completing word utterances after they block.In short, they first need to learn a better way of stuttering, one which will interfere very little with communication. Do you know how to stutter fluently?
Most stutterers initially react with revulsion and rejection to the thought of learning to stutter differently with less struggle. After all, they have spent many years attempting either not to stutter at all, or attempting to hide stuttering when it does occur. The more covert stutterer may respond with extreme fear and panic even to the thought of trying to learn to stutter fluently, for he has spent considerable time and effort developing his many tricks to avoid ever being discovered as being a stutterer. The overt stutterer may have grave doubts that he can ever learn to stutter more effortlessly, yet recognize that this would provide some relief for him. Nevertheless, the thought of learning to stutter more fluently, as an intermediate goal to shoot for, begins eventually to become a possibility. They would prefer to have a quick cure; perhaps if they could learn to be fluent even when they do stutter, it wouldn’t be so bad. How do you respond to this?
The covert stutterer has a longer way to go than does the more overt stutterer. The covert stutterer must first literally rediscover what he is fearful of doing by deliberately stuttering more overtly when he anticipates stuttering. To do so, he must resist using his old avoidance tricks when he expects to stutter. He must learn to endure by experiencing what he is usually only guessing he might do. The overt stutterer, on the other hand, must learn to examine and tolerate more and more of what he actually does when he stutters rather than deny the existence of his obvious stuttering behavior. Both overt and covert stutterers must come to know vividly what is to be changed and get a fairly clear picture of the procedures that will create a more fluent kind of stuttering. They must then learn to build solid bridges to fluency rather than repeatedly trying to jump to fluency and falling and failing. Do you know how to get out of the mess where you now are?
The following crucial experiences, which you must seek again and again, are the basic building materials and equipment needed to build a bridge from where you are now to where you want to be in the future:
1. You are basically responsible for your own behavior, including your stuttering.
2. Stuttering can be deliberately endured, touched, maintained and studied.
3. Avoidance only increases fear and stuttering, and must be reduced.
4. Struggling, hurried escape from stuttering blockages, and recoiling away from expected or felt blockings, make stuttering worse than it need be, and tends to make it persist.
5. Is it possible to release yourself voluntarily from blocking or repeating prior to completing a word utterance.
6. When a moment of stuttering occurs it can be studied, and its evil effects erased as much as possible.
7. Attending to your normal speech and adopting short, forward-moving, effortless moments of stuttering reduces more severe stuttering.
8. The self-suggestion of incoming stuttering can be resisted and words can be spoken fairly normally.
9. It is possible to build barriers to destructive listener reactions that tend to precipitate stuttering.
10. Ambivalence, anxiety, guilt and hostility can be decreased.
11. Every effort should be made to build up your ego strength, self-confidence and self-respect.
12. Society in general rewards the person who obviously confronts and attempts to deal with his stuttering.
13. It is more personally rewarding to stutter fluently than to stutter grotesquely, and it is fun to be able to talk anywhere even if you do stutter.
Will you merely read this list and then forget it? Or will you consider each item carefully and see if you can find some way to use it to help yourself?
These experiences which the stutterer must repeatedly undergo may be difficult to devise or to carry out by the stutterer alone. The stutterer feels in enough lonely isolation with his stuttering problem as it is. Therapy for stutterers ordinarly requires having a competent speech therapist available as a guide, one who can share experiences with the stutterer throughout the course of therapy. The companionsh of a competent speech therapist is usually essential for therapy success. Get help if you can, but if none is available, help yourself. Others have done so!