Your True Self

The third and final thing I picked up from the Stuttering Brain is this:

3. After the stutter, we feel regret or shame. We identify ourselves with the stutter, and thus become covert. This becomes who we are instead of our true selves. Thus, we lose our authenticity.

I talked about authenticity before, but I wanted to make some more points. What Tom said is that if we are interviewing with a company, and they make a big deal out of our stutter, do we really want to work for them? Is that the type of unnecessary hardship we want to put ourselves through?

On the same interview idea, they should know that we stutter. This is how it’s going to be. This is how we are going to present ourself, but we can still tell them we can maange it, and we have pushed through it before. The work should define us, not the stuttering. We need to be our true self.

One of the more tricky points though about authenticity (in my mind) is that after so many years of covert stuttering, our personalities are set. Many things are defined by the stuttering. And now, at age 35, I’m saying I’ll put all that aside and let my true self out. But what is that true self after so many years?

Is it the true self who wanted to speak up so many years ago, didn’t, but then learned from experience that being a loudmouth isn’t always desirable?

Is it the true self who wanted to ask a question in class but instead had to find answers on my own — leading to a drive to be more self reliant?

Is it the true self who wanted to participate in a group presentation but told the others I’d be happy to put more effort into the presentation — making me a valuable and reliable coworker?

I guess the main question is trying to compare our stuttering self with what we think our non-stuttering self would be like. And that’s very difficult. We’d like to think we would have done things differently, said different things, had different outcomes. We’d like to think that version is better. So if we ignore the stuttering, push through it, and educate our friends, that better version will come out.

But I think that really discounts a lot of the positive outcomes of stuttering. We sell ourselves short by doing that.

I’m not saying we should let our stutter define us. Definitely not. But at the same time, we should acknowledge that it has had a strong effect on our lives — sometimes for the better. We are probably better listeners. We don’t make silly comments all the time. We are more patient.

I’m not sure if I’ve really expressed this the way I want. I may revisit it again in a few weeks once I sort out some more feelings on it. I suppose a relevant thought exercise is this: If you woke up tomorrow morning and didn’t stutter, what would be different?

I think there’s a big difference in that answer at age 10, 20, 30, 40 and beyond.

Your Stuttering Associations

The second thing that I picked up from Tom is closely related to the first but slightly different:

2. During the stutter, we feel that if we are stuttering, it’s a negative situation. Thus, we make negative connections with situations. Then avoid them in the future. However, these connections can be broken and positive associations made.

Whereas the first thing I talked about — theories — is more of a drawn out, lots of thinking approach, this is more of a gut feel. These are the results of actually having engaged and stuttered in a situation. These are ones we don’t even bother thinking about anymore. With the theory, we talk ourself out of calling the credit card company or approaching a stranger. With these associations, we either make a quick excuse to friends first, or just change the subject or walk away.

For example, if we are listening to a radio station, and they’re asking trivia questions. And you know the answer. Eh, whatever. Not going to bother calling in. Of if the teacher is asking for volunteers for some kind of speaking role. Or if you’re in a room full of mostly strangers — you just hang on to the those who you know and talk to them.

The point of this is that these are all negative associations we have built up. But what Tom said is that they can all broken. And not only that, but they can be built again in a positive fashion.

Again I’ll reference my France trip — I went up to a stranger in a small town. Sure he was an older gentlemen, but a stranger nonetheless. I didn’t want to. I didn’t have to. But I did. I made a connection. I spoke, I stumbled, but overall it was positive. Score one for talking to strangers.

Is it a long process? Oh yes. Is it pleasant? Probably not. But can it be done? With enough work, yes. We can go from not wanting to pick up the phone to hesitating to pick up the phone to picking up the phone. These are small victories, but slowly those associations and pathways are being rewired. As I said yesterday, the world isn’t going to end.

I suppose one thing I could do to nerd this up a bit is to make it objective, put it all down on paper. I write down those situations that scare the crap out of me (still). Write down the experiences that I can remember that make now feel this way. (I bet I would struggle to do this). And then seek out opportunities to engage people and change my negative associations.

It would also then be worthwhile to write down all the positive experiences. And weigh them against the negative. I know it’d be way out of balance. I know the stuttering isn’t a big deal for the casual listener. But it’s so engrained that it’d really take a lot of practice to change my own perceptions. But I’m willing to do that.

Are you?

Your Stuttering Theories

So here’s the first part of what I got from Dr. Weidig, the Stuttering Brain

Before the stutter, we imagine what horrible things are going to happen to us if we stutter and if we are found out. But that’s just a theory. And theories should be tested.

What do we mean by this? Well, it’s rooted in fear and shame. We have fears of speaking and feeling humiliated. We are ashamed of our stutter, and how we are not perfect. So what we do is dream up scenarios (often elaborate) of why things will go south if we open our mouths:

1. If I call about reducing the APR on my credit card, they will ask for my name and date of birth. And other numbers. I don’t want to stutter through them. The APR is fine.

2. If I ask the police officer or security person for directions, he might think there’s something wrong with me. He might start asking me questions that I’ll stutter on. Better to just try to find a map and figure out where I am by myself.

3. If I ask the stranger on the subway next to me how to make a transfer, I might stutter. He’ll think I’m weird or on drugs or who knows what. I’m better off staring at the map and trying to figure it out myself.

4. If I advertise my stutter during an interview, they might not hire me. I’d better just suck it up at my current job.

5. If I speak up during a company meeting, my colleagues will think less of me. I’ll just stay quiet.

And so on.

So these are all theories. They deserve to be tested, no? Why not just speak and see what happens? Either what you think will happen will happen, or the opposite will. If it’s the opposite, then you got the information. You made a connection. You make your life easier. You conveyed information successfully. You’ve boosted your confidence. Your colleagues went up to you after the meeting and thanked you for speaking up and saying what they were all thinking.

If you stutter and crash and burn, so what? Did you die? No. (Tom made a strong point about this — it’s our caveman reaction to run from fear and avoid it. But we’re just talking. We’re asking for no whip on our venti nonfat mocha. We’re not facing down a mastodon). Did the world come to a halt? Did everybody at the Starbucks suddenly stop sipping and stare at you while you stuttered out your order in line? No, of course not.

I loved this idea because I really lived it while in France. I would go up to the bakery or whatever, roll out a “bonjour,” and then think of what I wanted and what I wanted to say. I was testing out theories. And in all cases, the world didn’t end. I didn’t get deported. My friend didn’t look at me funny. I got what I wanted when I tried to order.

Most importantly, I still want to go back and speak more.

Meeting the Stuttering Brain

After the shenanigans in France, my buddy and I headed up to Luxembourg to meet Tom Weidig of the Stuttering Brain. And yes, it was a full-on stuttering vacation, complete with three countries and plenty of people who stutter.

I met up with Tom, and he gave me a great walking tour of Luxembourg City. What I noticed first was that Tom stuttered, but he just plowed on through, still talking, still communicating. And none of it bothered him. I was still getting used to listening to other people who stutter, but this was inspirational for me. Tom didn’t slow down one bit in his tour (he also walked pretty fast) and as someone whose family is from Luxembourg, he had a lot to tell.

We ate dinner, and he shared his thoughts about stuttering and his attitude toward it. A lot of what he said echoed the workshops during the NSA conference. But with Tom, it was more direct. It was great to meet and talk to someone who had such a healthy relationship with his stutter.

After dinner we walked through the city some more. Tom even tried to find someone who he knew just so I had to introduce myself! Fortunately he wasn’t successful. We had some ice cream — I ordered what I wanted — and then we parted ways.

Let me briefly summarize my understanding of Tom’s points on Stuttering. Then I’ll get into them more this week.

He didn’t state them this way per se, but after thinking more about it, it follows a natural sort of course.

1. Before the stutter, we imagine what horrible things are going to happen to us if we stutter if we are found out. But that’s just a theory. And theories should be tested.

2. During the stutter, we feel that if we are stuttering, it’s a negative situation. Thus, we make negative connections with situations. Then avoid them in the future. However, these connections can be broken and positive associations made.

3. After the stutter, we feel regret or shame. We identify ourselves with the stutter, and thus become covert. This becomes who we are instead of our true selves. Thus, we lose our authenticity.

You can see how they are tightly connected and flow into each other.

What I really enjoyed about Tom is that I felt challenged after talking to him. Everything he said was clear and made perfect sense. Everything he said could be put into practice to make myself more accepting of my own stutter.

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