by Marty Jezer

There were no self-help or online discussion groups when I was growing up. Not until I was in my twenties did I meet and talk to an adult who stuttered. I wish that as a kid, I had had that opportunity. Looking back, I wish someone who knew what it was like to stutter, had told me that there was nothing to be ashamed of for stuttering in public.

Shame! We who stutter may be born with an organic or genetic predisposition to speak disfluently, but we are not born feeling ashamed of our stuttering. Shame has to be learned, and can therefore also be unlearned. The first step is to become aware of what shame is, and where it comes from. By shame I mean the wish to disappear when we are stuttering in front of other people, and the desire to be silent rather than risk being perceived as person who stutters.

I learned shame from my otherwise well-meaning parents. When my parents talked to other adults about my speech, they often did so in a hushed voice, as if was too painful to talk about as normal conversation. Playing near by, my ears would perk up. I always knew (kids do!) when I was being talked about. And I always knew by their urgent whispering when they were talking about my speech. If they had to lower their voices when talking about my speech, then my stuttering must be something awful.

So parents, listen up! Be aware of the messages you convey by the way you speak about stuttering. Stuttering is nothing to be ashamed of, for you or for your child. Don’t be afraid to talk about it openly and normally, between yourselves and with other adults, and openly and honestly with your child who stutters. But one can’t blame it all on one’s parents. I bought into their message. I accepted their definition of stuttering as something I should be ashamed of.

I didn’t have to and neither do you. I’m an old guy now, over 60. I still stutter but I do so without shame, without fear of how others perceive me. Though I kept pretty quiet as a kid, I discovered, as I grew up, that I really like talking to people. Not everyone is as naturally talkative as I am. Some of us are naturally quiet. And that’s fine, there’s no one way that everyone ought to be. We all need to explore who we are and come to understand (and like!) our respective personalities. But only after we overcome the toxic feelings of shame can we truly come to understand and appreciate our true selves -in all our uniqueness and individuality.

I only wish I had someone to tell me this when I was young, an adult to help me become aware of what the feelings of shame were doing to me. Or to have older people to act as role models, to show, by their example, ways I might overcome my self-destructive feelings. In discussion groups like this, and in self-help organizations like Friends, CAPS and Speak Easy, those role models are available. Pay attention!

I’ve one other point. The more accepting I am of my stuttering and the less shame I feel about being disfluent, the more willing I am to say what I want to say even though in saying it I still may stutter. And also, the more self-accepting I am, the less tension I have around my lips, mouth, vocal cords and other speaking organs. Self-acceptance isn’t in itself a cure for disfluent speech, but it sure makes speaking more fun and easy.

This article from Reaching Out, October, 2004

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