When I am working with clients, I am often reminded of a day of play that taught me a lesson in life. It showed me how easy it is to create a state of fear, and how quickly imaginary monsters created in our mind can become our beliefs and attitudes that drive our behaviors and reactions.
When I was 12 years old, my mother went out for a few hours leaving me at home with a friend my age. Looking for excitement, we pretended to be two little girls, home alone when a thief was about to break in. Knowing the only room with a door that locked was the bathroom, we grabbed some chips and Coca Cola and made a run for it. During the hour or so that followed, we talked about how afraid we were and imagined the danger we were about to encounter (fearfully sneaking out to gather more snacks to take back to our bathroom hide out). Suddenly there was a loud noise outside the bathroom door. By this time, we had worked ourselves into such a state of fear that our hearts raced; we were close to real tears and were too afraid to come out to see my mother opening the front door.
For people who stutter the monster can be specific speech sounds or words. Often based on memories of a past experience that might have made them feel embarrassed or frustrated, they are convinced that the danger is real. Consequently, they react by putting themselves in a mode of flight or fight. They either fight to get these sounds out with as much effort as possible, or they take flight, avoiding the sounds by scanning ahead and substituting words that contain different sounds. The end result is that they are inadvertently interfering with the normal way of speaking. They are making it more difficult to speak, the sounds or words become even harder to say and the belief is reinforced.
When imagination takes over, logic is often ignored. The fact that the same people are able to say their “hard sounds” when they are singing, talking to babies, dogs, themselves or in many other situations may not really matter to them. Facts can become an annoyance to the emotional brain that works according to feelings, not logic. However, as clients make progress, they realize that their problem is not the actual speech sounds. Their problem is that they are scanning ahead or “trying to get these speech sounds out”. This realization brings change and allows them to use the automatic process that they have learned. Thoughts change, feelings change. The imaginary monster looses its power to make them react in a way that creates stuttered speech.