Recently while at work, I had just finished sitting down to eat lunch, when a woman came over, asked me if I had a few moments, and said, “I understood that you have some knowledge and expertise in stuttering…” She was looking for some information and resources to share with a friend. I said, “Why Yes…Yes I do…I stutter very well!” I laughed and I invited her to sit down and chat. It wasn’t an embarrassed laugh…but a hearty chuckle that erupted from inside. After many years in the stuttering community, I could feel that sense of “Here….Here I am. I have something to share. Let me pass it along.” But it was not always this way.
For so many years, I lived with voices of shame in my head. I felt bad for stuttering, for not being able to do what I’d learned in therapy, for “relapsing”, for feeling like I’d failed after the well-meaning and encouraging words of yet another Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP) saying, “if you can do it in here (in the clinic,) you can do it out there”…and then when I couldn’t, I felt worse.
“In itself, shame is not bad. Shame is a normal human emotion…Shame tells us of our limits. Shame keeps us in our human boundaries, letting us know we can and will make mistakes…Shame as a healthy human emotion can be transformed into shame as a state of being. As a state of being, shame takes over one’s whole identity. To have shame as an identity is to believe that one’s being is flawed, that one is defective… Toxic shame is unbearable and necessitates a cover-up…Toxic shame, the shame that binds you, is experienced as the all-pervasive sense that I am flawed and defective as a human being.” (Bradshaw, 1992, p. vii.)
Words by John Bradshaw, from the book, “Healing the Shame that Binds You” began to transform the thoughts in my head. Until I read Bradshaw in the early 1990’s, I called it “Guilt”, for feeling bad about: still stuttering, not seemingly being able to maintain the gains I’d made in therapy over the years, and on and on… Guilt is the sense of “I made a mistake”, and shame is “I am a mistake (inside).” In short, somewhere along the way, I had changed from “feeling bad” about what I was doing, (stuttering) to “feeling bad” about who I was inside.
Perhaps it is time to set up a new internal GPS, to form new neuropathways and find new routes to go instead of the streets of shame…and not use the bulldozers or jackhammers when we revisit the neighborhoods we know so well. Perhaps we don’t pull into the driveway of the “You can’t do this” family, or we only stay 5 minutes instead of all day at the “What was I thinking?” household. Instead we go down the block to the “What would I want to do differently next time?” household for a cup of tea.
What are just a few antidotes? It seems paradoxical for those that stutter, but Talk about It. Speak the Shame. Share the Sting. We are More than the Mouth. Showing Up is our Superpower. That’s the real beauty of stuttering support…whether it’s a chapter of a support group, reading self-help books/websites, listening to podcasts, or participating in an online video chat like Stutter Social. We show up for each other…for shame cannot live in the light of day, in the warmth of empathy, of someone saying, “Me too.”
Bradshaw, J. (1988). Healing the shame that binds you. Deerfield Beach, Fla: Health Communications.
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