Evolution of Our Distorted Unspoken Minds – Kunal Mahajan

About the Authors: Kunal Mahajan has been working in Investment Banking for 10 years now within the Leveraged Finance industry.  He started his career at Barclays Capital, then at Mizuho Securities, and has been at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation as a Vice President for a year now and resides in New York City today.                As a lifelong person who stutters, Kunal struggled with his stutter until he obtained acceptance of his stutter in July 2017.  He has attended three intensive stuttering clinics, the Northwest Ohio Stuttering Clinic at the University of Toledo, the Successful Stuttering Management Program at Eastern Washington University, and the Northwest Center for Fluency Disorders at Idaho State University.  Kunal went on to become Vice President at his Toastmasters Club, a Tour Guide at Carnegie Hall, a coach at the Dale Carnegie Leadership Training course, and can be found doing stand-up comedy at open mics at various venues throughout New York City.

Please note that the following is based upon my personal experiences and observations from dealing with people who stutter.

Speak Your Mind.  It is ironic that this is the theme of this year’s International Stuttering Awareness Day online conference as Speaking Your Mind is the last thing that those of us who stutter tend to do.  Why that is the case is what we must examine and fully understand.  Most of us have never gone down this route because we are afraid of what we may find, however, since when has refusing to acknowledge something that we know may not be pleasant, ever allowed us to get over anything?

What exactly has our mind been telling us our entire lives?  It has been telling us that it is not ok to stutter.  We have grown up in a school environment where kids pick on anyone who is different than the rest of everyone else.  We can all remember at least one incident where one of those bullies at school poked fun of our stutter in front of everyone and embarrassed us.  We go to speech therapy because our parents force us to as they want us to stop stuttering and therefore we want to stop stuttering ourselves, however, the countless hours of speech therapy do not seem to work as we are expecting to completely lose our stutter through therapy.  Doing presentations is a part of the school curriculum starting at a very early age and we dread these experiences which only allow us to fail in them that much more.  We watch the media and society tells us that actors and Hollywood are the most successful and well liked people in the world and they all consist of the best looking and most confident people we have ever seen who are speaking so eloquently and confidently in front of masses of people.  We start to equate this confidence and their eloquent speech with their success and we view our stutter as the opposite of that and start believing that we can never achieve that kind of success because of it.  We are told that girls love guys who are confident and we recognize that we are so insecure about our stutter and try to deny and hide it.  This behavior makes us realize that confidence is the last thing that any of us stutterers have, so we live most of the early part of our lives not building any meaningful connections with people of the opposite sex.  We start to have job interviews which consist of phone interviews and in-person interviews which we come to dread more than anything else.  We are taught that we must be confident in interviews and we equate in our mind that confidence must mean ‘not stuttering’.  This leads us to spend our entire interview trying to hide our stutter and doing everything we can to not stutter, however, not only does it not work, but we are too obsessed with focusing on our stutter that we fail to actually think through the interview questions themselves to provide strong answers and build a connection.  We get rejection after rejection and we put all the blame of the rejection based upon our stutter.  We believe our stutter is a significant weakness of ours and therefore we cannot do a job that requires a lot of communication skills.  We resort to pigeonholing ourselves in more lower paying back office type of roles where we do not have to communicate as much and give up pursuing jobs and careers that we know we are qualified to do and have been our dream jobs.  We end up sitting in these jobs where we do not have to communicate and get by while we avoid every speaking opportunity we can and therefore never improve our communication skills.

As you can see, a person who stutters (PWS) who speaks their mind will be speaking of a flurry of negative lifelong experiences.  PWS choose to not speak their minds for this very reason.  However, we all have our tipping points in life and there comes a time when the weight of these negative experiences is just too much so that we begin to finally start to recognize why these experiences are happening, and we start to speak our mind.  This is what leads us to become deeply depressed as we start to reflect on just how much our feelings towards our stutter is impacting our lives and how much unhappiness it is causing us.  We realize that hating our stutter so much has actually caused us to hate ourselves and we start to recognize just how depressed we really are in life in general.  We begin to lose all hope and when we feel that we are at rock bottom, we are finally able to get the courage to seek help.

Seeking help is what allows us to begin to slowly change this distorted and negative mindset that we have created after spending a lifetime of hating ourselves.  We first attend a live-in intensive stuttering clinic where we go away for 2 weeks to work with a speech and language therapist (SLP) for 40 hours of therapy a week and they help us gain acceptance of our stutter while teaching us ways to better manage our stutter.  We start to develop some hope and our minds begin to open up.  We recognize that the damage that we have done to ourselves is too great to reverse in just two weeks so we then begin to see a mental health therapist to help us get over our depression and our distorted mind.  This therapist takes us down a journey that we have avoided our entire lives, which is reflecting on all of these negative experiences that happened in the past.  It is painful to remember these instances, but we begin to understand why they happened and that gives us a small dose of closure.  This therapist starts to help us realize how distorted our minds are and that our minds are made up of our negative perceptions as opposed to things that are factually true.  This recognition allows us to start to challenge ourselves for the first time in our lives and we begin to have hope that there is a path to happiness for us and that there is something about our stutter that we can do.

We realize the value that having support gives us, and we end up joining the National Stuttering Association so that we can share and listen to stories from other PWS and have a community of people we connect with, who we recognize are fighting the same battles that we are.  We learn from them and we start to hear from them about some of the actions they have taken to improve their confidence and communication skills and we become empowered to try these things ourselves.  We find ourselves joining Toastmasters and start giving speeches in front of our club who provide us with valuable constructive feedback on our communication skills.  We start to recognize that everyone cares about effective communication and that effective communication skills are something that both PWS and non-PWS have to work on.  Some of us PWS will stay at this point having accepted our stutter and continue to slowly work on our communication skills.  Other PWS will feel so empowered by understanding themselves and their progress, that they will continue to raise the bar as it relates to their speaking opportunities from Toastmasters, to giving presentations at work, to becoming a tour guide, to doing open mic stand-up comedy, and the possibilities end up seeming endless.  Most importantly, these PWS are able to not just improve their communication skills, but they are able to be comfortable with being a PWS and of being their true genuine self, which brings them a great deal of confidence and happiness in life.

While it is easy to understand now why a PWS does not choose to speak their mind for decades and decades, it is clear that the sooner  PWS can do so, the sooner they can truly turn around their distorted mind and turn their life around.  As the great V said in his speech to the nation in the film V for Vendetta, when discussing who was to blame for the dictatorship government, “If you’re looking for the guilty, you need only to look into a mirror.”  I ask all of you PWS out there, how many more years and decades are you going to let go by before you look into that mirror yourself?  How much longer will you go before you start speaking your mind?

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Evolution of Our Distorted Unspoken Minds – Kunal Mahajan — 13 Comments

    • Raymond,

      You are not alone and you should be proud of yourself for having the courage to admit that yourself. This recognition is the first step that is needed for us to ultimately get motivated to change and get the help we need. I am confident you will be able to transform that distorted mind of yours just like I was able to do so. It will take work and it will certainly be an up hill battle, however I know if you put the work in you will be able to reverse this negative psychology many of us stutterers have developed over a life time.

      — Kunal Mahajan

  1. Hey Kunal – great paper and so much truth. For years and years, I let my negative self talk be my truth and I would never speak up or out. I honestly didn’t think my voice was worthy of hearing. Now, you really can’t shut me up.

    I think we are in the process of being “introduced” by Tammy from the NSA about a potential project. I looked at my Facebook friends list and see that we are already connected but I honestly don’t recall if we have met in person. If we have and I’ve forgotten, I apologize, because you for sure seem to be somebody I need to know.

    I will be in NYC on 10/21 for the NYC Stutters One Day Conference. Will I by any chance see you then?


    • Pam,

      That is great you were able to turn the corner yourself and see that your voice is certainly worth hearing. It is understandable that the negative self talk was your truth because we spend decades telling ourselves these things and holding ourselves back, however it says a lot about you that you were able to see that this was all internalized and that you don’t have to let it stop you from speaking up. I was able to finally go out and seek the help I needed because I finally recognized the challenge was so steep that I needed help to reverse this negative psychology and distorted mind that I had created after decades of reinforcement and I feel blessed there are so many resources out there for PWS.

      Yes I am sure we will be chatting about that project soon and I do hope to make the conference on 10/21 so will certainly see you there.

      — Kunal Mahajan

  2. This is a great paper, Kunal. Thank you.

    Not only have you made a whole lot of progress on your speech, more importantly, you have thought through the entire process. Others who stutter can take heart from your message and start/continue the process of healing.

    You are destined for good things in your life. I’m pleased to have been an early part of that.


    • Dr. St. Louis,

      Thank you for the kind compliments. I wish I would have made these realizations back in middle school and high school when I first started seeing you in therapy as I would have gotten back decades of my life of pain and insecurities that I would have never had to experience. However, I know that everyone has their own journey and I just feel grateful I was able to make the realizations now vs. in 10 or 20 or more years from now.
      It really is amazing to me how different of a person I am now vs. that little kid who came into your office to see you to get my stutter “fixed”. I know sometimes we have to go through life experiences before we are willing to change, however, I often wonder what would have happened had someone sat me down earlier in life and delivered the hard truth that I delivered in my presentation to everyone here. I am sure it would have been a lot for me to take in and a difficult message, but without a doubt I know it would have been the best thing for me because I know the reason why so many of us PWS have trouble turning the corner is because we have lived with this distorted mind for decades and decades. Reversing that mindset at a young age is so important so I only wish the young PWS out there and others can learn from this article to make the realizations and turn the corner without having to go through additional life experiences before they decide to make the changes.

      — Kunal Mahajan

  3. Thanks, Kunai, your article was informative and fun to read. I think it is important to train young people who stutter to use skillful ways of speaking their mind everyday in every situation. Lourdes

    • Lourdes,

      Thank you for the compliments. Yes I think the reason why it is so difficult to reverse so many stutterers distorted mind is that because they have had this mindset being re-enforced from a very young age and so with having that mindset for decades it is very difficult to reverse. I think if we can get the young people who stutterer to obtain acceptance at a young age and start to get motivated to work on their communication skills just like any non-stutterers need to they will not have such a negative distorted mindset that gets developed over a lifetime. I think had I gotten involved in the National Stuttering Association at a younger age and attended the annual conference when I was young, my journey towards acceptance would have happened much sooner in life and would not have endured so much pain and let it hold me back so much. The key is to get people who stutter to get motivated to want to improve their communication skills and it is hard to get this motivation to do so when you have such a distorted mindset. I spent my whole childhood and younger years just going to speech therapy, but was never focused on improving my communication skills and confidence which is really what I needed. If we can teach these young people who stutter these lessons, we will be literally saving them decades of unnecessary pain.

      — Kunal Mahajan

  4. Thank you for sharing, Kunal. Your introspection and motivation for self improvement are very inspiring! You mentioned attending speech therapy in school and intensive clinics as an adult. As an adult, have you also attended one-on-one speech therapy? I am familiar with both models, but I am interested in your perspective on the difference in beneficial experiences between the two.

    • Nicole,

      Thank you for the comments and appreciate the compliments. Yes my entire childhood and throughout high school was focused just on speech therapy and didn’t start attending intensive clinics until I became a professional and really didn’t start working on becoming an effective communicator until a year ago (when I was 31 years old). Before I went to the intensive clinics, I was doing speech therapy as an adult as well. I would tell you that the speech therapy I had over the years (both as a child and an adult) was not particularly effective because of the fact that I never had obtained the acceptance. It is very difficult to be motivated to implement different speech managing techniques when you still do not have the acceptance and have such a distorted mindset because even when you are managing your stutter, you don’t think you did a good job of it because your distorted mind makes you feel that any stutter is a failure and people are judging you no matter what. I was not able to make any real progress until I obtained the acceptance AND I realized that while MOST people do not care about whether I stutter or not, they DO care about how effective my communication skills are. Reframing that mindset and realizing that to be an effective communicator it takes a lot of work that everyone (whether you stutter or don’t) have to work on and that there were programs designed for people in general to improve their communication skills is what got me motivated to put in the work to change. Many people who stutter just spend most of their time being concerned if people are judging them on their stutter and stressing out about how they sound, but very few are actually putting in the work to improve all aspects of their communication skills. Through Toastmasters and the Dale Carnegie Leadership program, I was really able to see what are the things that make people effective communicators and I quickly realized I did not have any of those things and that I was a very poor communicator. Those programs gave me the education of what effective communication really is and provided me a forum to adopt some of these principles which has allowed me to become an effective communicator today. Speech therapy cannot improve these communication skills like these other programs can and lead you to this path of becoming an effective communicator. However, my intensive stuttering clinics were crucial towards getting me to obtain acceptance and helping me recognize that the world is focused on our communication skills, not our stutter, and once I had that integrated into my mindset my journey has been all about improving my communication skills everyday. I find the stuttering and speech community do not emphasize this point enough and I think by not doing so, it gives many people who stutter a free pass thinking that they are not responsible for putting in the work to become an effective communicator. They therefore never do put in that work and never do become an effective communicator which is something that holds back many people in life both professionally and personally. Obtaining acceptance is just the first step. It is what you do after you obtain the acceptance is when you really will start to shine and be able to realize your full potential.

      —- Kunal Mahajan

  5. Thank you for sharing your amazing journey and allowing me to gain a better insight of what my patients experience. As an SLP graduate student, I believe that it is unfortunate that society has created a stigma of PWS and have treated them unfairly. I am interested in ways that I can build my patients confidence and help them feel accepted. What advice do you have for me when helping students self-advocate and build their confidence?

  6. Kunal,

    Thank you for sharing your story. What you said about the power of seeking help to slowly transform a distorted and negative mindset resonated with me. Like yourself, a large part of my transformation has come from challenging myself to communicate more effectively. To that end I am pursuing speech pathology so that I can share my journey with others.

    You mentioned the negative experience of young people who stutter participating in speech therapy in school. What advice would you give to the speech therapist who works with young people who stutter to improve their experience?


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