Wednesday Words: Working with the words of therapy around self-worth, self-esteem, traumatic experiences, depressive thinking, daily struggles, life transitions, career development, stuck patterns, and negative/positive thought cycles

Authenticity

The concept of authenticity in relation to stuttering is one that I often encounter in my own experience with stuttering and with other PWS. When asked, most people would tell you that they want to lead an “authentic” life, but what does authenticity actually look like and how does stuttering factor into the equation?

For a long time I believed that stuttering was a major threat to my authenticity, that it was at cross-purposes with the person I wanted to be. I was covert for many years, but when the stress of submerging this part of myself became too burdensome, I came to the somewhat ironic realization that by trying to become my authentic self through achieving perfect fluency, I had actually done the opposite: I was hiding, making myself small, and not allowing others to really know me. At this point I told myself that that the only way to be truly authentic was to stutter openly all the time. This too, however, proved to be very difficult after years of covert programming, and I would feel guilty for occasionally slipping back into my old covert habits.

It took me awhile to recognize that my black and white thinking (either being covert and inauthentic, overt and authentic, or vice versa) wasn’t a helpful way to approach my relationship to stuttering. There is no right or wrong way to be a person who stutters, and we each get to choose which approach will allow us to feel most empowered in any given time or situation. Now, when I think about living an authentic life as a PWS, I try to honestly ask myself what my personal values are, and aim to make choices that align with those values, regardless of how stuttering might (or might not) factor in.

What does authenticity in the context of being a PWS look like for you, personally? In what situations do you feel most authentic while speaking and in life? Do you ever feel that you are not being true to yourself? How do we as PWS know when we are being our most authentic selves?

Gina Davis

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

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Comments

Wednesday Words: Working with the words of therapy around self-worth, self-esteem, traumatic experiences, depressive thinking, daily struggles, life transitions, career development, stuck patterns, and negative/positive thought cycles — 10 Comments

  1. Dr. Davis,

    I am currently attending graduate school for speech-language pathology, and though I am not a PWS, I am extremely interested in the mental aspect that communication disorders of any kind have on each individual. I hope and aspire to be able to advocate for these individuals, specifically PWS, that are affected by psychological aspects and/or mental illness. I may not ever fully understand what it is like to be in other’s shoes, but I am driven to know as much as possible to help the best I can. As a PWS, who helped you along your journey and how did you overcome your personal threat to authenticity? Thank you so much for sharing and being part of this incredibly important forum about Mental Health and Stuttering!

    • Hi Rachel,

      Thanks for your comment! I think it’s great that as an SLP, you are taking an interest in the mental health/psychological aspects of communication disorders. It’s a huge thing that PWSs (and other communication disorders) deal with, and I think it’s vital for SLPs to understand and acknowledge this piece of the puzzle.

      As for your question, I would credit my participation in the NSA (and the people I met through this organization) with helping me along my journey the most. I joined the NSA in 2010 and having a supportive community who understands the stuttering experience has been tremendously helpful. I feel like I am always learning what works for me in terms of authenticity. What feels authentic for me today may not feel authentic tomorrow, next week, or five years from now. A big part of this involves checking in with myself regularly, asking myself honest questions about what feels right (especially in light of what my values are, regardless of stuttering), and trying to answer honestly. Another aspect is in being compassionate with myself. If I do something or make a choice in any given moment that ends up not feeling so great or authentic, I try not to beat myself up about it or generalize that I’m wholly unauthentic as a person. I think that honesty with oneself and self-compassion play significant roles in this process, and that the process is ongoing.

      I’m so glad that you are taking an interest in the mental health component of speech-language pathology!

  2. This is rally interesting because it is similar to the conversation I have been having on my video, how to talk to a person who stutters. I feel that some fluency techniques are not necessarily authentic to my speaking style. I am so glad that you brought up the importance of authenticity and stuttering because I think it is often overlooked.

    • Hi Nina,

      It’s true – not all fluency techniques are authentic to who we are. When I was younger, I wanted fluency at any cost and I was more than willing to forgo my “authentic voice”…because my authentic voice stuttered! For me it can be a challenge to figure out in the moment of stuttering how I want to handle it.

      I agree that authenticity is an important topic. After attending my first NSA conference, I had to ask myself if I was living a life dictated by my own desires and values, or by my stuttering. It can be a hard pill to swallow, but if you’re strong enough to ask yourself the hard questions, I think it can pay off in big ways.

  3. Dr. Davis,

    I’m also a graduate student in speech-language pathology and a friend of a PWS. I’m interested in the balance of SLP therapy and counseling. At what point do you feel it’s helpful to forgo SLP therapy and look at counseling? Or do you feel SLP therapy can fill that counseling void? I suppose I want to ensure I am not providing therapy for someone who would be better suited to go elsewhere. Thank you so much for your time and honesty!

    Kristin Corman

    • Hi Kristin,

      I’m glad you asked your question because we as mental health practitioners want to provide exactly this kind of information and education to SLPs. I don’t think one necessarily has to choose one or the other (counseling or SLP therapy). In my opinion, SLP therapy and counseling can work together to address both the speech techniques and the emotional side of stuttering. The latter is often overlooked (I had a wonderful speech therapist growing up, but we barely touched on the emotional/psychological aspects of being a PWS, which is huge). I think just bringing up the emotional aspects in SLP therapy is a big step, and then, based upon how the person responds, continue to revisit it in speech therapy, or refer to counseling. I think a combination of both can be a great and empowering tool.

      Thanks for your question/comment!

      Dr. Gina Davis

  4. To Thine Own Selp Be True is a difficult lesson to learn, but is so important to feeling authentic to yourself. Thank you for telling your storey about learning this lesson in your life. It took me years to learn and appreciate that my stutter is a part of who I am and how I communicate.

    • Hi Jeff,

      Thanks for commenting. It is true that as much as we may sometimes struggle with our stuttering, it is a part of us and has an impact on the people we become – and therefore has value. Embracing this can feel very difficult at times, but like you said, can also be very empowering.

      Dr. Gina Davis

  5. Gina,

    Great piece and wonderful conversation. Sometimes the stuttering experience creates deeper feelings around vulnerability and disconnection. This can sometimes build and build up over the years. So where to go? From my experience talking about this with your SLP can really help get some support and clarity on how this works inside of us. When and if to see a counselor . . . when it feels hard, scary, or really really lonely. Even if you see a counselor for 4 to 5 sessions it can offer other ways to get grounded and see/feel yourself clearer.

    Best

    Elizabeth Kapstein

    • Hi Elizabeth,

      I agree that speaking with your SLP and/or a counselor can be very helpful to deal with the feelings of vulnerability and disconnection, which at times can be very difficult and overwhelming. I’m so glad to receive questions and comments from SLPs who want to learn how to better support the emotional side of stuttering. It’s a huge aspect and so important for SLPs to understand and address with their clients who stutter.

      Thanks for your comment!
      Dr. Gina Davis