Dealing with shame

I’m curious about the professional opinions of stuttering related shame. I’m a veteran stutterer and have been on a long journey of acceptance. I was extremely covert for many years and was often shackled by deep shame. I am now quite open with my stuttering – I allow myself to stutter overtly and talk a lot about stuttering. I am very involved – fortunately –  in the stuttering community and consider myself to be quite confident most of the time. But shame creeps in every once in a while and I find myself dealing with negative self-talk. I know its necessary to be kind to ourselves and not beat ourselves up, but of course this is easier said than done. Any thoughts on shame busting? What are SLP students being taught about shame, even in those of us who are supposed to be “beyond that?”

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Dealing with shame — 8 Comments

  1. Pamela,

    That is a great question and feelings such as shame and guilty are a very important aspect of stuttering. As a professor, I generally teaching stuttering in terms of the A-B-C model (affective, behavioral, and cognitive aspects of stuttering). I discuss assessment and therapy in terms of the ICF Framework and to consider not only the overt symptom, rather how it affects a person in everyday life – what are the thoughts, and feelings associated. I like to use a lot of personal examples and encourage students to think the same. We all have “things” about ourselves that cause unhelpful feelings and thoughts, that is part of the “human experience” and it only makes sense that many people who stutter would also experience such feelings and thoughts about stuttering. In terms of therapy, I started with a Cognitive Behavior Therapy approach and desensitization activities where we worked directly on acceptance and actively changing negative thoughts with positive thoughts. Over time, I have started to favor the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) approach more in terms of dealing with feelings such as shame and associated. It is not always possible for a person to change all negative feelings to positive like you articulated in your question above. Thus, we encourage our clients to make room for and be more accepting of these negative feelings as well, but at the same time continuing to work toward their goals/values. I have found it helpful to validate these feelings and discuss how these are not “abnormal”; rather, it is very fair to have such feelings. Ultimately the question to ask is whether we are reacting to the feelings and letting them dictate their actions? I like that you put “beyond that” in quotes; as it is very true, we all experience these feelings from time to time – to a lesser extent surely but they don’t always go away. Great question Pamela.


    • Farzan,

      Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I really appreciate hearing what you focus on in teaching about stuttering. I like the A-B-C model and like to see that students are being taught that stuttering is so much more than just what does or doesn’t come out of our mouths.
      Like I said, I still struggle with shame from time to time and it’s a very real part of the stuttering experience. My iceberg is alive and well.
      By the way, I believe I read a chapter you wrote in the book “Turning Points” that was compiled by Mona. It was a great read. -Pam

      • Pam,

        Yes, I did contribute a chapter to the book Turning Points, edited by Mona Maali, which was part of the NSA Austin chapter. Glad you had the chance to read it, it is an excellent resource for PWS as well as SLPs (in my opinion). Thank you for sharing your experience in this post/question as it resonates with my own experiences (personal and professional) that feelings such as shame and guilt never really disappear, rather change in how and when they impact us. I like how you put in your comment that your “iceberg is alive and well”. If you do not mind, I will steal that line for my future classes and clinical interactions as an analogy.

  2. Pamela,

    Chapter 6 of my book, “From Stuttering to Fluency: How to Manage Your Emotions and Live More Fully” deals with how to conquer shame and fear. Here is an excerpt that helps you to understand and [later] conquer shame. “Any full definition of stuttering includes emotions such as shame and anxiety…Shame and anxiety are not products of stuttering, they are products of our thinking…Shame is an emotion you experience when you don’t feel good about yourself. It begins when you do something that you believe publicly reveals one of your weaknesses or defects. Perhaps you regard your stuttering as a weakness or defect and you feel ashamed whenever you stutter in public. Shame—often accompanied by guilt—can also occur when you think you have let down people who are important to you…”

    How do you deal with shame? First ask yourself “What type of thoughts lead to shame? The two key thinking styles that lead to shame are (1) having rigid views of what you should and shouldn’t do, and (2) thinking less of yourself for not living up to your rigid ideals…”

    After going into more details, I offer advice on saying goodbye to shame. “Because you create shame with the way you talk to yourself, you can eliminate it by changing the way you talk to yourself.” Your self-talk is sprinkled with statements like “I must not have a repetition or block, I need to speak fluently.” “I should have spoken fluently; I’m such a loser.”
    Then it is time to challenge your unhelpful self-talk. “Instead of saying, “I must not stutter,” tell yourself, “it’s okay to stutter; there is no law of the universe that says I must be perfectly fluent.” With well-constructed arguments I convince the reader that even though I don’t cheer about having a stutter, I can acknowledge my stutter and still work on reducing its severity. The final conclusion is that you do not have to define yourself–the complex individual that you are—by any one characteristic. When you learn to separate your intrinsic self from your characteristics, you will have taken a big step in unconditionally accepting yourself. (see chapter 8)

    In summary, whenever you feel sliding back into the feelings of shame, remember you can reduce shame by orders of magnitude by detecting your unhelpful ideas about whatever you are ashamed of and then using logic and scientific method challenging them. Rereading the above passage—or the more detailed explanation in my book–will help you to have fewer and fewer shame attacks!

    Good luck,
    p.s. Remember that we all are fallible human beings and time to time we will slide back into modes of thinking that exacerbates unhealthy negative feelings such as shame, anxiety, guilt etc. But remember also that our self-talk, our beliefs, and attitudes determine how we ultimately feel. So use logic, evidence, and the question “Does this help me?” to dispute and change those feelings that lead to shame.

    • Thank you Gunars for the thoughtful response. I have not read your book, but the paragraph you provided is very useful. However, I am not sure I’ll ever actually “conquer” shame. It seems to wax and wane, but inevitably pops up when I least expect it. I will try to think in more logical terms so that I don’t get bogged down in unhealthy thoughts. -Pam

  3. Hi,
    This is an interesting question. I do not know what SLP students are taught about the shame. But theoretically it comes from the social and self-inflicted stigma of stuttering, and the value system that one should not have a deficit, and that the defect is the most important thing to be repaired in the world. (I am not a psychologist. Wording may not be refined.)
    To be beyond that,
    1) Everyone has one or two (or more) bad habits or drawbacks, which is not very important in social functioning (at least in the more or less rational adult world around you). Companies and societies are build on the strengths of their constituents, but not on their weakness, though the latter should duly regarded.
    2) Shame is a sensation primarily to improve on one’s weakness at least as good as one’s peers so that the weakness does not impede one’s life too much. But it’s sometimes taken advantaged of by mean people, which is not your problem.
    3) If you have been traumatized by the past experiences, you may want to talk to a clinical psychologist if it is causing the current shame. It cannot be solved by reading text.
    4) It a matter of choice. You can prioritize the desire to talk (with risking your stuttering to show) and the desire to avoid shame. What you have to be aware of is that you are making the choice all the time. You should be content with your choice, whichever it is, on individual occasions, because it is you that makes the choice. Depending on the situation you would choose one over the other, which may not be consistent, but still OK. Then you are always content with your choice and the result, and happy.


    • Koichi,
      Thanks for the great reply. I agree with you that shame is deficit based. I have spent a good amount of time in my life trying to be a perfectionist and overcompensating in other areas in my life to make up for the deficit I always saw stuttering to be. Thankfully, as I’ve gotten older, it’s been easier to stop doing that, but like I mentioned, shame still rears it’s ugly head from time to time, and many of those times, it surprises me, because I think that I have surely got past that.
      I appreciate your suggestions, especially the one about seeing a clinical psychologist, which I did for a number of years. It was very helpful. -Pam

  4. Hi,Pamela,

    Shame is more researched by social emotion researchers. In the field of stuttering, many people just mix shame with guilt, and other negative social emotions. I don’t think there is much teaching for the student SLPs about shame and how to help PWS to overcome shame.

    Basically I feel that it takes time for one to deal with shame. The emotion of shame is very deep. As one becomes old, as I am now, it is easy to accept stuttering or other imperfections of ourselves, partly because at this time one gets comfortable of one’s own image. But to which degree counseling or any other measures will help a young PWS regarding one’s shame, I really don’t know. In some “shame” cultures such as Japan and China, young people can get beaten for shaming the family; sometimes it works, sometimes it does not.