Streets of Shame

About the author:  najmanHeather Najman is a Rehabilitation Counselor and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner © in Los Angeles, where she has a private practice assisting individuals and their families with decreasing stress and anxiety and increasing resiliency. She has been involved with the stuttering community for 30 years, is currently a National Stuttering Association (NSA) Chapter co-leader, a co-host on, a Toastmaster, and has presented workshops at several NSA and National Council on Stuttering conventions.

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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Streets of Shame — 68 Comments

  1. Heather, love your insight! I recently posted a video on YouTube entitled “Talking Without Shame for Persons Who Stutter” ( which addresses the very heart of what you’re sharing. I share two personal experiences and some related thoughts from Dr. Brene Brown’s research on shame. Thank you for openly talking about this very real emotion.

    • Thank you, Ana for your comment! I am a huge fan of Brene Brown’s work! When I started thinking about this piece, it was her work that I was going to quote, but it was Bradshaw’s work years ago that got me thinking about shame. I love her work for making shame so “accessible”…as she talks about it in terms of “not good enough”, and I haven’t met many people that don’t feel that at some point—not “thin” enough, or smart enough, or rich enough, and so forth… I look forward to viewing your video!

  2. Hi Heather — wow! I would love to find out more about what you do. I am parent to a 19-year old who stutters, parent advocate, and author of “Voice Unearthed: Hope, Help, and a Wake-Up Call for the Parents of Children Who Stutter.” At the heart of my concerns is how children are too often set up to fail with speech tools and techniques – even though this is not our intention. You might want to read my paper here, “Still More Questions Than Answers.” Thank you for sharing your story — it is powerful and I will urge parents at the Voice Unearthed Facebook page to read your paper. My email is

    • Thank you, Dori, for your thoughts! This is definitely a “work in progress” and I plan to add more to this topic of Shame, or as Brene Brown brilliantly speaks and writes about it, all the ways in which we are “not good enough.” It is a tricky balance, a tightrope, so to speak. In a recent talk I gave to SLP’s and parents, I related how a well-meaning therapist in grade school had tried to encourage me by saying, “If you can do it in here, you can do it out there!” (use the techniques she had taught)… But for me, it triggered a shame spiral, when I wasn’t able to consistently use the techniques, (i.e. be fluent) outside the clinic. It’s tough…she meant well, and we need Encouragement…It wasn’t until later that the idea of “Permission” came in to my brain, after coming to the stuttering community, and giving myself permission to use tools, or not. Every day, all the time, was just not realistic for me. It works for some, and I believe that each has to find what works for them. “WIT”–Whatever It Takes.”

  3. Heather, what thought-provoking words these are!
    As an individual who does not stutter and as a student in communication sciences & disorders, this is a very insightful article for me to read. Thank you for sharing your experience; guilt and shame are very deep and personal topics to discuss. To clarify, was this process of distinguishing between guilt and shame something that happened largely because of the book by Bradshaw? If you don’t mind sharing more, was there a particular reason why you decided to read his book?
    I like the switch in perspective you discussed in the second to last paragraph. Of course, you write about it in the context specific to stuttering, but this change of mindset can also be applied to any challenge where “toxic shame” is involved. To recognize that the former way of thinking is self-defeating and not helpful and then to approach the same challenge with your mind set on how to truly build yourself up is quite the transformation!
    Lastly, I cannot claim to understand others’ experiences with stuttering, but would very much like to provide “the warmth of empathy” that you mention. How can someone like me still be empathetic and compassionate with PWS? What is actually helpful?

    • Acacia, yes…the distinguishing of guilt vs. shame, doing something wrong vs. feeling like I’m wrong came originally from reading Bradshaw’s book. Originally, I read his book because I was working in an addiction treatment program, and was reading a lot of work related to healing inner wounds, and his work nailed it on the head for me. Now, Im reading a lot of Brene Brown’s work, as it has a very universal feel to it, for I think everyone has an area or areas where they feel “not good enough.”

      You ask an excellent question, which I shall think more about. What comes to mind at first is “Listen.” Be Quiet. Ask questions, and listen to the answer. I was fifteen years old before any speech therapist asked me how I felt about my stuttering. Come in to the therapy room with an “empty cup”. You know about stuttering, but you don’t know yet about *my experience with stuttering. And lastly, (for now…) look within. See where your challenges are, where your edge is, where is life hard for you…and see how that softens you.

  4. Heather, thank you for the wonderful paper. You get right to the heart of what is holding many of us back. I am sure many PWS, and their families, will be superbly helped and empowered by your paper.


    • Thank you, Hanan. I appreciate your kind words. It is a topic that many are hesitant to talk about, (of course! Shame thrives on not being spoken), but it shows itself so often, whenever we feel embarrassed, or “bad” about how we handled a situation. I’ve appreciated our conversations on this, and look forward to continuing to uncover and discover more…

  5. Heather,

    I felt that your article was very insightful towards PWS and their reaction. As a future Speech-Language Pathologist, I believe it is very important to understand my clients feelings so that I can help them in the best ways possible. I cannot imagine what it must feel like to bear the shame you talk about in your article. I am wondering what information you would like future SLPs to know when taking on a client who stutters. Is there anything you can think of that would be beneficial to both the therapist and the client?

  6. Heather,

    Thank you for sharing your story and being so vulnerable. I am a first year speech-language pathology graduate student, and in my counseling class we just watched Brene Brown’s Ted Talk on “Shame”. I am so glad I was able to read your story so shortly after watching Brene’s Ted Talk. Your story has inspired me and given me insight that I can use as a future clinician.

    • Thanks, Nicole. Glad to hear that the SLP counseling classes are touching on this topic, and that you find this useful.

  7. Hi Heather,

    I really enjoyed your paper, how open you were, and your analogy towards stuttering. I was wondering if there was a specific moment, or turning point, when you felt completely open to your stutter and that you could embrace it. You mentioned Bradshaw’s book and how it began to transform the thoughts in your head, but I wanted to know how your first experience completely embracing your stutter felt like for you, if you don’t mind of course!

    • Thanks, Lauren. You raise an interesting question…I don’t know that there was “a” moment, but a series of moments. Probably the biggest nudge for those moments was becoming involved with the stuttering community, originally through the NCOS, then the NSP which is now the NSA. Shame thrives on isolation and withdraw. It was in the halls of many of a hotel, (or at the hot tub, or the bar or sharing a dinner with 15 other PWS’s) that the openness grew. Even now, there are moments of “not good enough”ness, whether related to my stuttering or other issues, (and I’ve yet to find someone who doesn’t occasionally have a “not enough” about something in their lives…) so it’s not a done deal! I remember a friend/teacher who said, “it’s a myth that ‘it gets handled.” What she meant was, it’s a myth to say, “oh, I looked at that issue. I dealt with that.” Periodically, issues arise…and like climbing a tree…the issues come around again, but we can see/feel/experience them from a different perspective.

  8. Heather,

    Your paper is so insightful and honest. You spoke about the “well-meaning” SLPs whose words of encouragement were anything but encouraging. I am a graduate SLP student and I don’t want to make the mistake of causing any future fluency clients emotional distress by making naïve, well-meaning statements. For a client who is feeling guilty or ashamed, what is the best approach to addressing this issue? What are some things that should be said and what are some things that should definitely be avoided?


    • I know that there is a trend in the SLP training towards “fluency”…i.e. “fluency clients” 🙂 Don’t be afraid to use the “S” word. I am a person that stutters. By keeping the focus on fluency, I think that SLP’s and PWS’s can sometimes miss another “F” word—Freedom. Freedom to use the tools, freedom to say what we want to say, with or without techniques. But I digress….
      I can’t say a “best” approach, but only perhaps what I would have wanted to hear.
      What that SLP said to me was not necessarily wrong, but in hindsight, I wish they had also said something along the lines of, “and it’s not your fault when you have days when a) your stuttering will increase, and other days when b) when you may not feel up to working as hard as you do in the therapy room.

  9. Great paper Heather. I dealt with shame due to stuttering for so long, and still do feel it creep back unexpectedly every now and then. It’s a real emotion that can overpower us at times. I deal with shame for other issues as well, and sometimes it feels as if its eating me up. Then I read this and realize that it is a gift to myself to let it go, release it like a balloon. Thank you. -Pam

    • Thanks, Pam. I’m reminded of a phrase that I’ve heard several times in recent weeks, “Recognize and Release.” Acknowledge and Release. Not saying that’s *easy 🙂 but a good reminder.

  10. Heather, I really enjoyed how in your paper you talked about the “streets of shame”, driveways of “you can’t do this”, etc. As a future speech-language pathologist, I think that these analogies can be extremely helpful if I am working with a child who stutters. I have come across instances when children, too, have felt shame about themselves or their stutter, but being able to get them to see that may be difficult due to age and cognitive ability. The analogies you posted can be used to give them a visual and help them understand and identify their feelings. Is there anything you wish any of your SLP’s would have done to better understand and identify that you were feeling shame?

    • Thank you for your kind words. I like analogies and metaphors…and am continually surprised at what comes forth when I am open to them in the spur of the moment. It’s simultaneously easy and hard to say looking back as an adult…but I think I would have wanted a SLP to have asked me, and acknowledged how hard it was. There’s an exercise I do with kids/teens, and sometimes adults, with a paper plate or mask, drawing what we show on the outside vs. inside, that can be a good lead to discussing what we keep hidden inside vs. showing others.

  11. Hello Heather,
    I really enjoyed reading your paper. It put into light a topic that is so difficult to discuss and that sometimes gets swept under the rug. With the analogies that you chose to use, I found myself being able to relate more to a person who stutters, although I will never truly know what it’s like because I do not stutter. As a future speech language pathologist I also can see how those analogies can be used universally for so many other communication disorders and other areas in life in which we may feel shame or guilt. I would like to thank you for opening up on such a personal topic. One thing I would like to know though, is if you have any resentment towards the speech language pathologists that gave you the ‘encouraging’ words of advice that you could do it outside of the therapy room? Instead, what would you have preferred the SLPs to do?

  12. Hi Heather,

    Thank you for being so open and creative in sharing your story with us. I am seeing that there is a common theme of the empowerment in being open with stuttering. As a graduate Speech-Language Pathology student, your comment about SLPs peaked my interest. It seems like you found success and power outside of the therapy room, so I’m curious about where that came from. What could have been incorporated into therapy that would have given you these same feelings and attitudes? Is it something that an SLP could do, or did you get that empowerment from outside the therapy room for a reason? I’m just wondering what could have been done at an earlier age to give you these same revelations you had later in life.

    Thanks again for sharing your story,


    • Thanks, Tara. Your comment makes me smile…”success and power”. Ah, qualities that I wished for as a child. Not sure I have them now 🙂 but I understand your point. Part of it I can attribute to growing up…but there’s more I’m sure. As I ponder your question, the word “strengths” comes to mind. Help your students/clients/co-conspirators/partners find their strengths, what they’re good at. Find the “rules” that they’re self-imposing upon themselves, then help to uncover the exception. Find the exception and the excitement. There’s gold in them ‘thar hills… 🙂

  13. Hi Heather,

    Thank you so much for sharing! I found your paper to be very insightful. As a student in speech-language pathology, I was initially surprised to find out that there are PWS who have had negative experiences with speech therapy. As you mentioned, “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.” Is there any advice that you may be able to offer to all of the future SLPs out there on how to empower their future clients? Thank you for any wisdom you may be able to impart.


  14. Hi Heather,

    Thank you for sharing your ongoing experience with stuttering. This helps raise awareness and allows others to gain a better understanding of what you have been through. One question I for you is how you came in contact with a support group? Where did you learn of support groups for stuttering and find one that you were able to attend in your area? I think support groups can be extremely important for PWS and may help other individuals find a way to reach others going through similar situations.


    • Thanks, Dani. I’m not sure where you’re writing from, so the answer to your question will vary. Originally, I found a support group because they happened to have their annual convention on my college campus. From that group, I found the National Stuttering (Project, now) Association, which can be reached at . There are chapters all across the country and both regional/national conventions. If you’re outside the US, I suggest you check the resources on this site, to the International Stuttering Association, which is having its’ next World Congress here in the US in Atlanta next July, 2016.

  15. Heather,

    Your comments on shame rang so true within my head. How important it is to view our shame constructively as a method to recognize our human limitations! However, I also loved (and found utmost truth) in your description of shame as “bind[ing].” Isn’t it interesting how an attribute designed for our benefit can transform into a detrimental force working against us? Although I have never stuttered, this shamefulness is something I believe all humans have encountered or will encounter at some point in their lives.

    How is it that you came to view shamefulness in this positive light as opposed to being overcome by its “bind[ing]” nature? At what point in your life did you realize that shame was binding you as opposed to helping you? As an aspiring SLP, I would love to know what helped you to come to this realization. Do you think whatever helped you come to this realization can be harnessed and used as a method for SLPs to help others see this positive viewpoint, or do you think that this realization has to happen on an individualized, personal basis?

    Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I found them to be particularly genuine, relatable, and truthful.


    • Thank you, Amanda. Shame does have a protective measure–if we think of ourselves in a tribal society, shame was used to keep us from behaviors that could threaten us or the society.–“don’t do that.” But when it becomes internalized, and identified with, “ay, there’s the rub.” I agree with you, I think everyone encounters it at some point, around some quality in their life.
      I realized it was “binding” me, at several points and stages: when an SLP asked me how I felt about my stuttering, and was willing to explore my answer (thanks John Lowe!) and when I began meeting others in the stuttering community who were living their lives, not unafraid, but moving ahead while afraid, and finding ways to do what they wanted to do, regardless of the state of their speech.

  16. Heather,
    Your personal experience of the emotions guilt and shame and how they transform from one to the other was completely eye opening. I am not a person who stutters, but I am an aspiring speech and language pathologist. In my fluency course, we discuss stuttering as an iceberg. You can only see the very tip of it when stuttering occurs during speech; however, the iceberg is much bigger than what meets the eye. Stuttering affects more than speech. Your experiences have helped me understand and see the rest of the iceberg, so to speak. In your opening paragraph, you described how after years in the stuttering community, you are more open to share your thoughts with others. My question for you is, do you continue to feel shame after connecting with the stuttering community or would you say that being apart of the stuttering community has eliminated the feeling of shame that stuttering once gave you? I would like to thank you for sharing your personal experiences with stuttering and the emotions that follow.

    • Hi Holly, thank you for your comments. Being a part of the stuttering community, whether through the NSA or being on Stutter Social, has greatly reduced my “stuttering shame,” for which I am grateful, however there are times that I still feel it. And I continue to learn compassion and patience for when that happens. The more that I learn about neuroplasticity, the more I sense that those reactions were formed early, and as it happened often, (how many times a day do we speak?) that shame, or a tinge of it, may be a “default” for many of us. And it is in those times, that I use support tools to reduce the sting of shame. AND, I think that many reading here, including SLP’s and those who do not stutter, have their own “stuff.” Dr. Brene Brown writes and talks a lot about shame, and “not good enough.” I have yet to find someone who doesn’t have a “not good enough” about something in their lives.

  17. Hi Heather,

    As a student preparing for the field of Speech-Language Pathology and just starting to “get my hands dirty”, I sometimes worry about saying the wrong thing to clients. I always try to relate to my clients but I am not a PWS so I do not share this experience. You mentioned an SLP saying, “if you can do it in here, you can do it out there” which made you feel bad about not being able to do it “out there”. Is there something the SLP could have said differently that would have been more encouraging and not had a shame inducing effect?

    Thank you,

    • Hi Shelby. I’m glad you asked the question. I don’t have “the” answer, only what might have helped at the time. It’s easy to look back and say this or that, but harder in the moment. Sometimes we do get our hands dirty, and say something that could have been more helpful. We all make an “oops.” And I think it’s okay to admit it, to acknowledge when we hear ourselves saying something that winds up not being helpful. It’s okay to make an “oops.” The sentence wasn’t bad/wrong in itself, but perhaps an add-on along the lines of (that you have to put in your way)…now it’s time to take this great work you’ve done here, and find ways to expand your skills out in the “real world”. You may not have this same level of fluency “out there”, and you haven’t done anything wrong when you stutter “out there.” It takes a lot of practice, a lot of focus and energy, and some days you just may not feel like it…and some days it will be harder.”
      Hmmm, that was a long winded answer. I’ll have to do more thinking about this, and perhaps have more to say next ISADay. 🙂

  18. Wow. This was a really powerful read. As a graduate student in communication and sciences disorders, I am just now learning about stuttering and PWS. I was blown away by the tactless term, “relapsing,” that your former SLP used with you. How inappropriate and hurtful. I was touched and incredibly interested in what you wrote about shame and stuttering. I think shame is so often the root of many feelings of inadequacy and poor self-esteem. It really makes me happy that you are in a position to guide people and offer help to others in need, whether it is through counseling, rehabilitation, or other needs. Bravo!

    • Thank you, Brooke, for your kind words. Glad to hear that you’re stretching and learning more, expanding your thoughts and tools for working with PWS… Best of luck.

  19. Heather,
    The words in your post ring true for all people and not just a person who stutters. Your story is so encouraging to read and I can tell that your writing is genuine! The way that you turn your experience of shame and guilt into a positive light so that it can better you as a communicator is so incredibly insightful to me. Often I think we can find ourselves dwelling on the negatives rather than trying to make our negatives positives.
    What do you do to get yourself to that point – to where you can take those negatives and make them a driving force for your fluency? I am currently in school to be an SLP and taking your insights and strategies and giving them to future clients could be such a benefit to them or really anyone who is experiencing shame and guilt.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  20. Hello Heather,
    I really appreciate this post, I think people who do stutter and people who don’t can benefit from the ideas that you presented about shame. With regards to stuttering, it’s helpful to know that people experience such a deep level of shame and that it can become part of your identity. I found the quotes from Bradshaw very interesting and I want to read the book. I am studying to become an SLP and I do feel terrible that your speech therapy experience was not more holistic in nature though I am happy that the field is moving that way. It was helpful to see your insights about wanting to do so well in therapy and having those feelings of shame and guilt as a result. As a future clinician these are things that we should address and be sensitive to. Thank you for sharing your insights with us, I look forward to reading Bradshaw’s work.
    Thank you,

    • Thank you, Michelle, for your kind words.
      I would also highly recommend Brene Brown’s TED talks on Shame, and Vulnerability, as well as books, including Daring Greatly, and the Gifts of Imperfection. I think they speak to us all, not just PWS’s.

  21. Heather,
    I really appreciate the way that you take a negative thought, “what was I thinking” and try to change it to a positive thought “what would I do differently next time.” Also, as I am just beginning to place my footsteps into becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist(I am a first year grad student), I really helps me to see the way that my words can impact a client. This paper has given me a lot to think about.
    Thank you,

    • Thank you, Jordan. Many years ago, I learned that from one of my teachers/mentors, Dr. Sid Simon, who was an author of the Values Clarification Handbook, in his book on Negative Criticism “what would I need to do it differently next time?”
      Words/Language are power. It’s why when well-meaning listeners finish my words, I (sometimes smile and) keep going.

  22. Hello Heather!
    I just want to thank you so much for sharing your story and your personal experiences related to this topic, which we all might know about, both personally or professionally, and in larger or smaller scale. Even though it is a common feeling, it is more seldom shared. I therefore thank you especially for giving us something more, which we can share further…
    Best wishes,

    • Thanks for stopping by to read and comment, Hilda. I agree, and think “not good enough” affects us all, “larger or smaller”.

  23. Hi Heather!

    Thank you for sharing your story and your insight. Your explanation for the feeling of “shame” was really eye opening for me. It is upsetting to think that PWS see themselves as a ‘mistake’. As a graduate student in Speech Language Pathology, we talk a lot about how stuttering affects someone on a personal level. We also talk about how we need to get the client to feel comfortable with who they are, with or without a stutter. The fact that people feel shameful about their stutter needs to be changed, and as a future SLP and a professional that will work with PWS, I will be sure to focus on positivity and self acceptance.
    Thank you for your insight,

    • Hi Chelsey, thanks for stopping by!
      I think positive words are important, but…no, and….I hope that you will help “make space” for all the feelings of the people you work with. I like the strengths-based approaches that have developed in recent years, as it is easier for our brains to focus on the negatives, just as a tongue finds the hole after a tooth has been pulled.
      That being said, I think it’s important, just as you talk about and help your students move toward self-acceptance, that you allow the expression of so-called “negative” feelings, for they are just as valid. (Pixar’s “In and Out” comes to mind…) That was a pivotal time for me, when the SLP professor that I was working with when I was a teenager asked me how I felt about my stutter, and accepted my “It sucks” without judgment.

  24. Heather,
    I agree with Kalie D. that your words can apply to each and every one of us! So often we get caught up in the “I wish things had gone differently” and “I should have done X, Y and Z”‘s that we forget to learn from our situations and to move forward instead of letting shame and guilt take over. I can only imagine it being so much harder when it is applied to something a person has so little control over! Thank you for your insight!

  25. Heather,
    First of all, I would like to say thank you for sharing your story with us. It takes a lot of courage to invite strangers into their lives, much less struggles. I enjoyed reading your analogy of the internal GPS system. That was a great way to put positive thoughts into a new perspective. As a graduate student, I have learned the most important aspect to therapy is to make a person feel comfortable and to hear you feel that you felt ashamed disheartens me. I am glad to see that you have comfort in others being there, not only being present, but involved. The best thing a person can do for another is be there for them and be a positive support. I do not know what it feels like to stutter but I see that you struggled and to see you overcome the negativity is success. I hope you see you as I see you, a courageous woman that let others into her world and gave a new perspective to her world. You are inspiring.
    Thank you for being you,

    • Thank you so much, Amanda, for your comment. Creating safety is so important, and tough when speaking situations feel fraught with peril. You are in the lion’s den, or dragon’s lair with us, whether in the therapy room or out in “maintenance and transfer” situations.
      We all need support, no matter our situation. I am grateful to have found the stuttering community so many years ago, and now continuing with the NSA and with the Stutter Social hangouts. I’ve seen both change lives.

  26. Heather,

    I thoroughly enjoyed your analogy of streets when relating to feelings of shame. Acknowledging, that at some point, you needed to move on, take a new route, and change your thought process related to the internal feeling of shame. This analogy, is one many people can relate to even if they don’t stutter. From your story, I learned that by changing how you think about a particular problem, you can accept it and learn how to deal with it.

    It has to be a good feeling knowing that you can help others who stutter because of your personal experiences. Thank you for sharing your story.


    • Thank you, Morgan. In my studies as a counselor and then therapist, I chuckled when my professors lectured on cognitive-behavioral therapy, as “desensitization” sounded an *awful lot like my experiences in speech therapy. 🙂 Changing thoughts is probably the easiest entry point on the Thoughts/Feelings/Behaviors triangle, but I also learned that it was important to change the behaviors, (especially doing the feared stuff, like voluntary stuttering which I thought was the craziest technique, but one that I found so helpful, as part of the Successful Stuttering Management Program (SSMP) program which I did many years ago)….and that *doing things differently, could lead to changes in feelings and perspectives. They’re all connected.

  27. Having just commenced my studies as a speech and language therapist, I would like to thank you for sharing your insight and providing such a thought provoking article.

    • Thanks, Kate. As some say, “Keep Coming Back!”
      There is so much to learn in your profession. So much for you to learn about PWS’s, (and a lot of PWS’s don’t realize how broad your field is/how many subjects you have to learn about, so the learning goes both ways). It’s appreciated when you pull up a chair at the table…

  28. Hi Heather. I appreciate your comment and ability to be so open about your stutter. I am a masters student in the field of speech-language pathology and something we have learned in our fluency disorders class is that if someone provides a disclosure statement, they are potentially more fluent throughout the interaction. I noticed you did this in a sense when the person approached you. Is this something you would normally do for someone who is not directly asking about your stutter? When you do this with unfamiliar listeners do you find yourself more fluent and overall more comfortable moving forward with the conversation? Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi. Yes, in a paradoxical way, when I disclose, I am often more fluent, (not always, though) which can cause some quizzical looks, at times. So, when I decide to use voluntary stuttering, I will often do it during a disclosure, so that’s it not such a difference.
      There are times that I disclose with an unfamiliar listener, but not as often as I used to, and this listener was someone that I was familiar with, and she brought up stuttering, so it was an easy disclosure. Actually, I disclose fairly often, more often at work, less often in other situations—not because of shame, but more that I just “don’t care” as much anymore. There are several ways that I disclose–advertising being probably the most visible, and voluntary stuttering being the second.
      Thanks for your questions.

  29. Heather,
    As a speech-language pathology graduate student, I can assure you that you are not alone in having a history of these negative emotions. Throughout my academic career, I have spoken with numerous individuals who exhibited a stutter or other speech/language impairment who often felt shameful and guilty for being identified with this type of deficit. It is reassuring to hear that you found a solution through support and empathy from others, and I definitely plan to recommend my future clients who are experiencing these emotions to seek support through one or more of the examples that you listed. How long have you been a stutterer for? What made you decide to seek answers through support, and where did you receive support from (whether you did so from an online video chat, a book, or another resource)? Which type of support do you think was most beneficial for you? And lastly, which types of support do you think are most beneficial for which ages of those who stutter? For example, if you spoke with a teenager who struggled with accepting his stutter, what would you recommend to him? Thank you for sharing your thoughts in this post!

    • Thanks, Victoria. I have stuttered since I was a child. I had a language delay until age 4, and my first experience of speech therapy was in second grade. I remember at age 10, looking for others who stuttered, so there was an early wish for support, one that I didn’t find until college (when I found the very group that I’d looked for at age 10, ironically enough.)
      I believe, and the field of interpersonal neurobiology speaks a lot of this, that we are hard-wired to connect with others, and the isolation that came from being “different” only added to that desire.

      I remember finding the Speech Foundation of America’s book, “Self-Therapy for the Stutterer” as an early support resource, and then the National Council on Stuttering, which led me to the National Stuttering Project, which is now the National Stuttering Association. “Back in the day”, we only connected at conferences, the occasional phone calls, and even (gasp) snail mail! That’s one of the reasons why I love the Stutter Social video hangouts, for PWS’s across the world can reach out and be connected instantly with one click! I love to see the kids and teens at the NSA conferences, and see them connect with each other…such courage! (And there are teen TWIST chapters!)
      Thanks for stopping by.

  30. Heather,

    Your article exudes empowerment that should be a source of pride for anyone having experienced adversity. I am in graduate school studying to become a Speech-Language Pathologist and a recurring theme I’ve found is one of support. Do you think speech therapy in a group setting is more beneficial to the PWS as opposed to individualized therapy? Or rather do you feel a combination of both is essential?

    Thank you,

    • Good question, Candice. I’ve had individual speech therapy for most of my therapy experiences…with only one group to speak of, and that was part of the SSMP program, which was an incredible experience. The group support was invaluable there, as it was an intensive three-week program, and we all helped each other. I did not have group therapy during my regular school therapy.
      I do believe in self-help support groups, (and have been a chapter co-leader for several years), which I differentiate from group therapy. If there are no accessible chapters, then perhaps group therapy would be a good option for some, and sometimes group therapy can be a more cost effective option, but I think it’s a choice and varies depending on the needs and resources of the PWS.

  31. thank you Heather. It’s such a good reminder about the power of ‘showing up’ regardless of the shame that carried from past experience. I so agree that its not the covering up but its the showing up where we find the “warmth of empathy, of someone saying ‘Me too'”. Loved it

    • Thanks for your kind words. I agree, that showing up is one of our “superpowers” as a PWS, as we have to show up multiple times per day.

  32. Hi Heather,

    I really enjoyed reading your article. I think you really hit the nail on the head describing the covert aspects that accompany stuttering and how debilitating they can be. I liked how you compared the shame you have experienced in your past as city streets and that it’s time that you create a new pathway to follow that does not include shame. I find your story to be inspiring and can provide hope for other individuals who stutter.

  33. Heather, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. It is always eye-opening to read how stuttering can make different people feel. It struck me close to my heart as I currently have a client who is a young adult that I think might benefit from reading your analogies. Thank you for bringing this topic to light for me.

  34. What a beautifully written piece. I am currently studying Fluency disorders in my second year of speech-language pathology graduate school. I am less interested in the mechanics of stuttering, and more interested in the emotional side of stuttering. Your article is empowering and applicable to all who struggle with shame and guilt.

  35. Heather, I had never considered the difference between guilt and shame. I like the comparison you made of I am a mistake vs I made a mistake. I think that can be applied to many other aspects of life and i appreciate the notion. I laughed alongside you at the first paragraph. I’m glad you can find humor in something that once made you feel shame!

  36. Heather,

    Thank you for sharing your story! Counseling is such a large portion when working with PWS. It’s important to get a going understanding of the emotions you are feeling and than move on to realizing that you are not alone! What advice do you have for clinicians to get their stuttering clients away from this feeling of shame? Are there certain people or experiences that helped you get away from these emotions?

    Kind regards,

  37. Hi Heather,

    That was such a beautiful ending that warmed me up completely! Although I don’t really understand, since I am not a person who stutters (PWS), I can relate to the feeling of shame, as I too often think of myself as incapable of doing something. A positive voice in my head would then tell me I shouldn’t be thinking that way, but I ended up hating myself even more for being so negative. If that is how a PWS feels all the time, that would be a nightmare! As a student in speech-language pathology, I wonder if you have any other tips to share with PWS when they have not yet found a support group or when they cannot reach their support in time?

    • HI Grace. Yes, I do think that the “not enough”ness is pretty universal at some time or another, whether we stutter or not. Shame seems embedded in those “embarrassing” moments. Great question about tips..and perhaps one for a blog post at a later time.
      What comes to mind is to reach out—find those people that we can acknowledge the “this is hard” times to–whether that is another PWS, a fluent friend, family, or another professional. Sometimes it’s as simple as a text—I may not need a response, but just being able to speak it aloud lessens the shame struggle, when I know that I’ve been heard. I’ve had friends that I’ve been able to make a plan with ahead of time, when I was facing a challenging speaking situation, and sometimes just saying to a friend before a presentation, “I’m nervous about this” was all that I needed.
      I have also used tools from mindfulness, such as centering myself, paying attention to being present, noticing places of tension and ease, being aware of breath, and challenging my own “cognitive distortions” when I find myself catastrophizing, as another example.
      Thanks for your question!

  38. Love this, Heather. Beautiful writing. Thanks for sharing. Oh the shame that lurks inside us all….

    • And thanks, Courtney. I’m so glad you shared your story; you have a great way with words. 🙂

  39. Thank you, Heather, for writing about this important topic. Each of us needs to find our way in dealing with our stutter. I agree that dealing with the shame that is a part of the experience of stuttering is so much a part of gaining acceptance over time.