Scott Palisak is a person who can stutter. He is also an Associate Professor at the University Akron, Ohio, who teaches Stuttering, Counseling, and Voice disorders at the graduate level along with supervising future SLPs. Further, he runs the MASS Lab (Mindfulness ACT Social Cognition and Stuttering) at the University of Akron. He also is the co-host and co-creator for The Act To Live Podcast (along with Jaime Michise) and is a partner with the 3C Digital Media Network LLC. Scott is devoted to being an Assistant Faculty member at Camp Shout Out, which is a magical camp for kids who stutter in Michigan. He is a passionate novelist (under the pen name B.D. Scott) and a musician and songwriter since he was 12 years old. He practices mindfulness meditation daily, values health, and appreciates the act of evolving as a person, Speech Language Pathologist and a fellow human in order to build a community and world of kindness and understanding.
Like many people who stutter, making phone calls was, and still can be a tortuous experience for me. It is one of the hardest speaking situations I enter into on a daily basis and has been that way since I was able to dial a phone. There are many times I can remember, and many more I have purposely forgotten, where I felt emotions like sadness, anger, or self-imposed down right hateful feelings. These emotions were toward others, and myself. There were many calls where the listener laughed, hung up on me, or asked, “What is your name? Don’t you know it?” In my adolescence and younger adulthood, I felt stupid, inept, like there was nothing I could do right to speak. What that mindset did was keep me in the same place. Those thoughts kept me from moving, anywhere. They kept me from growing, evolving, and learning. They kept me from my own desire to change my perceptions in order to change my situation. Moreover, I was giving up on life, and myself. I did not realize that in order to adjust, live, change, or create thoughts and actions that fit me better, and that were not filled with rage, I needed to learn the practice of resilience, and be on my own side.
Rick Hanson, a world-renowned neuropsychologist wrote, “Everything changes. That’s the universal nature of outer reality and inner experience….Consequently, your brain is forever chasing after the moment that has just passed, trying to understand and control it.”(Hanson & Medious, 2009, pp. 33-34). For people who stutter, this might be the exact experience related to the struggle to live with a speech difference that can be noticeable within the first seconds of speaking, but can also be hidden for years as it infringes a psychological toll whenever speech is produced or even considered. A person who stutters navigates so many variables when it comes to their stuttering. From fears of specific sounds, anxiety about certain speaking situations, assumptions of what people may think, mocking (whether intentional or not), teasing, bullying, feelings of decreased self-worth, occupational challenges (self-imposed or societally imposed), and so much more. Not to mention, the physical struggle with speech itself, and need to talk a little easier. However, that need is not so simple.
So with all of the aforementioned factors, that continually change, it can be easy to have feelings of shame, blaming others, perceptions of lashing out, and resignation (giving up). So the question becomes, how can we bounce back? How can each person who stutters manage the struggles, fears, and the idea that “Everything changes” as it relates to the perceptions and production of stuttering along with the moment-by-moment psychological adjustments to external experience and internal insecurities.
When I was growing up, I played soccer and basketball, worked as Seafood Chef, and was a singer and songwriter in rock bands. Through all of these endeavors, I had to learn new skills with sports, how to adjust recipes, and skills related to being a musician in order to be better at these activities. This is where resilience starts, and is exactly like the activities I practiced growing up. The first step to being resilient might be to see resilience as a skill. In addition, resilience is a skill like any other behavior. Just like learning a new instrument, developing the art of writing novels, getting repetitions when engaging in sports, or just learning how to knit. The important part of learning ANY new still is practice. Therefore, by adjusting our mindset to seeing the act of resilience as repeated work (practice), we can start to move toward owning the reactions toward our stuttering and any experiences with others related to our stuttering.
I remember when I was 18, being suicidal and not wanting to get to 19. I blamed stuttering for my anger. I blamed people for not accepting the way I talked. In addition, I fully believed that stuttering was the root cause of all of my sadness and lack of perceived success in the world. However, many years separated from that time, I have seen that I possessed a fixed mindset and I had no interest in stepping back to entertain anything other than my own negative stories. What I learned was that the skill of resilience requires the practiced development of psychological flexibility, body, and attitude. In order to create psychological and perceptual flexibility, the practice of willingness and openness are vital. This began with being willing to open up to all of the genuinely kind people around me.
The moment that I realized people cared about me, was the moment I began to live, and survive. In other words, I came to see the notion that we are not islands, and we do not survive without help from others, just as others do not survive without help from us. Shawn Achor wrote, “The height of your potential is predicted by the people who surround you. So the key …is to SURROUND yourself with people who will lift you up rather than drag you down” (Achor, 2018, p. 63). This is where making choices is such a vital part of life, and is a fundamental skill involved in living a resilient lifestyle. This involves not just making conscious choices about people, but knowing that we can make choices about how we think and act in relation to stuttering.
Of course, in order to practice anything, we have to be able to let go of the habits that we have created from years influenced (not created) by the many reactions to the external and internal experiences of being a person who stutters. Pema Chodron wrote, “As humans we have the potential to disentangle ourselves from old habits, and the potential to love and care about each other” (Chodron, 2009, p. 1). The humble words of “caring about each other” includes caring for ourselves. When we practice believing in ourselves, and spending energy learning to be kind to ourselves, we can further develop the skill of being resilient to EVERYTHING CHANGING, as Rick Hanson inferred above. This practice starts with caring about ourselves, beginning with the moment right now. Chodron further wrote, “We have the capacity to wake up and live consciously, but, you may have noticed, we also have the inclination to stay asleep.” I have to admit, it was easier at age 18 to blame others for my pain and to EXPECT the world to accept me (and stuttering) when the truth was I did not know what accepting myself and stuttering meant. In other words, as Pema Chodron indicates, I was moving through life asleep. I was not conscious of what the reality was of the life I was living, which meant I was blind (asleep) to what was possible. You see, opening our eyes in a purposeful and meaningful way can help us all choose practices (actions) of resilience.
So what are some examples of practicing actions of resilience? Well, Hanson and Hanson (2018) wrote about three mental resources for basic needs: 1) Safety, 2) Satisfaction, 3) Connection. Within these three mental resources, we can create actions that fit our desire of being resilient. Let us start with Safety. Hanson and Hanson wrote that safety is the idea of “being on your own side” (p. 63). As people who stutter, we can advocate for ourselves. Advocacy means to promote ourselves, take actions to express a perspective we might believe, and perhaps defend that thought, all while advocating with openness, calm, and peace rather than anger or ego. Advocacy is not the practice of being right, it is simply the expression of an opinion we think might be the best in that moment.
Satisfaction, according to Hanson and Hanson, can include things like gratitude, accomplishment, enthusiasm, passion, and clarity of goals. When we practice such things, and become satisfied with the ways we choose to think about our stuttering and we are conscious of the goals we wish to attain related to how we speak, we are further building the skill of resilience. Doing anything with enthusiasm creates purpose, and purpose creates passion and more practice.
Finally, Connection starts with compassion for our self and others, and includes other components like self-worth, and forgiveness. I know as a person who stutters, I spent a lot of time blaming so many others for my speech. I used to blame my first Speech Language Pathologist. I spent energy blaming my family. I gave power to blame, because it fed my ego of being right. The problem was, it did not include compassion for anyone, especially myself. Further, it was shortsighted and lacked any generosity and kindness. Thus, I was not building and practicing resilience. Instead, I was practicing resignation; resigning to the idea that there was nothing to be done about my stuttering, my thoughts, my anger, and sadness.
Now, as a person who can stutter, a Speech Language Pathologist, a teacher, and so many other roles, I continue to practice resilience by putting myself in situations where I can be on my own side, feel enthusiasm with any accomplishment, and be kind to others and myself as related to stuttering thoughts and behaviors. I attempt to celebrate accomplishments related to stuttering and how I speak. Celebrating accomplishments is healthy, and can be performed in unique ways. Social psychologist, Fred Bryant, found that mini-celebrations can plump up the positive emotions which make it easier to manage the daily challenges that cause major stress (from Campbell, 2015). So go out and celebrate speaking, it will keep you healthy!
Finally, the last piece of resilience I wanted to touch on is the practice of optimism. Dr. Elizabeth Hopper (2017) discussed optimism saying it was not the act of avoiding negative events, but rather a mindset that we can create and practice to help us manage and cope with the challenges that life throws at us. Therefore, by practicing looking at life by beginning to accept things that might be challenging, and attempting to see what we can learn or adjust in order to cope with life in healthier ways, we are again building skills to handle the idea that “Everything changes”. Thus, creating a mindset that can be resilient to those changes that stuttering can sometimes create.
Practicing resilience has taught me that I appreciate and rely on many people for their support. That education can be vital to the promotion of resilience. I have come to realize that stuttering does not define my life, and/or who I am. It may be a part of my life, but it is not all I am. There are so many parts of me and I am the sum of the whole, not the sum of one part. Lastly, the practice of resilience has taught me that the world does not NEED to understand and accept me, nor does it need to understand and accept stuttering. I am the only one who can choose to accept me and accept the path I have chosen to take with stuttering.
In closing, resilience is where we can live. Resilience is survival. Resilience is a skill we can build upon with practice. Resilience is possible. Why not try it. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
Achor, S. (2018). Big Potential: How transforming the pursuit of success raises our achievement, happiness, and well-being. Penguin Random House LLC; New York, NY.
Campbell, P. (2015). Why you should celebrate everything. Psychology Today. Retrieved July 1, 2020 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/imperfect-spirituality/201512/why-you-should-celebrate-everythinWhy You Should Celebrate Everything
Chodron, P. (2009). Taking the Leap: Freeing ourselves from old habits and fears. Shambhala Publications Inc; Boston, MA.
Hanson, R. & Mendius, R. (2009).Buddha’s Brain: Happiness, Love, & Wisdom. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.; Oakland, CA.
Hanson, R. & Hanson, F. (2018). Resilient: How to grow an unshakeable core of calm, strength, and happiness. Penguin Random House LLC; New York, NY.
Hopper, E. (2017). Look at the Brightside: The science of optimism. Healthy Psych. Retrieved August, 2020 from: ttps://healthypsych.com/the-science-of-optimism/
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