Hanan Hurwitz is an electronics engineer, presently working as an independent Quality Management consultant at Hurwitz Consulting. He is also presently the Executive Director of the Israeli Stuttering Association, AMBI.
Hanan is a person who stutters (PWS) who started on his Journey of understanding stuttering in 2010, when he attended the National Stuttering Association annual conference.
In writing this paper, I am presenting my own thoughts and opinions which seem accurate for me at this point in time. There are other thoughts and opinions, and it will be beneficial to discuss these with you, the Reader, during the online conference. I am writing from the perspective of a person who stutters, but I recognize and respect that parents of children who stutter face similar adversity, and I hope that such parents can learn, too, about developing the Resilience they need in order to survive and thrive, and to enable their children to thrive.
It helps me to first take time to think about what ‘Resilience’ means. There are many definitions from a variety of teachers, but the following ones have helped me:
- Sharon Salzberg, a world-renowned meditation teacher wrote in the June 2020 issue of Mindful Magazine that “When we feel pain and yet we can go on, that’s how we build resilience.”
- Linda Graham writes that resilience is “the capacity to bend with the wind, go with the flow, bounce back from adversity.”
- Editors of the now-defunct magazine “Going Bonkers” once wrote “Resilience is the ability to decide that you can deal constructively with the slings and arrows of misfortune.” They added in the same section, that “Bouncing back from adversity is about making the decision that no matter what happens to you, you’re going to learn from it, and move on.”
The description from “Going Bonkers” helps me the most. Resilience is not some personal characteristic that we either have or do not have, but rather it is something that we can create. This should give us hope.
We create resilience by actively deciding to “deal constructively” with the challenges in our lives. Then, we take actions to actually deal with those challenges.
Thus, we are not dependent on whether we “have it” or not, this characteristic called Resilience, but we create it. We do so by:
- Deciding to take action to deal with adversity, and
- Taking action to deal with that adversity.
Bouncing back from adversity is part of this. By making a decision to deal actively with our struggles, and taking action aligned with that decision, we enable ourselves to bounce back.
The good news is that actively creating resilience helps us to be better equipped to face the next round of adversity. There will always be adversity of one sort or another in our lives, so it seems both necessary and rational to actively build our resilience so that we can bounce back from adversity.
How is Resilience Relevant to Stuttering?
The experience of stuttering is traumatic for most people who stutter. We face adversity when we speak, and even when we think about speaking. In the latter case, we face adversity from ourselves, from our own negative self-talk. We often face ridicule, and are subjected to opinions of others that we are diminished in our worth and capabilities.
We face an unseen but deeply felt adversary which is the stigma of stuttering. We adopt the societal stigma of stuttering, and create our own self-stigma. We believe the stigma, believe that stuttering is something wrong or bad, and we create our own self-talk about how we should not stutter.
The messaging we get, and the self-messaging that we create as a result, tell us: You are not good enough. You cannot do what you want to do, so settle for something less. Give up your dreams and aspirations.
We do not have a choice about the fact of the stigma of stuttering, but we have a choice about how to relate to it:
- We can accept the dictates of the stigma of stuttering, and settle back and compromise on the lives that we want for ourselves, or
- We can refuse to accept those dictates, and decide to pursue and achieve what we want, irrespective of the stigma and the opinions of others.
It is not trivial to do this. So, how do we create Resilience in ourselves, and how do we bounce back? How do we pick ourselves up and carry on working to live the life that we want for ourselves?
The first step might be to examine the Words.
The Power of our Words
Words have power. The words that we use affect how we feel and how we behave. The language we use to describe our experiences with stuttering influences our emotions and then our judgements of ourselves. This “language” refers to both the words we speak, and the words we think.
Letting go of negative words and emotions enables us to let go of negative judgements of ourselves.
- My speech today was “bad.” By using the word “bad,” I am judging myself, and finding myself guilty of doing something bad. I am making myself feel bad, making myself feel unworthy. From thinking my speech is “bad,” I quickly go to believing that I am bad, and that I must do that “bad” way of speaking again.
- My speech today was “good.” By using the word “good,” I am again judging myself. I am reinforcing the fear and the shame that I feel about my stuttering, setting myself up to feel anxious about the next speaking situation, in case I am not able to speak in a “good” way.
The language we use affects the way we think about stuttering and about our self-worth. We create a destructive cycle since and the way we think about stuttering further affects the language that we use to describe it.
Louise Hay writes: “Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” Interesting, right? But it’s tricky, since our negative judgement of our stuttering comes from a deeply rooted belief that stuttering is something wrong, something abnormal that is often compared to “normal” speech.
However, is that belief correct? In the context of Byron Katie’s “The Work”, can we examine if that belief is true?
So, perhaps one of the first steps in building resilience can be examining the language we use, observing how we feel when we use negative language, and learning to change the words we use. We can change the way we think and speak about stuttering. A superb resource is Stuttertalk.com, who’s byline is “Changing how you think about stuttering.”
The Power of the Written Word
Another thing that Dr Sheehan wrote in “Message to a Stutterer” is that (effective) clinical treatment will not be available to most of us, and therefore “Whatever you do you’ll have to do pretty much on your own with those ideas and sources you can use.”
In my “Journey with Words,” reading and learning about stuttering has been key to me being able to build some resilience, and to bounce back from complete and utter despair. It is helpful to read certain self-help books, too, specifically those that help us understand our fears, shame, and uncertainty. My suggested list of books appears at the end of this paper.
Do our Words Need to be Fluent?
Dr Joseph Sheen, in Message to a Stutterer, wrote the following:
Here are two principles which you can use to your advantage, once you understand them: they are
(1) your stuttering doesn’t hurt you;
(2) your fluency doesn’t do you any good.
There’s nothing to be ashamed of when you stutter and there’s nothing to be proud of when you are fluent.
Numerous famous (and infamous) people speak fluently, and yet they often do immeasurable damage to society. Just pick from a number of dictators, despots and corrupt politicians, and think for a moment on whether their fluency actually brings benefit or harm to society.
I am fortunate to know many people who stutter who are excellent communicators. The problem is not stuttering; rather, the problem is our judgement of the way people speak, and our inability to listen patiently while someone else speaks. The problem is our judgment of ourselves and our thinking that the way we speak is important to the message we want to convey. No, it’s actually not.
You are not Alone
It is extremely difficult to manage adversity when we feel alone. Self-help and support groups for people who stutter exist in many countries. Support group meetings are (as of 2020) increasingly held online, enabling more people to join. Knowing that we are not alone, and being able to discuss stuttering with other people who stutter, is another crucial element of building resilience. When I have a tough day with stuttering, I know that I can reach out to others and get empathy and support. This enables me to bounce back, to carry on trying to live the life that I want for myself, irrespective of my stuttering.
Advocating for Ourselves
In a world where the stigma of stuttering remains prominent, and where our vision of “A World that Understands Stuttering” has not yet been realized, we need to advocate for ourselves. We have a responsibility to ourselves to not give in to the dictates of society, to not accept the opinions of others that we are less capable than them.
The Stuttering Foundation recently created a public service ad with the message that “There is nothing a child who stutters cannot do!” We can adopt this powerful message for ourselves.
It is necessary for us to be able to explain about stuttering to others. They don’t understand about stuttering; they are often fed from the myths and stigma about stuttering, and so it is our responsibility to explain. It is our responsibility to take charge of the discussion about our stuttering.
A good example of this is the job interview scenario. As candidates for a job going through an interview, we have a responsibility to ourselves to be open and unapologetic about our stuttering, to explain about stuttering, and to explain how our stuttering will not prevent us from doing the job.
If we do not advocate for ourselves, we allow the “other” to determine the narrative about our stuttering and about our capabilities.
Changing the Way we Think About Stuttering
It is not about “overcoming” stuttering. Rather, it is about overcoming the perceived necessity to not stutter. Overcoming stuttering is about overcoming the self-imposed limitations that we place on ourselves, and overcoming the self-limiting self-talk that we engage in. It is not about fluency; it is not about stopping to stutter.
Start with “It’s ok to stutter.” Continue with changing the way we think so that we can see that stuttering is “a difference, not a defect.” These are key examples of the power of words. As long we think of our stuttering as a defect, it will limit us. When we are able to see it as a difference, we start to attain freedom from those self-limiting thoughts and beliefs. We build resilience to the myths about stuttering, and to the dictates of a world that does not (yet) understand stuttering.
We do not have a choice about whether we stutter or not. We do, however, have a choice about how we think about stuttering. Changing the way we think and changing the words we use to describe our stuttering give us the Resilience to Bounce Back. In many cases it will also change the outcomes of those difficult situations.
Here is a summary of some actions that we can take to build Resilience:
- Examine the language we use, and understand the power of our words
- Educate ourselves on stuttering and on ourselves
- Join support groups for people who stutter
- Question our thoughts, beliefs and self-imposed limitations about stuttering
- Advertise our stuttering, and advocate for ourselves
- Actively change the way we think about stuttering
A Few References
Books on Stuttering
- A Life Bound Up in Words: Marty Jezer
- Inspiring Stories and Professional Wisdom: StutterTalk
- Out With It: Katherine Preston
- From Stuttering to Fluency: Gunars Neiders
- Stuttering is Cool: Daniele Rossi
- Stammering Therapy from the Inside: Cheasman, Everard and Simpson
- Mindfulness and Stuttering: Ellen-Marie Silverman
- Easy Stuttering – Avoidance-Reduction Therapy: Sheehan, Shanks, Mereu
- Stammering Pride and Prejudice: Campbell, Constantino, and Simpson
Books on Changing the Way We Think
- The Gifts of Imperfection: Brene Brown
- Full Catastrophe Living: Jon Kabat Zinn
- Man’s Search for Meaning: Viktor Frankle
- The Choice: Edith Egar
- The Happiness Trap: Russ Harris
- The Reality Slap: Russ Harris
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: Mark Manson
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