To Go Beyond The Fear – Mary Wood

Mary WoodAbout the Author:

Mary Wood attended her first conference for people who stutter in Ottawa in 1993 presenting a workshop on self-esteem.  Since then, beyond Ottawa and Canada, she has attended and presented at conferences in the United States, Great Britain, and Europe.  She was ordained as a Unity minister in 2005, a lesson that taught her you never know what’s around the next corner.

What I’m going to share with you has allowed me to go beyond the immense fear that was a large part of my life for many years. The immense fear that held me back from being who I am, doing what I want to do, saying what I want to say.

I’d stuttered for almost 50 years when I went to a seminar on January 21, 1989 at York University in Toronto that taught me how important “thought” is.  I learned that What I think about I bring about – this is what shows up in my life.   Somehow I knew from these words that I didn’t have to stutter any more.

I came home from that seminar focusing on fluency, wanting to be a perfect 100% fluent speaker…. (not too much reality in that eh!!)  Then one morning, I looked at myself in the mirror and asked why I didn’t like to stutter. The answer was there immediately: I thought someone wouldn’t like me if I stutter. This was where this immense fear came from.  From that point on, my focus has been self-esteem. Loving and accepting me, whether I stutter or not, moving beyond this fear: the fear of rejection. So this paper talks a little about stuttering and self-esteem.

 I read a book by Dr. Leonard Shaw Love and Forgiveness that told me there are only two emotions – love and fear. I pondered that for quite a while, and then realized this worked for me. Love is peace, joy, laughter – everything that makes us feel good. Fear is all the negative emotions – shame, guilt, embarrassment, anger. So, if I was not coming from love, I had to be coming from fear.

First of all, I started to look at what I was thinking about.  Were my thoughts focusing on the fluency that was there or the stuttering that was there?  We have about 60,000 thoughts a day, and about 75% of them are negative – no wonder we get tired, stressed, and angry. Every moment of every day we make a choice what we want to think about – positive or negative. 

In July 1990, I went back to York University to hear Mark Victor Hansen speak – co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul series. During his workshop, these words came into my mind:  “Share what is changing your life – speak about it!” I finally knew what I wanted to be when I grew up – a speaker!  Wow!  How scary is that!!

And we need dreams to grow and change from, and for the first time in my life, I had a definite dream. Two months later, I was at Toastmasters – and stayed there for four years – every Wednesday night, telling people I stutter (that was a first), working through my fear. A dream gives you a reason to face your fear. It motivates you, pushes you where you don’t want to go, but know you have to go if you want to realize your dream. We are always our dreams, even before they come into fruition. 

And to go beyond our fear, we have to make changes and take action. It doesn’t have to be one giant leap for mankind. It can be tiny baby steps. Speaking to someone at the bus stop, making a phone call we really don’t want to make, asking for what we really want to eat. Keep a victory journal! Write down all the little steps you are taking. Think about them, and congratulate yourself – that feels good!!

Change is inevitable. It’s happening whether we acknowledge it or not. When we change one letter in the word “change,” we get the word “chance.” That’s what change is all about for me:  a chance to grow, to learn, to laugh, to love, to be who I really am. That’s what stuttering is for me. The biggest learning lesson I’ve ever had – so far!. When I look at it as a lesson, then the fear starts to go away. 

When I started to look at my feelings, I found out stuttering was not the problem. It’s how I felt about IT and how I felt about ME – mostly me. Do we acknowledge how we feel? Do we know it’s okay to have the feelings we have? Have we been told it’s not OK to cry, it’s not OK to be angry. And so we squish (I love that word) these feelings down until we don’t know they’re there anymore. My mom died in 1994 – I didn’t realize I was angry at her. I was driving to Ottawa to a self-help workshop, thinking about her. All of a sudden I started to cry, and then scream. I can remember being surprised – but I let it happen. Then I was aware of how I felt. I was angry.  My dad had died 6 years before, now my mom had died. I felt very alone, I was scared there was no one who really loved me.

I think that one of our biggest fears is the fear of rejection…..  I know it was mine and still shows up some days.   Somebody won’t like us because we stutter, because we don’t say the right things, wear the right clothes, have the right job, etc.,  We need to know that what someone else thinks about us has nothing to do with who we are.  What we think about ourselves has everything to do with who we are.  We don’t need to change to please someone else.

What you think about me is really what you think about you. I’ve just finished reading The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.   It outlines agreements that we can make with ourselves to replace some of the old negative beliefs we have about who we are. The second agreement is “don’t take anything personally.” Really Big Lesson! If someone says you’re stupid, thoughtless and inconsiderate, it’s not about you – it’s about who they think they are.   But….. We take it personally because we agree with whatever they said. As soon as we agree, we’re trapped in this belief.  What someone says, what someone does, and the opinions they give are according to their beliefs, to the agreements they’ve made with themselves. We think that someone else knows more about who we are than we do, and so we take what they say about us to be the truth of who we are.

When we take things personally, we feel offended and we defend our beliefs and create conflicts. We make something so big out of something so little because we have the need to be right…..  that comes from fear.  So….. Would you rather be right – or would you rather be happy?

What does all this have to do with stuttering, you might ask. The fear of rejection was a large part of my stuttering. I’ve also come to realize that stuttering was only one of the ways that it showed up in my life. Stuttering was maybe the most noticeable. Some other parts are still hidden and show up some days.

I also learned that fear is a negative thought – if you feel good about yourself in a situation, then the fear isn’t there. It’s there when you’re unsure, when you’re scared, when you feel you might be rejected.

An important lesson to go beyond the fear is  – what someone says or does cannot make you feel anything – that is your choice.  Not an easy lesson to be sure.  If they say I don’t like your green hair, you’ll laugh because you know it’s not true. However, if they say you’re thoughtless and inconsiderate, somewhere inside here you might feel that way, and take this personally. But it has nothing to do with who they think you are – it has everything to do with who you think you are.

So……  How can we go beyond this fear?

We can also go beyond this fear by helping others.   We’re not learning all this “good stuff” to keep it locked up inside. We‘re here to be it and share it!  You are wonderful, caring, creative, and loving. Share some of this. Give it away.  When we help others, we forget about ourselves, our fears, and think about what we can do for them. When I stop worrying about if you’re going to like what I say, and I focus on how I can help you, what I can say that will let you know how special you are, then the fear goes away.

Stuttering is my greatest lesson – so far. When I started to look at it this way, then I started to go beyond the fear. Learning from stuttering and the fear enables me to be on this awesome journey that I’m on.  In 2005, I was ordained as a Unity minister – talk about an unexpected turn of events in my life!!  Know that it is okay to be who you are today – not who you might be tomorrow. Search for and speak your own truth, no matter what anyone else says or thinks. Listen for your own answers. Look to others for help, support and ideas, and then take only what feels right for you at the time. Be honest with yourself about this. Focus on the moment and not on the outcome, and then the fear will start to disappear. When you go beyond the fear, you will find the love that is there.

My wish for you – may you speak your own words, may you sing your own song, and may you know that you are always loved.

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To Go Beyond The Fear – Mary Wood — 27 Comments

  1. Thanks so much for taking part in the ISAD conference and reading this paper. I’d love to hear your feedback and experiences as we take this journey together. Take care.

  2. Mary I love this!!

    ”Dream gives you a reason to face your fear. It motivates you, pushes you where you don’t want to go, but know you have to go if you want to realize your dream”

    This is so true that when you have dreams the impossible becomes the reality

    I definitely feel that I’ve made the most progress when I developed a vision for myself

    What advice do you have for people who don’t have that dream yet or haven’t bought in yet?

    Love the way you approach the concept of fear Too!

  3. Kunal, thanks for your comments. I believe that the dream is always here – it’s not something that we have to go searching for, but will open to when we’re ready, our soul is ready. When I was in ministerial training, one of my teachers shared with me that the question to ask is not “why” something happens, but to ask “how can I learn from this, move on from this.” Take care…..

  4. Mary, I agree so much with everything you say. Fear can be such a paralyzing force. And even when we are aware of it, it is so hard to overcome. Fear prevents me from making phone calls or from express my true feelings. Is it fear of rejection, fear that I will stutter? Probably both. I like all your suggestions of how to not let it affect you and as you say, it takes baby steps. I like the idea of a victory journal!

  5. Thanks for your comments. We always learn from each other. And yes, I agree that the fear is both – rejection of us as a person and also stuttering. And, as I think about that, I can also think that they might be tangled up with each other. I commend you for realizing that stuttering is so much more than the speaking. The acceptance of ourselves just as we are is an important part of any healing. Take care. Thank again for getting in touch.

  6. Hello Mary,

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I love learning and understanding what other people go through and how it affects them. I have a question, do you think focusing on acceptance of a person’s self and overcoming fear in
    speech therapy should be a big aspect or focus? The more I talk to PWS, the majority say that focusing on emotional aspects in therapy would help more. Do you feel the same way?


    • Jena, yes, I feel that focusing on the fear and other emotional aspects helped my self worth issues that were so tied into the stuttering . And as my therapy journey during the past 30 years has been mostly self therapy, that is where my answer comes from. Affirmations have played a large part in this acceptance. One of my favourites is: I am love, I am joy, I am enough – because so many times we do not feel enough. Here’s another one I said for “many moons” when I was focused on fluency: I am so happy now that I am relaxed and my speech is fluent. Thanks for taking the time to read this paper and ask the questions. We all learn from each other. Take care.

  7. Hi Mary. It’s Leah Hoover, from Carla’s speech group! Great to see your name here and to read your article.
    I did a video submission, my first ISAD activity.
    I’d like your comments about love and fear. I agree.
    We were all so fearful about that first Speech Group weren’t we? Or meeting someone else who stuttered?
    Once we realize that we can love ourselves, just the way we are, and overcome the fears with confidence, trust, faith, then we can manage our speech.

    I’d love to have a chat sometime.

    • Wow – Leah Hoover it’s good to see your name and read your comments. Yes, I remember that time. I’ve noted your email and will be in touch. Take care.

  8. Hi Mary – the fear of rejection (and subsequent disconnection) is really at the heart of stuttering – even from a parent’s viewpoint. I do not stutter, but our son does. As a parent advocate, I encourage parents to infuse their child’s life with acceptance and connection to counter the inevitable rejection and disconnection they will face (which may or may not be connected to the stuttering). I love your wish – and I especially want parents to be empowered to encourage their children to do the same – “may you speak your own words, may you sing your own song, and may you know that you are always loved.” Thank you for your candid, heartfelt paper!

    • And thank you for your support for your son that comes from this understanding that also shows up as love and acceptance. I think that being a parent advocate is so very important. thank you for all that you do. I don’t know where you live, but was talking with a parent of a boy who stutters this morning on the World Stuttering Network zoom call, and was pleased to find out that, in speech therapy, time is also spent with the parents as well her son. Take care.

  9. Hi Mary, You know that fear stuff really keeps ahold of someone. WE ARE OUR WORST EMENYS It’s like Me Myself and I. Which one is going to beat on what I do or say or how I say it? I myself can only make the change and let it all go.
    Thanks Mary for writing this this.

    • Hey Glo! So good to hear from you with your understanding and wisdom. Hoping to see you one of these days. I’m retiring at the end of the year from the ministry job so might be able to get out and about a bit more. Take care.

  10. Hi Mary,
    Wow I absolutely loved reading this! Something that really stood out to me was when you said “A dream gives you a reason to face your fear”. Fear can control many of us, likely even more so for a PWS. Making that dream come to life is very scary, especially when we do not know how long it will take to get there and whether or not it will turnout to be the outcome we are hoping for. This is a great approach and perspective about overcoming and going beyond out fears. Thank you for sharing!


    • Thank you Aileen for reading the paper and for your comments. It’s always good to read how someone else understands what is written and so often adds their own comments. Take care.

  11. Hi Mary, what a wonderful surprise to see you are still very much to the fore and spreading your wonderful message. You bring many happy memories of a wonderful presentation at Manchester so many years ago. You inspired me then and you inspire me now. Lang may your lum reek. God Bless, John

  12. Hi Mary,
    My name is Emma and I am really inspired by your story. Fear definitely takes a hold on so many of us and I feel like your post has given a positive light on how to turn fear into love. We are our own worst enemies most of the time! I wanted to ask you, who has been your greatest support system throughout your journey? Also, how do you feel is the best way non-stutterers can show support to those who do stutter? Looking forward to your response and thank you for sharing!

    • Hi Emma! thanks for reading the paper and your comments. Who has been my greatest support system…. no one has asked me that before. My family certainly supported me and I think it has also been other people in the stuttering community – I live in Canada and so belong to the Canadian stuttering Association. I’ve also attended many conferences sponsored by the National Stuttering Association in the U.S. I feel the best way non-stutteres can show support to those who stutter is to be patient and listen. Also it might be good to accompany the person to a conference. I think to know that I am not being judged or told how to speak is probably high on my list. There are “different strokes for different folks” so it might also be good to ask the person who stutters how they would like you to support them. Take care. And keep asking those questions!!

  13. So good to hear from you John!! Wow – it certainly has been a while since I’ve seen your name and your face. I’m hoping to come “over there” next year for the conference in Liverpool – I think it’s in August. Smiling as I’m reading “lang may your lum reek” again. Take care.

  14. Hi Mary! You have provided so many great perspectives. I loved your idea that “what someone says or does cannot make you feel anything – that is your choice”. This is a powerful thought that is so hard to accept into our lives. Being in fear of how people will treat you is something so many people struggle with, including myself. This is presumably even more so for individuals who stutter- being fearful of how people will react and fearful of rejection. I also loved your comments above about asking those close to us who stutter how we can be a support system, I have found great insight on this from so many entries this year. Thank you for sharing how you have gained strength from positivity and helping others, as well as providing such wonderful insight!

    • Caroline, thanks for reading the paper and sharing your comments with me. We always learn from each other, and I wish you well as you continue on your journey. I have learned that we never know what’s around the next corner, and with an open heart and mind, we are led to what is ours to do. Take care.

  15. Hi Mary,

    I really loved your paper. When you said that Dr. Leonard Shaw wrote that we only have two emotions which are fear and love, I realized how true that was. It may not be exactly those two, but all of our emotions can be categorized under both. Fear is what limits us, but if we change fear into love, love for ourselves, then we can grow and become someone we never thought we could be. I am not a PWS and this has really inspired me, so your paper will undoubtedly inspire PWS. Thank you for sharing your story with us.


    • Zaydell, thanks for reading the paper and sharing your thoughts with me. When our hearts and minds are open, we learn from each other. Each of us has a story and as we read someone else’s story, we can so very often relate and learn from it. Isn’t it wonderful how we can support each other through our thoughts and words. Take care. Mary

  16. Hi Mary!

    I thoroughly enojoyed reading this paper. While I myself am not PWS, I feel like this mentality can be applied to any personal struggle/ self esteem image. Since attending that first conference for PWS in 1993, can you share how it has evolved since then? Do you feel there is a difference in the self-image for the people attending over the years? I feel like in today’s culture, there is a resurgence of self love and advocating. Have you noticed this applied to this demographic? More specifically, what do you hope to see in the next few years regarding “Stuttering Awareness”?

    Thank you!
    Amanda Collins
    Senior at CSUF- Fluency course

    • Hi Amanda! Thanks for reading the paper, your comments and questions. Yes, I’ve found that more interest seems to be on the whole person. That’s just from comments I’ve read and conversations I’ve had on line. The zoom meetings that are happening all over the world are allowing PWS to share their feelings and what is working for them. Stuttering is more out in the open that it has ever been. I’ve really found out that “there are different strokes for different folks” as that old saying goes, and as we support and learn from each other, then stuttering will not be the focus of our life, but a way to learn and love who we are. As I’m reading CSUF Fluency course, wondering if that would ever evolve to replacing “fluency” with “stuttering awareness” or something like that. Just wondering….. Take care. And keep asking the questions….

  17. Dear Mary

    Thank you so much for your inspiring and empowering paper. There is so much wisdom here, that I will try to learn and absorb.

    The 4 agreements has been useful to me, too, and they build upon the original lesson that you taught me, that of Loving What Is. I think that with your paper I might be ready to relate to my stutter not only with acceptance, but with love. Maybe. I know that if I do this I will go a long way to further reducing my fear.

    It’s a Journey and I am deeply grateful for your teaching.


  18. Hanan, I am grateful that you are part of my journey. And it’s a journey that I’m finding will never end… smiling as I’m writing that and hoping that doesn’t discourage you. Here’s a quote on fear that one of my teachers just told me the other day: “Fear tells us when we are moving beyond our comfort zone.” Have to think about that one for w while. And my thoughts around “loving what is” have changed to “accepting what is” – a little easier on the heart and mind. Take care. Here’s my email if you want to chat any time…..

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