The Veils of Stuttering

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One reason stuttering is particularly difficult for teenagers to cope with is that they are struggling to reconcile many different and often conflicting self-images. 

Images of the Stuttering "Self"

or every person, self-images acquired in early childhood and reinforced through the course of life are the cause of much suffering because they prevent access to our true nature. These self images (for example, "I'm an introvert" or "I'm an avoider") perpetuate the notion that the personality is the self, preventing people from realizing their full range of human capabilities. For the person who stutters (PWS), the "veils of stuttering" tend to perpetuate the disorder by reinforcing the illusion that the self and stuttering are the same thing. These veils also shroud the true nature of stuttering in self-judgments, lack of self acceptance, fear and threat anxiety, distorted projections, and the acquired opinions of others  -- all unhelpful activities of a psychological process called the super ego or inner critic.

Ironically, the overt behaviors of developmental stuttering are largely the result of attempts to preserve the identity and the self in the first place. To the child who begins to experience difficulties with speech disruptions, the first threads of the veils are woven in the instinctual attempt to control and hide abnormality. 

What is "stuttering" to the person who stutters? In his book Stuttering and Science (Singular Publishing Group, 1995) Dr. William H. Perkins provides a good working definition -- "Stuttering is the experience of losing control of the speech mechanism." I would add a bit to that, but people who don't stutter can best understand the disorder by thinking about this definition for a few moments and imagining what life would be like if this happened regularly -- and realizing that untutored attempts to control stuttering usually make it more severe.

Stuttering is a democratic affliction, affecting the talented and the average, the wealthy and the poor. Well-known people who stutter(ed) include late novelist, poet and critic John Updike; actors James Earl Jones, Bruce Willis and Sam Neill; TV journalist John Stossel; singers Carly Simon, Mel Tillis, Robert Merrill, and the late John "Scatman" Larkin; U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf; and sportsmen Bill Walton, Ken Venturi, Bo Jackson, Rosie Grier, Bob Love, and Lester Hayes. Other well-known people who stuttered who've made valuable contributions to humanity (some of whom are shown throughout the pages in this site), include Lewis Carroll, Sir Isaac Newton, Aristotle, Winston Churchill, Charles Darwin (and his grandfather Erasmus), novelist Henry James, noted speech pathologist Charles Van Riper, and Marilyn Monroe.

But there are thousands upon thousands of "regular folks" who stutter who live active and involved lives with varying degrees of speech impairment. Many of these people stutter so mildly that they are capable of almost completely ignoring or hiding their disfluencies -- even from their spouses and children.  Others stutter so severely that they can only dream of hiding their struggles, unless they stop speaking entirely. Most people who stutter live somewhere in between these poles, wishing that they didn't have this "extra" challenge to deal with every day. One of the helpful insights that all of these people can have is that the simple outward severity of stuttering is often not correlated with the degree of internal suffering or handicap that can result.

The author is one of the estimated 60 million people in the world who stutter and one of the hundreds of people who stutter who have become speech-language pathologists to assist others in their recovery of fluency. The information on this Web site may be revolutionary to some, disturbing to others, and refreshing to a few. Some ideas found here are unconventional. Some are common knowledge. Other ideas will be disputed by many. That's good, because stuttering cannot be understood if one relies only on the current state of research or knowledge in the field, which is sorely lacking.

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1994 - 2014 Darrell M. Dodge, MA, CCC-SLP

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Last Updated: Sunday, January 05, 2014