About the presenter: Ellen-Marie Silverman has provided clinical services in diverse service environments. She has been a member of several university faculties and founded a staffing services company for occupational, physical, and speech therapy and interpreting and captioning services, including live theater captioning, which she pioneered in Wisconsin. Dr. Silverman is also trained in transactional analysis, which she has used to form the structure of her clinical approach. The author or co-author of 44 papers, several textbook chapters, and a novel for children, Jason's Secret, dealing with the nature and treatment of stuttering problems, she has presented at local, state, national, and international meetings. She is an ASHA Fellow and member of Special Interest Division IV.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to the author before October 22, 2008.

Call me Hag or call me Crone. At 65, I've earned the tags. But I prefer the title Elder. I've lived a lot. I've learned a lot. And I feel responsible to pass on what little wisdom I've acquired. That's what elders do. So, allow me to do some non-institutionalized eldering (Shacter-Shalomi, 1997) by sharing some hard-won knowledge about living happily ever after. But, first, a heartfelt "Thank You!"" to Prof. Judy Kuster, Chair of this special forum for the 11th consecutive year, for offering the space to do this. Kudos to her once again for bringing so many together to inform and encourage each other about managing stuttering problems, our own or someone else's. And "Welcome!" to you, Dear Reader. Please enrich this space by sharing and questioning as you will

Copyright Notice: This is a copyright protected document. Copyright by Ellen-Marie Silverman, 2008. Neither excerpts nor the entire paper may be published in hard copy, copied to another website, or otherwise reproduced in other media without advance permission from Ellen-Marie Silverman, Ph.D. (TSSS920499@aol.com). Permission is granted to read, print out a single copy for personal use, or link to this page. --- Ellen-Marie Silverman, Ph.D., Milwaukee, Wisconsin, August 31, 2008.

Happily Ever After

by Ellen-Marie Silverman
from Wisconsin, USA

I'm more fluent than ever; I should feel happy.
* * * * *
I've been accepted to graduate school by my first choice; I should feel happy.
* * * * *
My child is participating in classroom discussions and making friends; I should feel happy.
* * * * *


Isn't that the way! We get what we want, and, for a while, we are happy. Then we discover what we received does not perfectly match what we expected. And, Poof! Anger, sadness, or fear replaces our happiness.


  1. We stutter as fiercely and as much or more than ever days after an amazingly fluent weekend in a fluency workshop, and we crumble for a time. Although we soon resume passably fluent speech, we no longer feel confident interacting because a nagging doubt about whether we will ever be truly fluent drags us down.

  2. When we arrive on campus as a new grad student, we discover that continuing grad students are closed and shun friendly contacts with new students. A sharp ache in the pit of our stomach quickly replaces the excitement we felt thinking about socializing with fellow students. We don't want to be part of such a cold culture, but, for financial reasons, we see no other choice but to stay
  3. Our child stutters as much as ever, sometimes more tensely, now that he is making presentations, participating in discussions, and playing with friends. Our anxiety about whether therapy will work for him and whether we enrolled him in the right program replaces the elation we felt when he began opening up.
We could discuss why it is that reverting from happy to sad in each instance is unnecessary, but I selected these examples for another purpose, i.e., to pose the question, Can we experience lasting happiness? I think many of us quietly ponder this possibility from time-to-time because we know the hope, indeed, the expectation that we can drives us to enter therapy, to apply to the best graduate programs, to carefully consider decisions for our children, and to make each and every choice count has not yet resulted in everlasting happiness. Sometimes we even may slip into despair, doubting that happiness is for us, concluding it is only for others. From personal experience, I know how easy it is to think this way. I grew up believing what fairy tales taught: If you thought good thoughts and did good deeds, someone or something would rescue you from your bitter situation to live "Happily Ever After." Some years ago, I realized just how strongly that belief affected me when, alone and deeply distressed about facing a series of troubling circumstances, I surprised myself by shouting out to the ether, "I want my 'Happily Ever After!'" Frustrated after decades of patterning my life after fairy tale heroines who received the gift of happiness everlasting while I did not, my roar was a bit like the Seinfield character Mr. Costanza, George's father, bellowing, "Serenity Now!" when he could not bear feeling undone one second longer. Examining the beliefs I held that led to that startling reaction helped put me on The Path of Happiness, which I have determinedly traveled since. So, my response to the question, based on knowledge and personal experience, is a definite, "Yes!" We can conduct ourselves in a way to be genuinely happy (e.g., Kornfield, 2008: Seligman, 2004) most of the time. Here's how.


Be happy now! There is no need to wait until therapy fixes us, or we become a certified clinician, or our child no longer stutters. And most of us know it is futile to depend on a fairy godmother or handsome prince to happify us. So, if we wait until we and everything we care about are just as we wish, happiness will forever elude us. We will be one speech hesitancy, one clinical certification requirement, or one stuttering episode away. We do not have to live like that. We have the capacity to be happy right where we are no matter how dire the circumstance, not by relenting or settling but by altering our view, and we possess the power to do so once we realize that. For instance, centuries ago, British poet Richard Lovelace wrote from prison, "Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage;" and, last century, logotherapy founder, psychiatrist Viktor Frankl (2006) recounted that he survived Nazi concentration camp internment by embracing two thoughts which gave him happiness, rejoining his wife and completing a technical manuscript. Others, informed by their knowledge of sacred texts and personal experience, e.g., Tolle, (2005), Hanh (2004), and Myss (1997), also assert it only is in the present where we can experience happiness. As Loretta La Roche (1995), humor therapist, reminds us, "The past is history. The future is a mystery. Now is a gift. That's why it's called The Present."

Pema Chödrön (2006) and other students of human happiness, including Tsultrim Allione (2008) and Martin Seligman (2004), teach us to create enduring happiness for ourselves that can accommodate life's up's and down's, including periods of grief and loneliness, by accepting both "agreeable and disagreeable" as they appear in our lives. For most, doing so initially is contrary to our more instinctive response of resisting what we do not want and doggedly chasing after what we think will remove or lessen our pain. But, by resisting our unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and sensations as we stutter and others' real and imagined negative responses as we do, many of us have layered our stuttering problems with throbbing complexity. As the late Wendell Johnson (1956) cautioned more than a half century ago, a stuttering problem is ". . .an anticipatory, apprehensive, hypertonic avoidance reaction. . ." and, as such, thrives on resistance. In addition to feeding our stuttering problem, resistance delays our opportunity to learn from carefully studying how we think, act, and feel as we stutter to discern which mind-sets and behaviors we need to release and which to cultivate to speak with increasing ease and finesse. And, by welcoming, rather than resisting, stuttering, as paradoxical as such a choice seems until we do it, we gain enhanced self-esteem (Silverman, 2005).

It is hard to imagine anyone who dwells on what makes them unhappy about the way they speak and about themselves as a speaker benefiting much from speech therapy, unless and until they discover what also makes them happy about how they speak and themselves as speakers. As actor, writer, director, and producer Vin Diesel succinctly stated:

"Before you ask someone to save the world, make sure they like it just the way it is."

Seeing ourselves broadly as we actually function, i.e., as partners, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, friends, colleagues, gardeners, community members, etc. demonstrating our individual strengths and weakness rather than through the tightly closed, smudged window of labels, such as female, male, Jew, Latina, senior citizen, and, especially, PWS, acronym for person who stutters, which diminish our perception of who we are and what we can do for ourselves and others is a good place to start. Therapy and self-help groups which anchor us in a larger, more realistic personal perspective than labels allow are likely to stimulate and support healing because such an orientation is apt to help us think well of ourselves (e.g, Hanh, 2004).


When we think we deserve to be happy, we treat ourselves kindly. Many of us, after experiencing stuttering-related hurt, choose to be "nice" people. We appear agreeable and encouraging in public, but, in private, especially during our almost continuous self-talk, denigrate ourselves for failing to live up to our standards with associates, family, friends, andd strangers because we stuttered or because we believed we squandered an opportunity to be helpful or for personal advancement through fear of stuttering. This sort of self-abasement that can readily lead to unnecessary disengagement from others (e.g., Silverman, 2003; 2006) contributes to a mix of dreary and miserable feelings while strengthening stuttering-related avoidant behaviors (e.g., Allione, 2008). Like the legendary French chanteuse Edith Piaf, who lived so challenging a life that she died at 47 appearing years older, yet came to personify one of her signature songs, "No. No Regrets!" we, too, gain nothing useful by burdening ourselves with feelings of regret and blame. When we release self-recrimination for stuttering, perhaps, we can relate kindly to ourselves. That is when we will find more of the contentment we seek.


Treading a Path of Happiness is not easy. Far from it! Doing so requires commitment to change, i.e. embarking on a journey which can take us we know not where; willingness to take personal responsibility for our choices; and application of honesty and courage, as much as we can muster, moment-by-moment. Some spiritual teachers (Gimian, 2008, p. 76) advise students that, "It is better not to begin such a journey, but, if you begin, you should go all the way to the destination." I believe it is more difficult to suffer without knowing a way out than to face unknown challenges. So, I have chosen to walk a path rather than wander in the wilderness. For now, that brings enough reward.


Written Allione, T., (2008). Feeding Your Demons. Ancient Wisdom for Solving Inner Conflict. New York: Littale, Brown and Company.

Frankl, V., (2006). Man's Search for Meaning. Boston: Beacon Press.

Gimian, C., (2008). Beyond Carrot and Stick. Shambhala Sun, pp. 74-79.

Johnson, W. (1956). "Stuttering," pp. 216-217. In W. Johnson, et al. (Eds.), Speech Handicapped School Children, 2nd Edition. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Schacter-Shalomi, Z., (1997). From Age-Ing to Sage-Ing: A Profound New Vision of Growing Older. New York: Grand Central Publishing.

Seligman, M., (2004). Authentic Happiness. Utilizing the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.

Silverman, E.-M., (2006). A Personal Choice. The ASHA Leader, Vol. 11 (16), p. 47.

Silverman, E.-M., (2005). Shenpa, Stuttering, and Me. Presented at the 8th Annual International Stuttering Awareness Day Online Conference, October.

Silverman, E.-M., (2003). My Personal Experience with Stuttering and Meditation. 6th Annual International ISAD Online Conference, October.

Tolle, E., (2005). A New Earth. Awakening to Your Life's Purpose. New York: Penguin Group.

CD's & Videos

Chödrön, P. (2006). True Happiness. Boulder, Colorado: Sounds True.

Hahn, T. N. (2004). The Ultimate Dimension. Boulder, Colorado: Sounds True.

Kornfield, J., (2008). The Wise Heart. A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology (Abridged). Boulder, Colorado: Sounds True.

La Roche, L., (1995), The Joy of STRESS. Boston: WGBH/PBS.

Myss, C., (1997). Why People Don't Heal and How They Can. PBS.

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to the author before October 22, 2008.

May 15, 2008
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