About the presenter: Dirk Vannetelbosch is a priest attached to the Church of Our Lady in Laken, Brussels, Belgium. He stutters and is associated with stutterers in Flanders and Brussels. From many contacts with others who stutter, he thinks about the why-me question and the acceptance of pain in our lives question.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to Dirk Vannetelbosch before October 22, 2001.

Accepting a Gift -- the Gift of Acceptance

by Dirk Vannetelebosch
from Brussels, Belgium

Stuttering is a challenge. If you live with it, you probably know its full impact. You are confronted with it constantly. You wake up with it and you go to sleep with it. It dominates your life, your work, your career, your social development. Stuttering is a word which make some people shudder. Many consider it a deficit, a handicap, like being locked up in a suffocating loneliness. It is the opposite of speaking fluently in a society that values good communication skills. Stuttering may even provoke aggression, anxiety and sadness.

Our society requires that we communicate. Most occupations require good communication skills. Job interviews typically begin with trying to put the best foot forward, and adequate speaking ability is important in doing this. The stutterer often experiences negative reactions to his stuttering. These additional environmental factors may increase the stuttering. The fear of speaking, of entering into communication, and even of living, result from this vicious circle. The "why me" question arises. Speech that apparently presents others with no obstacle is a nightmare for many stutterers. Living with that nightmare may produce self-loathing and loneliness

It is sometimes difficult for the stutterer to live with his "problem." For some, learning to live with stuttering is learning to live with a deficit, a handicap. Many stutterers desire to speak fluently as quickly as possible. They think that their years-old style of speaking can be changed in a matter of weeks. They dream of a magic cure that can help them in a short time. Many "experienced" stutterers would say those people still believe in fairy tales. Stuttering therapy is not a simple cure. Stuttering therapy is in-depth. It attempts to bring out the speech that is trapped inside as well as dealing with the negative feelings of guilt and fear that are deep inside and need to be brought out before real communication is possible. Stuttering therapy may also try to teach how to cope with stuttering.

In his deepest being, most stutterers want to speak fluently. Often they have been through several therapy programs and have abandoned the hope of speaking fluently. They function as best they can, talking as little as possible and hoping that others understand them quickly..

Other stutterers try to ignore the stuttering, simply considering it an inconvenience. For them, stuttering is part of themselves they can't control. No big deal. It is a small, but annoying inconvenience that is best ignored. It is certainly not something to be discussed with others. It is best to keep it secret, unnoticed, so as not to damage one's reputation. Difficult speaking situations are avoided. When this becomes impossible, they try to camouflage the stuttering with a cough or a laugh.

Acceptance may be an important first step

Still others try to accept the stuttering. I consider this a healthy attitude toward stuttering which can be a way out of a lonely maze. Nobody is perfect. We apply this phrase easily enough to another's flaws. Something bad can be found about anyone. But if we try to sell this same philosophy to ourselves and apply it to our stuttering, it doesn't seem to work. We try to put our best qualities first and to hide our imperfections, hoping they will go unnoticed.

To me it boils down to whether a stutterer is willing to acknowledge the problem - it is a question of acceptance or denial. Do I want to ignore, hide or trivialize it, or accept it?

Acceptance is difficult. It is difficult to really "see" ourselves, and make time for ourselves. Often it is impossible. In our modern society, silence, tranquility, and rest are taboo. They take time. They go against the grain of our modern lifestyle and perhaps frighten us a little. Who really wants to be confronted with himself? It is difficult to bring ourselves to find tranquility in our own lives, giving ourselves time to examine our large hearts and our small faults. If we can bring ourselves to do this though, we have taken an important first step. We have put distance between our hurried life-style and set the outside world aside for a moment. We can hear our own breath, the ticking of the clock. We allow tranquility to embrace us. This is the time to take stock of our abilities -- to ponder a moment about all our skills, our achievements and our joys. It is also a time to remember the feelings of fear and sadness, our failures and defeats. We usually find it difficult to cope with these moments of silence because it often puts us face to face with reality.

It is similar to a film passing before our eyes. On the one hand this film shows us that we are more than "stutterers." Stuttering is a part of our lives, but only one facet. We need to see ourselves as whole individuals with many parts. One small part happens to be stuttering. On the other hand, as we watch this film from a distance, we may learn to see that stuttering is intimately woven into our lives. It is the way we are. It is as much a part of our life as all our other qualities. To ignore the stuttering is to amputate a part of us. It is to cut off something we have lived with for many years.

Acceptance of stuttering is to acknowledge it as a vital part of our lives, of our being. This naked reality can be pretty sobering, but it can also bring a kind of peace - a peace that comes with acknowledgement. From that acknowledgment, gratitude can actually flow.. Does that mean we should be thankful for our stuttering? Isn't that a little masochistic? I don't think so. Through this acceptance we can integrate stuttering into our life in the same way we integrate our other qualities. We do not define ourselves as stutterers, but as people with many qualities. We begin to see ourselves differently, and as this happens, others will see us differently as well.

And thus we become thankful. What was apparently our biggest deficit can now be tested against the flaws in others. When I did this, I quickly came to a sobering conclusion. I would not want to change places with the life of another. I would not want to swap simply because I have a flaw (stuttering), a cross to bear. I know the weight of that cross and can just about manage it. This makes me grateful for other abilities that I have and willing to accept the stuttering along with them. My stuttering becomes a source of strength in teaching me to keep things in perspective and keep both of my feet on the ground. It helps me avoid pride. Stuttering forces me to abandon pride. Pride is often seen in people who have no apparent faults. Pride leaves the stutterer at the first stutter. One quickly realizes his insignificance which helps one become a better person. By recognizing my stuttering, it actually becomes a strength. St. Paul actually spoke of this in 2 Corinthians 12.

We are human. We are not perfect. Each of us has "flaws" and general comparisons about which flaws are "worse" cannot be made. If the stutterer compares himself to those who seem to be able to do everything, it may make him sad and discouraged. If he shows interest in people who seem to have many problems, his comparison will put his own problem, stuttering, into perspective. He no longer feels alone. He feels lifted up knowing that others have difficulties, too. The mountain no longer seems so high. The destructive self-image becomes instead a mirror of hope.

If the mountain is not so high, he can actually see it more clearly, and can try to do something about it. When we start to view our stuttering as a hindrance, rather than an insurmountable problem, we are not deceiving ourselves. Rather, we can analyze the hindrance and reduce it from a "mountain" to the proportions of a "hill." A hill does not dominate the horizon, and can even seem inviting. By putting this hill (our stuttering) into perspective, we can even begin to discover humor in our situation.

When we can begin to cherish our stuttering, we often put stuttering into perspective. Acknowledgement is communicating with others and with yourself. You can touch it. You can work on it. You open yourself to others. You are no longer alone. Cherishing stuttering allows one to disassociate from the reactions of others, who may be well-meaning, but who may not understand stuttering. Consciously dealing with stuttering is accepting life with a "flaw." This confrontation with stuttering is a healthy challenge. It can make one conscious of being alive.

The Value of Stuttering Associations

Problems arise when a stutterer is confronted with someone ignorant about stuttering. When such a person meets a stutterer, he doesn't know which way to look. Both the listener and the stutterer feel uncertain. Tension rises and nervousness increases. It may be the first time this person ever heard a stutterer speak. There aren't a lot of people who stutter, and many stutterers are careful not to expose themselves, speaking little.

Many stutterers choose a profession which requires little talking as well. This brings them into less contact with the outside world and means that the outside world is less exposed to stuttering. Another vicious circle develops. Many stutterers keep to themselves and do not speak about their stuttering. They are scared, anxious, and fear that the outside world will not accept them. But how can the outside world accept them if they never meet the stutterer? It is only when people have stutterers among them that they can learn to value and accept them.

Stuttering associations bring stutterers together which helps them deal with their stuttering and with other people. Stutterers can connect with others who stutter and realize they are not alone. As understanding deepens, self-respect increases. Healthy self-respect is excellent armor for a person who stutters.

It is remarkable how others accept stutterers once they become more familiar with stuttering. Some say they no longer even notice it. They have become used to it. Others simply accept stutterers for their many diverse qualities. There are even people who accept stutterers precisely because they have demonstrated that they can deal with a difficult problem (stuttering) in a healthy manner. They admire stutterers when they see how they are able to "wrestle" through an impending stutter.

A stutterers' association made up of former stutterers who can now speak fluently would be meaningless. Such people may speak patronizingly of other stutterers because they have "made it." They got through. They can control their speech. They found the "right path." This attitude can make the stutterer feel even more of a failure. He is even more alone. Others have made it to the shore and he is alone in the stormy waters.

A stuttering association can reach the outside world through the media which can provide a balanced, fair picture of a significant group of people for whom speech is difficult. The media can reach a broad public, breaking through the stutterers isolation. It can given unknown stutterers the feeling that they are not the only ones with this problem. Information campaigns such as the annual International Stuttering Awareness Day can also be helpful.


A stuttering association means a lot to stutterers, but it all starts and ends with the individual stutterer -- how I feel about myself, how I look at myself. Sometimes acceptance works, but it is often difficult. Before I ask others how they should deal with and react to my stuttering, it helps if I can first learn to deal with my stuttering myself. When they see that I have learned to live with my stuttering, then they can also live with it. And then I am not alone.

ACCEPTANCE - a poem by Dirk Vannetelbosch.

References consulted

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to Dirk Vanneltelbosch before October 22, 2001.

September 12, 2001