|About the presenter: Ellen-Marie Silverman, author of Jason's Secret, has been a speech therapist for more than 40 years. She provided therapy in a private day school, inpatient rehabilitation, outpatient rehabilitation, skilled nursing facilities, home health, and private practice and, most recently, is the owner and CEO of a therapy and support service staffing agency. Dr. Silverman has been a Transactional Analysis trainee and a member of several university faculties. Her experience has led to more than 40 papers published in professional journals, textbook chapters, and three books.|
I am grateful for the opportunity to share what I have learned and to learn from what I share. I would like to extend a special "Thank You" to Judith Kuster who, with the launching of this Conference, has powered a total of nine consecutive, annual ISAD International Online Conferences, a precious forum for communicating and learning about stuttering and ourselves.
Written for adults, the content and themes can be adapted to the experience and understanding of adolescents and children, e.g., Jason's Secret (Silverman, 2001).
Stuttering is the natural eloquence of the fallen.
--- Eugene O'Neill, Long Day's Journey Into Night
The righteous fall seven times and rise again.
--- Paraphrase of an Hasidic saying
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If you're given a lemon, make lemonade.
Do not be concerned. I have not written this paper to convince you as someone who has a stuttering problem or cares about someone who does that a stuttering problem is a glorious gift. That is your decision entirely, and I have not written this paper to persuade you to adopt one view or another about that. But I would like you to consider how differently you might feel and how differently you might live if you thought your stuttering problem was a gift from how differently you might feel and how differently you might live if you believed it was, at best, a burden.
What we believe about ourselves, the world, and our place in it decidedly affects how we live and whether we find life to be a source of joy or suffering. Psychiatrist Eric Berne, the founder of Transactional Analysis, built his theory of personality and method of psychotherapy around this single idea, an idea that also ordered the work of other notable psychiatrists and psychologists, such as the founders of psychoanalysis and cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy. You may be surprised that mystics and physicists, especially those specializing in the field of quantum physics, share the same idea, that our beliefs shape our reality. Albert Einstein, who asserted we experience what we believe, reportedly stressed that the most important question each of us has to answer for ourselves is whether we live in a friendly or a hostile environment. He invited us to consider whether we believe we live in supportive circumstances where our needs are fully met or a culture of scarcity that creates "Have's" and "Have-Not's" and requires us to struggle to attain what we feel is rightfully ours.
The Tibetan Buddhist nun and master teacher Pema Chödrön (2005) generously offers an anecdote from her own meditation practice to illustrate how personal beliefs may influence the process of cultivating personal change. A North American who writes and lectures on meditation practice, including working with shenpa (Silverman, 2005), she discussed her experience relating to deep anxiety while attending a retreat for approximately one week. Throughout, she remained present with what she described as a wordless anxiety, neither denying nor suppressing it, while applying various meditation techniques to soften and melt it away. But she could not budge it. She presented this, to her, troubling challenge to her teacher, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, who provided some relief by acknowledging, that he, too, had had just such an experience. He related that, for him, the experience had lasted months and had been a good teacher. Encouraged, she continued working with the feeling. One day her teacher appeared during her retreat meditation practice.
"Oh, I know that feeling," he announced. "That's the Dakini Bliss!"
"Dakini Bliss?" Pema pondered excitedly. "Oh, wow! Right! The feeling does have the intensity of bliss," she rhapsodized.
She then became eager to continue experiencing the feeling, but it was gone. From that, she realized she had been subconsciously considering what she thought was a sense of anxiety as something bad. And, because she believed she was experiencing something bad, she struggled against it. And because she believed she was experiencing something bad, she considered herself bad because and struggled against herself. When her teacher's words reframed the discomforting experience, she re-imaged the feeling as desirable and herself as good, even special. She transformed her response to the experience and to herself from shame and guilt and, possibly, anger and resentment to exuberant acceptance. She even longed to re-experience the feeling. She, in fact, welcomed the experience as a valued guest. She ceased all struggle to dispel it. Once she did that, it disappeared. She understood why: She knew surrendering to, even embracing, what seems undesirable is a central activity of certain mindfulness practices (e.g., Chödrön, 2003; Hahn, 2000; 2004). It also helps establish what the eminent Swiss psychoanalysis pioneer Carl Jung labeled as personal individuation, i.e., experiencing wholeness by recognizing, embracing, and, finally, integrating the shadow. As Abraham Lincoln cautioned, "A house divided against itself can not stand."
Our beliefs about stuttering and ourselves contribute to the formation of stuttering problems, their continuance, and, ultimately, the release from them. Consider the following brief, vignettes:
Each seemed to experience stuttering as he believed it to be. King George VI as victim, Tiger Woods as victor. They are no different than we; we, too, live what we believe. That is why I have spent the past two and one-half decades deciding what to believe and noting whether or not I was living as I intended.
As a graduate student in speech pathology at the University of Iowa enrolled in a course in general semantics (Korzybski, 1955), I learned to identify what the instructor, O.T. Bontrager, called certainties. He believed certainties, or basic beliefs, spawned our behavior and that most resided in our unconscious. He reasoned that, if we excavated core beliefs that caused us problems then eliminated or altered them, based on current knowledge and experience, we would lead happier, more fulfilling lives. To demonstrate, he instructed us to analyze one personal situation weekly during that semester that led to unpleasantness as a way to identify which belief or beliefs led to that circumstance. We started by verbalizing our irritation then repeatedly asking "Why?" I have used this brilliant method ever since, most recently after stuttering more severely than ever one afternoon two weeks ago. You may think you know all you need to know about "attitudes" and "attitude modification" and their relationship to stuttering, but this simple yet penetrating method can yield striking and helpful results. Let me demonstrate.
First, Some Background: On a recent Friday, just before 5 o'clock p.m., I bit into a chocolate wafer and experienced the lingual surface of a bicuspid fall away. I called my dentist immediately and was told by the receptionist that, since I was experiencing no pain, I would have to wait until the coming Monday to be seen. That Monday, to my surprise and horror, the dentist informed me I needed a root canal. As I waited for the local anesthetic to take effect, already mentally numbed-out by hearing how much the procedure cost, my body could not have been more tense. I was close to hyperventilating as my fear of facing impending, improbable pain overtook me. To divert myself, I decided to ask the dentist waiting on my right a question about the procedure. But my mind, concentrating more on imminent pain, performed poorly as an expressive language generator. Nevertheless, I launched the string of words supposed to be the question by tensely repeating their initial sounds and syllables. I can not remember the words I was trying to say, but I can remember vividly the incomparable, extreme tension I experienced in my thorax, throat, mouth, and face as I began stuttering, while feeling astonished by the force of my stuttering and trying to determine how to stop. I noticed me tell myself, "Let it go. Let the stuttering be what it wants to be. Let it come out." Hearing advice at that time and that advice in particular strongly caught my attention. So, to my credit and the result of a several year and continuing shenpa practice (Silverman, 2005), which teaches acknowledging uncomfortable experience, refraining from acting compulsively and habitually to escape it, and relaxing into the urge to escape, I did what I told myself to do. Yet my stuttering was more explosive and involved more consecutive words than ever. Although my eyes were directed toward my lap, I sensed the sitting postures of the dentist and his technician change from relaxed to stiff, and they seemed to be barely breathing. I felt stunned, puzzled, and profoundly embarrassed to act so out-of-control.
Once the dentist began the root canal work, I noticed my whole body, particularly my thorax, behave uncharacteristically. I hyperventilated. I white-knuckled the chair arms. I sweated, especially across my forehead. Yet I screamed fluently.
Applying The Technique. Later that evening when the anesthetic had worn off, and I felt composed, I checked out was behind my surprising personal-worst/personal-best stuttering by asking and answering WHY? My first response was: I wasn't able to get my thoughts together. To a subsequent WHY?, I replied: I was fearful. My fear was so strong it overpowered my ability to think and disrupted necessary coordination between breathing and speaking. WHY? Because I did not breathe evenly from my deep abdominal area to keep my mind calm and incisive; I let the fear overwhelm me, making my breathing shallow and irregular. WHY? Because I have not yet established the practice of even, deep abdominal breathing at all times. WHY? Because, when I heard of the technique, I understood why and how to do it, felt I could easily do it, and thought I did not need to practice. I believed I could "turn it on" when I felt strong emotion start to cloud my thinking. I did not fully take into account the speed and power of strong emotion to disrupt cognitive control of my behavior. So, here was my primary belief: If I understand what I need to do, I do not need to practice. And me --- a therapist! I had to both laugh and wince at the truthfulness of that discovery.
Like me, you may find verbalizing your actual, not professed, core beliefs embarrassing at first. You may think, "I know better." and get angry, even depressed. But be kind. Pat yourself on the back. Celebrate! You discovered an unhelpful belief. Now you can modify your thinking; establish a new, helpful mind-body link; and grow. Wonderful! And do not forget to tap into your sense of humor to enliven the experience!
Since we mind our minds, we need to know what they are telling us. So, if we want to know what beliefs we are living, we need to take time to carefully analyze our words and actions. Like F. M. Alexander, the orator, who cured himself of chronic laryngitis by changing the way he thought when initiating action then founded The Alexander Technique, we, too, can become more like we were meant to be by recognizing what we deeply believe.
RESOURCES Written Material
Chödrön, P. (2003). "How We Get Hooked/How to Get Unhooked." Shambhala Sun. March. www.shambhalasun.com
Hahn, T. N. (2000). The Wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh. Pennsylvania: Book-of-the-Month Club, Inc.
Korzybski, A. (1955). Science and Sanity, 5th Edition. Fort Worth, Texas: Institute of General Semantics.
Silverman, E.-M., (2001). Jason's Secret. Indianapolis: 1st Books.
Silverman, E.-M. (2005). "Shenpa, Stuttering, and Me." Paper presented at the 8th International Stuttering Awareness Day (ISAD) Online Conference, October.
Chödrön, P. (2005). Getting Unstuck. Boulder, Colorado: Sounds True.
Hahn, T. N. (2004). The Ultimate Dimension. Boulder, Colorado: Sounds True.
Copyright © 2006 by Ellen-Marie Silverman
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