CREATING A SETTING FOR FLUENCY
by John C. Harrison
Program Director, National Stuttering Project
Ever own a ring with a stone in it? Got one on your finger right
now? Hold it up close to your eye.
Notice how perfectly the setting is configured to support that
particular stone. Notice the snug fit.
Let's say your ring holds a one carat diamond. Think you can
replace it with a two carat stone?
Not without changing the setting. Seems obvious, doesn't it.
Well, guess what. Your speech works the same way. You -- the
total you -- are the setting for your speech. And the only speech
patterns you'll ever be comfortable with are those which reflect who you
Back to the ring. You could try and fit a differently shaped
stone into that setting. You even might get it to stay...for a little
while. But you know what'll happen? The setting will stand the stress
of the misfit for just so long. And then, when you're not
looking...POP!...the stone will fall out.
Isn't that the experience so many people who stutter have with
therapy programs? Here you've coughed up several thousand dollars to go
through the Precision Fluency Shaping Program...or the air flow
program...or spent months with the delayed auditory feedback
machine...or whatever program you've struggled with. Maybe you made
no progress at all. But more maddening...maybe you've upped your level
of fluency substantially, only to see it slip back in the weeks and months
"Why?" you ask. "Why, why, why?"
You won't find the answer by continuing to look for the Holy
Grail (the one therapy program that works). You'll have a lot better
luck if you go about changing the "setting" that supports your
particular speaking behavior.
Let me explain.
GETTING EVERYTHING INTO ALIGNMENT
Your mind and your body each are marvelously interconnected
mechanisms. I have a taste of that every few months when I stop in to
see my osteopath. My complaint is usually a sore muscle in my lower
back, one of those frustrating aches deep inside that I can't put my
finger on, but which hurts when I bend over. Except that Dr. Chapman
never starts out working on my lower back. That comes later. She
begins with my hips, progresses to my rib cage, and loosens other
muscles that I would never expect were involved.
What I've discovered is that the body is a web of
interconnections, and that when one muscle becomes injured, I
unconsciously adjust other muscles to compensate. Dr. Chapman not only
has to release the spasmed lower back muscle; she also has to release
all the supporting muscles in the other parts of my body. If she
doesn't disable the "system" that I've created to compensate for the
spasmed lower back muscle, the recovered back muscle will find itself in
an "alien" environment -- one that it set up to support a sick muscle.
And guess what? Since nature abhors a vacuum, I will somehow reinjure
my back muscle so that the compensatory system I've created can once
more be in balance.
Stated another way, my spasmed lower back muscle is the "jewel".
And the rest of my body is the "setting" that holds this jewel in place.
Your psyche works the same way.
As a child with a speech problem, you made certain psychological
adjustments to compensate for your speech...and especially, for the
negative emotions associated with stuttering.
Over a period of years these adjustments became a part of your
basic personality. For example, you might have assumed the role of a
helpless, dependent person so that other people would have to talk for
you. You might have avoided sharing your feelings, because feelings --
anger, hurt, even joy -- caused you to stutter all the more. And of
course, people who stutter should never be assertive, because their slow
speech is an imposition on others. Since you desperately needed the
approval of others, it was always necessary to assume an apologetic
You get the idea.
So then one day you're thirty years old and you read about this
terrific new therapy program. All kinds of people have attested to its
efficacy. So you fork over the cash, commit yourself to the struggle,
set aside a block of time, and away you go.
Lo and behold, you get results. In the room with the therapist
you talk freely for the first time. It is exhilarating. With the
therapist's encouragement, you step into the world, conquer the fear of
talking to strangers, make a zillion phone calls for merchandise you'll
never buy, and prove to yourself that the monster, indeed, has feet of
clay. It can be conquered. Of course, not everyone reaches this level
of success, but almost everyone who makes the effort will show some
degree of improvement.
Therapy ends. Heady with success, you move out on your own.
And then one day you have a relapse.
Who knows what caused it. It could be a boss who assumes a
parental role. It could be a dashed hope. A rejected lover. Or maybe
the planets weren't lined up properly.
The one thing you do know is that you're back in that old, hated
familiar territory again. Blocked. Scared. Helpless. Disfluent as
hell. Your new lack of confidence pulls the rug out from under you. In
desperation, you fall back into old speech habits, until one day, it's
like that heady trip with the therapist never ever happened.
The response is totally appropriate.
See, you thought that you could change the stone without
changing the setting.
Did you do anything about your posture of helplessness? Or your
reluctance to communicate your feelings? Or your lack of self-
assertiveness? Or your unwillingness to be totally responsible? Or
your constant and grinding need for approval?
Oh, you didn't.
But these were all the adjustments you made to support a
stuttering habit. If you didn't change the components in this system,
the system has just been sitting around waiting for the missing
component -- your stuttering -- to reappear.
Sure enough, one day it does.
And everything is back in balance.
Now along comes the National Stuttering Project (or some other
group designed to promote personal growth.) The organization says,
"Now's the time to take charge of your life. Right now. Before you're
fluent. Before everything is perfect. Right this very minute. Here's
a terrific opportunity. If you're afraid of making speeches, come to a
meeting and take a chance. Afraid of being responsible? Write to some
people and see if you can get them to join (i.e.: take responsibility
for the organization. After all, there's nobody there but us to make
this all happen.)"
Afraid of asking a girl for a date? Try it anyway, and if you
don't succeed, share the experience with others at an NSP meeting. If
you're not near a chapter, write about it for the newsletter. Or at the
very least share the hurt with a friend.
If you feel you need an NSP chapter to support you and there's not
one around, start one yourself. (Lots of people are doing it.) The NSP
has all the tools to support you.
If you're in the dark about how to be assertive, and most of us
are; (we confuse assertiveness with aggressiveness -- big difference!),
sign up for a self-assertion class. Or if that's too scary, at least
buy a book about it...and then read it!
If you've never communicated about stuttering to anyone else and
there's no one around who you think would understand, write to someone
in the NSP. If you don't know who to write to, write your intentions to
be a correspondent, and we'll publish your name and address in the NSP
newsletter "Letting Go." I'll guarantee you'll have a pen pal --
probably more than one -- who will know exactly where you're coming
from; a person who will be able to share many similar experiences.
All of these efforts will pay off, because they'll help you to
change the very negative, repressive behaviors that support your speech
Ironically, only one person in ten will ever take a stab at this.
Most of us will continue to try and change our stuttering without
changing the "setting" that holds this behavior firmly in place.
Because we have a huge investment in the status quo. We may not
like what we have, but it's all familiar and totally predictable. To
take a chance means to step into the unknown.
Most of us hate stepping into the unknown. We act like the man
who drops his car keys on the lawn at night, but insists on looking for
them on the sidewalk under the street light...simply because he can see
better there. We don't want to risk. But the truth is, there's little
likelihood of success in the safe, familiar places. Just observe your
success rate to date. To find what you're searching for, you have to
look where you have never looked before.
So...you want a good place to start? Here's a little exercise.
List all the ways you can think of that you changed your life to
compensate for your stuttering.
Now put a check after each one you're willing to give up.
Let's see how serious you are.
Make a list on a separate sheet of paper indicating what you are
willing to start doing right now to strengthen this weakness. And
indicate when you are going to start doing something about it.
I dare you to take the first step.
One final observation. It has been my privilege to meet a number
of people who have really changed their ability to communicate. Some
have made remarkable progress in therapy. And all of them, without
exception, had already made the changes in their lives to support an
easier, more fluent way of speaking.
Remember, if you want a different stone, you first have to change