|About the presenter: Alan Badmington is a former police officer and lifelong stutterer from Wales, UK. He is a highly successful figure in the public speaking clubs of England and Wales, having won numerous trophies. Earlier this year, he was one of the eight finalists in the Association of Speakers Clubs UK national public speaking championships. He regularly addresses diverse community organisations in an attempt to increase public awareness about stuttering. Alan has also given talks to SLP student graduates in the USA, as well as undertaking presentations/workshops at NSA/BSA events and on mainland Europe. He was a keynote speaker at the 7th World Congress for People Who Stutter in Australia in February 2004, where he won the Oratory Competition. His television, radio and newspaper interviews have further brought stuttering to the fore. Alan has contributed a chapter to John Harrison's book, 'How to conquer your fears of speaking before people'. His work has been frequently reproduced in NSA/BSA publications and on the major stuttering-related websites. Alan was formerly joint owner of Stutteringchat, the world's largest Internet group for persons who stutter. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org|
I understand that I commenced stuttering at about the age of 3. I received early therapy and cannot recall any major difficulties until I entered the grammar school at 11 years.
I have vivid memories of struggling to give my name and address at the initial registration, in the presence of teachers and pupils that I had not previously encountered.
Reading aloud in class was a nightmare. I would calculate (10 desks ahead) what I would be required to say. Struck by the stark reality that my passage contained many words that had previously given me difficulty, I would remain silent and the reading would pass to the next pupil. That was one of the first examples that I recall of approach avoidance.
Further therapy followed without much success. I could read successfully in the therapy room, but would neither ask, nor respond to, questions in class for fear of appearing foolish.
As I progressed through school, the situation worsened and I came to accept that I could never speak in front of a group. I felt that I would always have difficulty expressing myself to people I did not know well.
Words commencing with specific letters attracted a particular emotional charge, as I repeatedly stumbled whilst attempting to say them. I developed the ability to provide instant synonyms, not commencing with the 'dreaded' letters. I became a 'walking Thesaurus' - further adding to the web of avoidances that had become an integral part of my existence.
During my life, as I suffered the consequences of malfunctioning speech, I changed the way I felt about myself, and others. I developed strategies to protect myself from shame and embarrassment. Fear assumed the role of guardian, shielding me from experiencing the negative emotions that I felt when I stuttered. When these changes began to influence and reinforce each other, the problem became self-perpetuating.
SELF-LIMITING BELIEFS My beliefs about my speech (and other areas of my life) came about in a number of different ways. Primarily, they were created by my experiences, and the way in which I interpreted those events. Here are some of the self-limiting beliefs that I accumulated as a result of past difficulties:
We all possess a mental blue-print of ourselves - a personal conception of who we are, shaped by our personal beliefs and life experiences. It will be influenced by what we consider to be our failures and successes, and the way in which others have reacted towards us. Our thoughts, feelings, behaviours and actions are consistent with that blue-print, irrespective of the reality of that image.
As a person who stuttered, I felt that I had to please other people. I constantly modified myself until I presented an image that I felt complied with their criteria.
A self-image that is too constrictive to accommodate our entire personality forces us to curtail our activities, so that we may continue to act out of character. As a result, I lost contact with my real self.
It has been my experience that many persons who stutter avoid expanding their comfort zones, casting themselves in a diminished role - content to live safe, predictable existences. They choose to remain within that tried and tested environment, where there is an absence of risk and change. Fear is the gate-keeper to our comfort zones. Stepping outside into unfamiliar territory is invariably accompanied by nervousness and apprehension. By not venturing outside our comfort zones, we eliminate risk but severely limit our personal and professional growth.
Although I had led a relatively expansive life, and was proud of what I had achieved (in spite of my stutter), I felt that there were occasions where I had allowed the fear of stuttering to deter me from attempting certain things.
SPRINGBOARD FOR CHANGE
In 2000, I acquired new tools to overcome speech blocks and 'feared' words. The resultant fluency that I experienced in a controlled environment provided the springboard for change. However, I realised that if I wished to sustain those gains in the outside world, I needed to address other areas of my life.
I also acquired a better understanding of the physiology and psychology of stuttering, and gained access to a support network.
At the same time, I also learned (via John Harrison's stuttering hexagon concept) that stuttering is not solely related to the mechanics of speech. It involves so much more: it is an interactive system involving the entire person, incorporating such factors as beliefs, perceptions, emotions, intentions, physical behaviours and physiological responses. (Harrison, 2004)
I knew that I had to deal with personal issues involving communication with others, while also recognising the need to dismantle the psychological framework that had supported my stutter for more than half a century. I was well aware that it would involve considerable effort. It is only in the dictionary that 'success' precedes 'work'.
CHANGING MY BELIEFS
Beliefs are probably the most powerful force for creating positive changes. They have a direct influence upon the way we think and behave. We perform at a level that is consistent with our beliefs and not with our potential.
I realised that my self-limiting beliefs (about my speech and other areas of my life), were contributing to self-defeating behaviour. With this understanding, I set about identifying those beliefs that I felt were holding me back.
One way to change a belief is to challenge it. So that was the path I decided to explore. Having highlighted my negative beliefs, I prepared a plan of action in which I would place myself in challenging situations. I needed to do things that I believed I could not do. (Badmington, 2003)
I recognised avoidance as a crucial ingredient of my stuttering behaviour, and made a pact with myself that I would never again substitute an easy word for a difficult one. I also vowed that I would accept, and never shirk, the challenge of any speaking situation.
Speaking in front of groups also figured prominently amongst my list of fears. A catalogue of painful experiences had fuelled my belief that I could never successfully perform that role. I addressed the situation by joining three clubs under the umbrella of the Association of Speakers Clubs (in the UK). I quickly discovered that the fear of public speaking was shared by many other (fluent) club members.
I had frequent opportunities to speak before an audience and gained in confidence. I also overcame my reluctance to pause, maintain eye contact and speak assertively (also previous self-limiting beliefs).
During the past four years, I have addressed numerous organisations in the UK, and also undertaken speaking engagements, and facilitated workshops, in many parts of the world. My fear gradually evaporated and, today, I readily accept public speaking as an integral part of my new self-image.
Having participated in debating groups, drama classes, media interviews and an assortment of workshops that involved considerable interaction, I now find that giving detailed explanations is no longer a problem. Another negative belief has been discounted.
The sub-conscious mind accepts every conscious thought as though it were true. It cannot differentiate between fact and fiction. It simply receives and stores the information without question.
Negative self-talk can be so damaging. I spent a lifetime reminding myself of (and giving far too much prominence to) those instances where I felt I had been unsuccessful. Today, once a negative thought appears, I acknowledge it and immediately dispense it to the trash can. I then replace it with a positive thought of my own choice.
I also found it useful to maintain a register of positive happenings which served to reinforce my progress. When I experienced setbacks, I viewed them as stepping stones to success, and not as failures.
Negative thinking can also activate the body's 'Fight and Flight' response, which can lead to stress.
In order to bring something into physical reality, it must first be created mentally. By using such techniques, I was able to generate images of success that allowed me to build up a pattern of positive behaviour in my subconscious mind.
In addition to visualization, I utilised affirmations - positive statements about myself. This further fed my subconscious with positive messages.
EXPERIENCING THE CHANGE
While serving as a police officer, the severity of my stutter made it necessary for me to wear a small electronic device, known as the Edinburgh Masker. It emitted a buzzing noise every time I spoke, blocking out the sound of my own voice. I wore it daily for 20 years, not hearing myself speak whilst it was activated. Although the equipment never eliminated my stuttering, it gave me the confidence to venture into situations that I might otherwise have avoided. Consequently, I expanded my comfort zones and developed my inter-personal skills.
Despite considerable setbacks, I built up a system that would eventually support greater self-expression later in life. When I acquired the new breathing/speaking techniques in 2000, they proved to be the final pieces in the jigsaw.
In the early days of the transformation, I experienced some unusual happenings. While enjoying greater freedom of speech, I would suddenly be hit by the realisation that I was not stuttering. A little voice would then chirp, "Hey Alan, why aren't you having any problems? This feels strange".
Once this occurred, I would invariably encounter my former feeling of holding back. Eventually, I became totally accustomed to the more liberated manner of speaking, and, today, I accept it without reservation. It is as natural as walking.
If I had not challenged and reversed my self-limiting beliefs (not just in relation to stuttering), and widened my narrow self-image, then my thoughts and actions would have continued to be generated in accordance with those beliefs, and my personal blue-print. As long as we retain a self-limiting belief, our resultant negative thoughts and behaviours will continue to influence our lives and speech.
But the changes did not happen overnight. I had to do certain things over and over until the behaviours were familiar, and I became used to seeing myself in the new roles. It was only then that they became an acceptable part of the 'real' me.
The moment I was prepared to give up my old self image, I found that there were incredible opportunities for change. I adopted a holistic approach and worked on various aspects of my life.
My speech improved as a by-product.
Once I had decided to take the initial step, I didn't require any motivation. You see, I was doing things that I had always dreamed of - I was saying the things that I had always wanted to say.
When we achieve something that we have always considered impossible, it causes us to reconsider our self-beliefs. If we conquer something that has challenged our advancement, we grow in stature. When we overcome hurdles, it opens our eyes to possibilities that we could never have imagined.
That's exactly what happened. My self-confidence, self-esteem and self-efficacy all grew immensely as I discovered my true potential. I thrived on the new experiences and responsibilities.
NO LONGER AN ISSUE
During the past few years, I have shown myself differently to the world, and I love the way in which it is reacting differently to me.
Stuttering has now disappeared from my mind, in the sense that I cease to think about the physical act, or my personal attachment to such behaviour. Do I still block? Minor dysfluencies occur very infrequently (principally in casual conversation), but they do not involve blocking. Most of the time, they don't even register with me. Those of which I become aware, I choose to totally disregard. Fluent speakers don't take account of them, why should I? Perfectionism no longer oversees my speech.
Talking is now a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I make no apologies for indulging in it at every opportunity - I'm simply making up for lost time. I am driven by my intentions and not my expectations. I simply LET GO and have FUN!
Today, I do not have any anticipatory fear about saying any specific word, letter or sound. When I approach, or enter into, any speaking situation the implications of stuttering no longer permeate my thoughts. They are simply non-existent. The debilitating oral shackles that had inhibited me since childhood have finally been removed, and I can now pluck whatever words I wish, from the extremities of my expansive vocabulary (swelled by years of substitution), and say them without fear.
Since changing my stuttering mindset, and eliminating the components that once contributed to my blocking behaviour, I have discovered that it is no longer necessary to constantly focus upon my speech or any technique.
Stuttering is no longer an issue in my life.
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