“I used to have a stuttering problem. A bad one. Personal interaction, one of the most fundamental aspects of human existence, became a nightmare for me.” – D&P Reader.
Before one of the meet-ups, a young man emailed me about a major stuttering problem he had. He used NLP, active meditation, many other reframing techniques discussed at Danger & Play to cure his stutter.
How bad did he have it? He wrote in to tell me:
For years, I had a stutter that ranged from barely present to incapacitatingly throat locking, depending on the situation. I am well on the way to conquering it through my work with a Certified Speech Therapist who is also an NLP coach. The stuttering behavior is part mechanical and part psychological. In fact, I would say that it is mostly psychological. Everyone has disfluencies at some point, but there is a difference between a discombobulation and a block.
This is the first installment of what will now become a regular feature – Reader Success Stories. If you are hitting it hard and smashing through your life’s problems, let me know. I want to hear from you.
Don’t be afraid if you’re “not a good writer.” (That’s a limiting belief. If you have a compelling story and can string together a few sentences, you can become a good writer.) Danger & Play is raw, anyway.
Write a compelling story that shows:
- What your problem was.
- How your problem effected your life.
- What you did to solve your problem.
I can help you edit and re-write it.
What did he do? He took action!
This is his story.
• Sounds cool buuuut…isn’t this all-metaphysical Zen stuff, like The Secret?
• Ok, this might help me improve my mood in the moment, but is that really going to do anything significant?
I’m a man, feelings don’t matter, and I power through them and get the job done!
At the very least, those are biases that I used to have, and biases that many of my peers still hold.
My beliefs on state control have made a complete 180. I now believe that reframing and state control is one of the most important techniques that people can learn to improve the quality of their lives, and accelerate personal growth.
Why? I have experienced profound PHYSICAL as well as metaphysical effects through the use of NLP. I used to have a stuttering problem. A bad one. Personal interaction, one of the most fundamental aspects of human existence, became a nightmare for me. I would do anything possible to avoid situations where I would have to meet new people, as I would be filled with so much anxiety and tension that I would barely be able to get my own name out. Rather embarrassing, eh?
Some modern bullshit determinist science/My story/a bit of background.
What is stuttering? The American Speech Language Hearing Association defines stuttering as a “ a disorder that [that] is characterized by disruptions in the productions of speech sounds, also called disfluencies.” Now, it is important to note that everyone experiences disfluencies. President Obama is a great example of a person who experiences disfluencies without having a disorder, he frequently discombobulates during Q and A sessions.
For the stutterer however, the disfluencies become habitual and instinctive. Why is this? In the majority of cases, a person develops a disorder between the ages of two-four.
Neurologists, psychologists, and speech therapists, holding true to the modern, western scientific tradition of focusing solely on symptoms and mechanical processes, almost unanimously agree that stuttering is a permanent, developmental disorder. This is based upon brain scans that show different neurological activity, and a correlation between family history and stuttering. They present various hypotheses such as brain hemisphere interference, or various chemical imbalances.
The disorder being a permanent, physiological condition, then, the stutterer simply has to find a way to deal with it.
The vast majority of speech therapists (most of whom have never stuttered) create bizarre, impractical, unsustainable therapies and techniques to “maximize airflow” or “release tension.”
However, if we turn a critical eye to the problem, and loosen our adherence to materialist reductionist dogma, we find some cracks in the aforementioned perspective.
Even though stuttering usually develops between the ages of 2-4, 75% of children “grow out of it.” They merely experience discombobulations at a greater proportion that other children who are also learning to speak, and never develop it in a permanent fashion.
A smaller percentage of stutters develop the habitual disfluency at an older age, often at a time that coincides with a major trauma or life change. For example, my Grandfather had a classmate who stuttered so badly that the Army would not draft him in World War Two. This classmate developed his stutter when schoolteacher nuns threatened and abused him for his left-handedness. I developed my stutter at age twelve when I transitioned from a lifetime as an only child who was enrolled in small, intimate 20-30 person private schools to a large, several hundred strong private school.
Furthermore, the experience of stuttering contradicts the absolutist dogma. There are a very few exceptions to this rule, but stutterers do not stutter when they speak by themselves. Many stutterers have experienced the confusion of rehearsing a speech or practicing a reading alone the night before a presentation, only to lock up when in front of a group of people.
Aside from the very few people who’s stuttering has developed to an extreme level in which it is synonymous with their personal identity, stuttering is CONTINGENT. The contingency usually correlates to stressful situations.
Things are starting to look strange now, right? Even stranger, my personal situation was antithetical to those of most stutterers. The majorities of persons who stutter are relatively fluent around friends, family members, and non-stressful situations, but lock up in classrooms, interviews, or any situation where “the pressure is on.” Furthermore, stutterers habitually get stuck, then unstuck on certain words or sounds, and can feel and anticipate when they are going to experience a block.
I was the exception to the rule. I was always perfectly collected in job interviews. I defended my senior thesis against three senior, tenured professors in front of a group of twenty observers with no problem whatsoever.
However, I would get tense from situations like meeting my girlfriend’s best friend and her accompanying friend group.
Bizarre, huh? I thought about it critically, and realized that these experiences of stuttering and fluency correlated to my confidence level. I didn’t really come into my own until after high school, and did not (and still to this day, do not) identify with most of the people my age. I liked to read, lift weights, and experience new things. The majority of American youth and teens do not. I was also flabby and unathletic until age fifteen. The combination of bookishness and lack of athletic ability made me a social pariah. When I went through puberty I became tall, muscular, and handsome. Confidence in my physical appearance in conjunction with my sense of responsibility and bookishness made me competent in areas like Boy Scouts, Student Government in College, Clubs, and academics. I knew without a doubt that in a professional setting, I was competent and admirable.
I found a correlation between my speech and different situations, but what was the why?
Why did this happen?
This time, I eschewed traditional, behavior based speech therapy and did my own research. I found that there is a population of adults who have “recovered” from stuttering. That is, they experience occasional discombobulations a la Obama, but the habitual, anticipatory stuttering is non extant, as well as the paralyzing blocks.
These recovered stutters believe that stuttering is physical manifestation of a problem that is majorly psychological, similar to panic and anxiety attacks, or OCD. The tool used to address the problem was NLP.
So, I looked up one the most highly reviewed therapists, a man who had recovered from a severe stutter far worse than mine, and was both a licensed Speech Language Pathologist and certified NLP practitioner.
Change your state, change your stutter
The stuttering behavior is part mechanical and part psychological. In fact, I would say that it is mostly psychological. Everyone has disfluencies at some point, but there is a difference between disfluency and a block.
The block is when you lock up. As a kid, social situations were so intimidating to me that my body would go into a fight or flight response, and the tension would manifest in my throat. Of course this is an embarrassing thing, which creates a reinforcing loop. I would be more afraid of situations, and I would lock up even worse. Physiologically, I would tighten, cutting off and airflow and hindering fluent communication. I did this so often, that this behavior became habitualized. Certain words and situations would become “anchors,” to use NLP speak. I had anchors for the insecure, stuttering state as well as my confident, charismatic state.
I have come to learn that most emotions that accompany a situation or state reflect and underlying belief. To ascertain what is actually going on in the mind, we have to create a deductive chain to trace the emotion/belief/self talk back to an event or deeper belief.
Q. I feel anxious. Why do I feel anxious? A. I will be meeting new people.
Q. Why would meeting new people make you anxious? A. I do not have confidence in my social skills. I don’t know what to do.
Q. So you are afraid of judged and rejected? A. No, I don’t care about not being a part of a group that I am not vested in.
Q. Where does the shame come from then? A. Me.
Q. So then, if there is nothing to fear from the people, this is a self-projection?
A. Yes. I do not want to acknowledge myself as an awkward person.
Everyone needs to read this part a few times to let it sink in, and then attempt it themselves. Do no only do this deductive chain of reasoning upon negative states; investigate positive states. Through the investigation of positive states, you can discover your positive values and beliefs. With these positive beliefs, you can defuse and reprogram the negative states. To piggyback off of Mike’s podcast about art appreciation, this method is an excellent way of calibrating the conscious and unconscious mind.
Defusing Negative States
Above I discussed how we could discover the harmful thoughts and beliefs behind the negative state. However, knowledge alone is not sufficient for change. We must take action upon them and defuse them.
Before one takes action however, there is an intellectual understanding about beliefs that must take hold in the mind. Get into the moment.
For the purpose of this, we are going to set aside concerns about morality, law and philosophical Idealism, and speak specifically about the subjective experience about beliefs and events. No situation or experience is objectively harmful, beneficial, or any kind of valuation. For the sake of psychological experience, all valuations are subjective.
This example may seem a bit Aesop’s Fable or childish, but it illustrates the point. For example, let us say that a bear and a mouse both simultaneously observe a cat. The mouse will immediately enter a fight or flight response and run. The bear will have a reaction of casual indifference. Some will counter by saying “That’s instinct!” But what is this instinct? The instinct creates an appropriate, subjective belief in the mouse and the bear about the object, the mouse.
I want to hammer home that the object is nothing. The cat is just that, the cat. But it means something very different relative to those who observe it.
This is an important concept to grasp for two reasons. We often self-indulgently believe that we have the right to have a negative reaction to a situation, or that we are inherently predisposed to react to a certain object in a certain way.
The truth is that these “inherent” reactions reflect an underlying belief. The anchors set by these situations have causes us to go into a certain state so often, that the reaction has become habitualized.
So, back to the point. How do we disassociate from these negative states, and defuse the harmful anchors? The first step is to find the belief, as described above. The beliefs are often caused by events that have left a meaning imprinted upon our unconscious.
The step-by-step method to defuse these beliefs is as follows:
• Find the beliefs.
• Find the related memory. Associate into the memory, and observe it from a third party perspective.
• Think, “Is this a helpful belief? What is wrong with it? The negative judgment, is it true?
• What would you tell yourself in the situation?
• Watch yourself step up into the scene and tell the self in the memory the flaws with his reasoning, and relate the positive advice.
• Discard the memory. Watch it burn, or wash it down a drain in your mind.
This routine defuses the harmful memories by removing the negative meaning.
Then, as often as possible, trace back your deductive chain and tell yourself what you would have to believe to reach your goal state.
Let’s say that you wish to be confident and collected in a social situation. Picture your ideal self in this ideal scenario. Or, if you cannot do that, picture someone you know who is that way. Ask yourself “What would this person have to believe in order to behave in this manner?”
Visualize yourself behaving in this way vividly. Purchase a copy of Dr. Maxwell Maltz’s Psycho-Cybernetics and implement it.
The Two Prerequisites for these techniques to work
A caveat does exist in regard to what I have written. The techniques will not work unless you can do two things:
• Separate your “self” from your emotions and thoughts.
Numerous analogies exist to illustrate this concept, such as “the self is the captain of your ship (the mind) as it maneuvers waves and winds (emotions).” You are not your psychological and physiological processes. Your can control thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. If too separate the self from the processes is too difficult right now, I would recommend that the reader perform box breathing, as described by Coach Divine from SealFit. First thing in the morning, take five minutes and perform the following exercise: Inhale for four counts, hold for four counts, exhale for four counts, and hold for four counts. Repeat. This exercise will drastically increase personal awareness, and help sharpen the distinction between self, thought, and emotion.
• You must be brutally honest with yourself.
This is not as easy as it seems. Often times the “truths” that we hold about ourselves are lies that we tell to protect our egos. It took me a long time to admit that I had social anxiety, and that I was not confident about my relationship to my peers and non-formal contexts. This anxiety was at the root of my speech problem, and until I admitted it, serious progress was impossible.
Personal Wrap Up
Even though in college, I did not overtly stutter very often, my speech was on my mind constantly. I had to avoid words and situations that I know that I would block on, and sometimes I would lock up on the phone completely when attempting networking calls.
Today, stuttering is barely a factor in my life. I do a bit of mechanical work because I naturally have a very fast speaking cadence which tends to trip me up. I still visualize as well, but not in the context of speech. I visualize myself being powerful and confident in regard to other situations or goals.
Every once in a while I get a block, but I defuse them and root out the cause immediately. The mental anxiety and constant thinking about my speech is non-existent.