By Sarah White
Pour la traduction française, cliquez ici (PDF)
I was always led to believe that the key to fluency was practice. “I must use my smooth speech all the time; spontaneous speech inevitably leads to stuttering. If I practice with my speech buddy every morning on the phone, attended Speak Easy and Toastmasters meetings, record my speech to monitor difficult situations I would be fluent. I just have to find the time and energy.” Right? Wrong.
On numerous occasions I would spend all day, or all weekend on a Speak Easy fluency workshop, practicing intensively for eight hours per day. I would use flawless smooth speech throughout; even on my transfer exercises when we would go into town in pairs, to ask questions. Then when it came time to buy my train ticket home, I would freeze up and block. Why was it that when it really mattered, there was no assurance I could use my technique and be fluent?
In the past I have noticed that my emotions affect my speech, and I know many other PWS have also reported this. After a lot of frustration I came to realize that I had been practicing how to control and modify my physical symptoms, but not addressing negative thoughts and anxieties around my stutter. If I went into a situation still believing I was going to stutter, despite days of practice, it was bound to happen.
All this has led me to believe that stuttering is a thinking problem. So when I discovered Bob Bodenhamer’s Neuro-Semantics website, a quote caught my attention:
“If you can speak fluently in even one context, you can speak fluently in any context. You already have the skill; it’s just a matter of breaking free from the interferences.”
Bob Bodenhamer D.Min., along with many others professionals in this discipline, believe that it’s not the stutter itself; but the meanings we place upon stuttering that do the damage. The moment young children are corrected, criticized or teased when they stutter, they attach a negative meaning to it: “I am bad when I stutter”, “stuttering is bad”. One of Bob’s first client’s was a woman named Linda Rounds. Bob helped her to take the meaning out of her stuttering. “Stuttering is no longer in my mind,” Linda now says.
The power of positive thought has become a multi- million dollar industry. Positive thoughts can manifest positive experiences, and of course vice versa. If people can heal themselves with the power of the mind doesn’t it seem only sensible that we apply this to stuttering?
I had the privilege of attending Bob’s five-day workshop, “Mastering Blocking and Stuttering” in Perth, the week before the World Congress. The course content is based on Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) and Neuro-Semantics (NS). It is the study of how our words and the words of others affect our thoughts, feelings and emotions. We were all told to read the course manual first to understand the theory, so that on the course we could focus on practical application.
Although Bob does not stutter, he has worked extensively with PWS and for much of his life had struggled with his own insecurities and limiting beliefs. He is an International Master NLP Trainer, has co-founded the institute of Neuro-Semantics with Michael Hall Ph.D. who he has co-written nine books with. He has served as a Pastor for 33 years and has had extensive training and experience in counseling. His NLP and NS techniques have helped people all over the world to overcome addictions and limiting beliefs in many different areas.
Students on our course were immediately put at ease. Bob is a man who exudes compassion and understanding. His quirky sense of humor, tireless patience and enthusiasm kept a group of 26 individuals thoroughly entertained and focused for five intensive days. This is no minor achievement! We laughed and cried, all to the sound of Bob’s cheerfully distinct accent, which he refers to as ‘Hillbilly’!
In NLP Meta States can be defined as our ‘state of mind’ when we do different things. Effectively they are a ‘state about a state’. For example, when we are in a fluent state we are calm, confident and we are often not conscious of how we are speaking, only of the content. We are putting a positive meaning on being fluent. When we’re in a blocking/stuttering state we are anxious, lack confidence and are plagued by negative thoughts, thus defining this state with a negative meaning. If we can put a state of acceptance on top of this anxiety (meta stating) the acceptance will take over and the anxiety goes away. The higher frame always governs the game. In this case, acceptance is the higher frame.
Understanding our blocking state was the first exercise we did. By identifying what we see and hear, as well as any physical sensations we feel in feared situations we can learn to re-frame them. These states are invisible when we first try to access them because we have been slipping in and out of them unconsciously for so long that they are automatic. When we make these unconscious frames visible we can pull them apart, and ultimately step outside the frame.
Bob encouraged us to mentally place ourselves into a “blocking state” by recalling a situation where we had recently stuttered. I recalled a barbeque where I was stuttering and blocking whilst meeting new people. Just by visualizing this scene I found that my throat and chest became restricted and I felt like I couldn’t breath. I began to hear my internal voice saying; “They think you’re a freak”, “They don’t respect you when you stutter”, “You are inferior”. Yep, this the ghastly state!
However as far as visuals went I saw nothing. Just black. Then I realized that when I stutter or block I ‘check out’. I try to escape the situation and therefore cannot retain eye contact. I practiced slowing the scene down in my mind and I began to see a visual that looked like a TV screen that hadn’t been tuned in; white noise. It was a small frame, right in front of my eyes. To me this symbolized chaos, having no control over my speech, thus the situation. I was surprised to discover that I could push this scene away with my intent. I could make it so big it dissolved into nothingness, I could add color. After a while it didn’t seem as foreboding anymore.
In NLP a Resource State is a mental place you create, that contains all the resources you need to be fluent, confident, courageous, peaceful, creative – whatever qualities you need to be the best you can be. It is when we replace our blocking state with a resource state that amazing things start to happen.
I have two resource states that developed whilst on the course. The first one made me peaceful and calm. I have always felt very connected to the beach, so it was only natural that it should be there.
I am sitting on the soft white sand looking out onto the sparkling blue ocean. A golden beam of sunlight shines down through my crown chakra at the top of my head (chakras are spiritual energy centers according to yogic philosophy) It travels through my throat and into my chest dissolving a black tar-like substance (my stutter.) My throat and heart chakras expand and connect out in front of me, allowing me to speak my truth in all situations. The light continues to travel through my body expanding my other chakras, before pouring out the soles of my feet, connecting me to mother earth. Through this scene I gain inner peace and calm.
Then I look to the clear blue sky spotted with white fluffy clouds. I am energized by the sheer power of the universe and through this scene I gain courage.
With practice this has become a very powerful resource to access a state of peace and calm. No matter where I am, I experience a strong physical sensation of euphoria flooding my body; my chest and stomach actually feel warm!
Resource States are different for everyone, but usually they are panoramic scenes filled with bright colors. Whereas blocking states are small scenes that appear to be right in front of you face in black and white.
To anchor this state, I go into the feeling and gently pinch my earlobe (you can touch any part of your body). We use physical anchors to kinesthetically allow us to recall our resource states; this works effectively because there is a strong link between mind and muscle. So now every time I inhale and pinch my earlobe, my resource state floods in. I am placing meta-states of peace and courage on top of my blocking/fear state, thus the higher states govern the game.
We then practiced doing this in pairs, and comparing notes. Many times throughout the course we were witness to some amazing results by using this technique. Bob would invite someone out the front to demonstrate a pattern. If they got into a block, Bob would tell them to disassociate from that frame (it helped if they physically stepped to the side to break state) and then draw in their resource state. In every case the person was able to access fluency, even if it was only for a few words at a time. This does sound time consuming and it is a little at first. However the more you practice the quicker and more effective it will become.
I practice my patterns every day. When I’m sitting on the bus in the morning on my way to work I practice foregrounding (bringing to the front) my resource state and back grounding (pushing away) my blocking state in my mind. When the phone rings at work I use my physical anchor to access my resource state before I answer, or use it to anchor calmness and courage before I walk into the room to talk to my boss. In some situations I can effectively use Meta-No (Mentally saying ‘NO’) to push stuttering thoughts out of my mind.
I would like to stress here that NLP is not a quick-fix or cure. We need to devote time to practice NLP as we have practiced our fluency techniques. On a journey like this one we need to realize that some of the steps we take will be in leaps and bounds, and others will be small and very subtle; at times we may even feel as if we are regressing.
For example, after the NLP course in Perth I really felt that I could conquer the world (leaps and bounds here)! My fear of speaking had diminished to the point where I was enjoying public speaking. At the World Congress I volunteered to take part in one of John Harrison’s workshops by making an impromptu speech to demonstrate some of the public speaking techniques he was teaching. When I was out the front, standing in front of an audience of about one hundred people he asked me how I felt. I thought for a moment, and then replied that I felt excited, my heart was racing, adrenalin was pumping through my veins, but I wasn’t scared. Considering I used to suffer panic attacks at university when I had to give a presentation, this was a big thing.
When I arrived back in Sydney the week after the Congress my fluency continued. However, spending time with friends and family I noticed the stutters and negative thoughts gradually starting to creep back in. My first thought was one of despair; I’d stumbled upon yet another technique that didn’t last. Then I realized that I wasn’t stuttering with everyone; my negative thoughts were only surfacing with some people in some situations. This has always been the case, but before I applied NLP principals I didn’t realize as to what extent.
I contacted Bob with my observations and he gave me some questions to consider.
“What happened in Perth that so empowered you? What were you letting go of and what were you replacing it with? What beliefs did you change to bring about the change in Perth?”
In Perth I focused on what my stutter meant to me and only me. I realized that by assuming people were judging me unfavorably when I stuttered; I was placing a negative judgment on them. How did I really know what they were thinking? I allowed myself to let go of fear and shame, and replace them with inner peace and courage.
I also recognized that my feelings about my stutter were closely tied to my grief for my father, Peter White. He died of cancer ten years ago when I was fifteen. He stuttered and I know he carried around an enormous amount of guilt because his daughter stuttered too. I believe that after he died my stutter really locked into place. Perhaps by stuttering I was trying to keep a part of him alive. I am still reframing these thoughts with love and forgiveness. This realization made Bob’s course a very emotional experience for me, something that I have to deal with to move on with my fluency, as well as my life.
“What is it about family and friends that re-triggered the old thoughts and feelings?” Thoughts flooded into my conscious mind. “I have always stuttered with them, therefore I always will – they expect me too.” Sometimes I feel guilt toward my family; “I owe them fluent speech, to repay them for their hard work and support over the years.” Isn’t this thought ridiculous! What about all my hard work? Surely I owe it to myself to esteem Sarah no matter what! Here I am meta stating self esteem on top of guilt.
My father used to become very frustrated with me when I stuttered, he obviously didn’t want me go through the same pain that he had. He drove me speech therapy every Saturday, and oversaw my speech homework. I remember him crying out in desperation “Sarah, just stop stuttering.” So from a young age I have associated stuttering with doing something that was forbidden. Here I am meta stating courage over fear. I visualize my adult self, visiting my child self in these memories and giving her courage, self-esteem and peace.
I still believe that the key to fluency is practice; it’s just a matter of what you practice. For me personally, practicing only smooth speech , even with transfer exercises is like laying bricks with no mortar. They remain standing for a while, but as soon as a storm hits, the bricks tumble down. I believe that NLP is the mortar that holds everything else together; the missing link. I still practice every morning on the phone with my speech buddy – we have good chats! I’ve found that when I anchor in my resource state, smooth speech seems to come effortlessly and automatically. Be patient with NLP, give it time. Perhaps it’s a matter of “Keeping the Faith”, not letting old castles of negative thoughts rebuild themselves. And by becoming impatient with and doubtful of the journey of NLP and fluency that is exactly what we’re doing.
My aim in writing this article was to share my personal experience of some of the processes covered in Bob’s “Mastering Blocking and Stuttering”, to provide some practical and personal examples of processes. Please refer to Bob’s website for more detailed information.