If you’re serious about overcoming the fear and anxiety of stuttering or stammering, you probably have read or are reading lots of self-help books. One idea, which is fundamental throughout many of self-help books you might read, is the area of self-talk. You might never has realised you talk to yourself. You always did. However, you weren’t really conscious of it, or what you were saying to yourself. It happened very quickly. When you sit down to imagine situations where you might stutter or stammer you begin to notice that, indeed, you do talk yourself. And what you’re saying could be very negative. Below are some things you might say to yourself:
I can’t go to that party because I might have to speak and people will see me stammer.
I can’t go to that meeting at work because people might ask me questions and I will stammer.
I can’t go for dinner with all those people there because I won’t talk and they will think I’m weird.
My uncle will be at the party. I always stammer around him.
Only after catching yourself saying such things, do you realise how much they contribute to your feeling anxious and worried. They add fuel to your avoidance of situations where you might stutter or stammer. In order to begin to address this, what you can do is change the way you talk to yourself. You can begin to say positive statements about yourself. This is known in the personal development field as positive affirmations. Positive affirmations are positive statements that you tell yourself, which describe the type of person you want to be. You could write down statements like the following:
I am confident.
I can speak articulately.
I am good enough.
You can write down a list of ten such positive statements and repeat them to yourself every day, each one, 20 times. You can use a powerful tonality, and say the words with strong conviction.
Exercise – Unhelpful Self-talk and Positive Statements
In this exercise, you will notice the type of unhelpful self-talk you currently say to yourself. You will then replace this with other statements that are positive and empowering. Use the following steps and have a pen and piece of paper handy to make notes. This exercise will work best if you actually have an upcoming speaking situation in the future, which normally makes you anxious because of your stuttering, or stammering. If you don’t have one then this is fine. Still proceed with the steps in this exercise:
1. Think about an upcoming speaking situation, which you would normally become anxious about because of your stuttering, or stammering. Think of one which will be coming up soon, if possible. As you do, notice any unhelpful words or phrases you say to yourself and then write them down. For example, let’s say you are going to a party for a colleague who is leaving your company. As examples, the sentences you might tell yourself are: I can’t handle leaving parties because I have to talk to colleagues or I always stammer when talking to colleagues when we’re having dinner. Think of similar types of statements you say to yourself and write them down. Write down as many statements, words and phrases about yourself, your stammering and this particular speaking situation as you can.
2. Think of 5 positive statements about this particular speaking situation instead, and write them down. For instance, if the speaking situation you found difficult was going to work leaving parties for a colleague at work, positive statements you might write are:
I really enjoy going to leaving parties.
I’m always very social at leaving parties.
I feel confident at leaving parties.
I’m a great conversationalist at leaving parties.
I love being the centre of attention at leaving parties.
3. Write down your own similar statements, ensuring they are positive and in the present tense. It doesn’t matter if you don’t fully believe your statements, yet. The purpose of this exercise is to get into the habit of changing the way you talk to yourself.
4. Now, if you already did believe these statements, how you would you repeat the statements to yourself? Say, out loud, each of your statements 20 times while standing up, with a confident posture, using a powerful tonality and a loud and clear voice. Do this every day either in the morning or at night. As you say these statements, notice how you feel. If you feel confident and empowered, just recognise how you have the power to change how you feel by changing the words you say to yourself.
After you have completed this exercise, move onto the next one.
Exercise – Using Positive Statements before Going into Speaking Situations
In this exercise, you will now use the motivation you have created from the exercise above, to go into a speaking situation you normally find difficult. The purpose of this exercise is to allow your mind to begin to process your new way of talking to yourself and gain experience of going into a speaking situation, with such language embedded in your mind-body. On the day of the particular speaking situation, repeat the statements from the first exercise before you go out. Allow yourself to feel motivated and experience any other helpful emotions associated with saying your positive statements.
As you are starting out on working on your anxiety caused by stuttering, or stammering, and begin to use positive statements, you may find your motivation increases. However, the chances are you might still find it difficult to go into a speaking situation you normally find challenging. If this is the case, you need to put yourself into the situation. There really is no other way about it. Otherwise, what will happen is you will make yourself feel good through saying positive statements to yourself and that will be it. Remember not to be hard on yourself if you still find it challenging to go to a particular speaking situation. You are developing new attitudes and behaviours and these will take some time to settle inside you.
While at the speaking situation, use your positive statements as a way to change your behaviour. For instance, make an effort to be the first person to start a conversation with someone next to you. If you stammer when you do so, just engage with the person for a few minutes. Or, if a group of people are having a conversation at the bar, share a story with everyone by speaking out loud and letting the others listen to you. Again if you stammer, say what you want to say and take as much time as you need.
At the very least go to the speaking situation and just observe how you feel and listen to others. Just notice how your feelings of being uncomfortable emerge, last for some time and then pass. Once you come back home, don’t make judgements about whether you did well in the situation or not. You made a big achievement, which was confronting your fears and going anyway.