Written by Matthew O’Malley
I want to start by saying as a person who stutters, I am still a work in progress. Some of my revelations about stuttering are relatively new and I am just starting to design treatment based on what I have learned. I am currently designing and implementing a treatment regimen for myself, based on my understanding of the nature of dysfluency. This treatment regimen is something I will be adding to and tweaking in the future. The next few posts will be about some of my current ideas as to how to treat stuttering. This post is specifically about treating the subconscious of a person who stutters. Posts that follow may focus on other areas so this post is far from all-inclusive in regards to ideas I have for treatment.
Now, as promised in the last post, I want to start converting some of my theory into ideas that can be practically applied by the person who stutters to make change. In that post, I talked about how when the mind senses some form of danger it goes into a state of heightened awareness to allow you to control the situation. To further summarize, if the mind encounters a situation that is similar to one in your past in which you were hurt, embarrassed or had your ego damaged, it will go on heightened alert to try to prevent the same result. Essentially, it goes on heightened alert to try to allow you to control the situation better.
Again, as was stated in the last post, in order to speak fluently, our speech must be uncontrolled by the conscious mind and allowed to run on “automatic” mode. However as people who stutter, we are confronted with a problem. We have a long history with an abundance of experiences where we have been hurt or embarrassed in situations involving speech interaction. This causes our minds to go on heightened alert in speaking situations which causes us to try to control our speech; a process that can only be done correctly on automatic.
In transitioning to practicality, the question becomes “How do we fix this?”
Well, as stated, the problem is, in most interactions, us people who stutter go on heightened alert (thus causing us to try to control our speech) because our subconscious believes we can be harmed. In order to change this, we have to reteach our subconscious that we are safe in interactions. Even better, we have to teach our subconscious that interaction is fun and enjoyable. If we can achieve this goal, our subconscious will stop going on heightened alert in interactions (which will cause us not to feel the need to control our speech) and will then better enable us to implement the automatic mode of speaking.
So one element of the puzzle of overcoming stuttering has been identified: we need to teach our subconscious that it should not fear interaction, but enjoy it.
That answers one question but it begs another. How do we teach our subconscious to enjoy interaction? To answer this question, we must first ask another. How does the subconscious learn?
Before I am able to get more practical, I must explain some ideology on the subconscious. I must explain how it learns. Concisely, it learns most profoundly through its own personal experience. Below, I explain this in more detail.
The Subconscious and How it Learns
Everyone has a subconscious belief system. The amount of individual beliefs that make up this subconscious belief system are extremely numerous. This system has a very strong influence over how we feel about things in our lives and what decisions we make. It is a very powerful force in our lives.
Many of the beliefs we have in our subconscious are irrational. We can logically know things and reason them out in our mind, but the subconscious often believes something different and this subconscious belief usually trumps the conscious logic in terms of influence over our lives.
Why do we have lots of irrational beliefs in our subconscious?
The reason we have lots of irrational beliefs is because the most influential factor in shaping our subconscious is our own very limited personal experience; not reason nor logical data presented to us. The subconscious learns through its own individual experience; not through observation of others’ experiences nor observations of the world; not through logic. When the subconscious experiences something, it forms a belief. Observation and logic play a small role in shaping the subconscious, but compared to personal experience, their impact is minimal. The subconscious believes what it experiences itself; not what it observes others experiencing nor data being presented to it.
For example, let’s say the first time you ever fly, you get into a plane crash and lose a family member who was on the plane with you. Logically, you know the odds of this happening again are extremely minimal. However, you likely develop a fear of flying and avoid it as much as you can. This is because, despite clear logic to the contrary, your subconscious has formed a belief through its very limited personal experience with flying, that flying has devastating consequences. This single experience of flying trumps the data that can be presented to the logical mind that millions of people fly daily and nothing happens. This is because the subconscious learns most powerfully through its own personal experience. This one personal experience carries significantly more weight than any facts presented to it.
SIDENOTE: I have more on the subconscious in the link following if you want to get more in depth. However, I did not want to go too far off on a tangent about the subconscious in this post. The above should suffice for what I am trying to get across for this post. http://www.operatingconsciousness.com
Applying This to Dysfluency
The above should strongly demonstrate that the subconscious learns very powerfully through its own personal experience of the world. I cannot tell myself to calm down in a speaking situation and expect it to work. I cannot have my friends or family tell me that there is no need to be nervous in interactions and expect it to change my feelings about interaction. These methods do not comply with how the subconscious learns, and in order to have an impact on the subconscious, we must work with the laws of how it learns.
This means that in order to change our subconscious, we must use its most powerful teacher; experience. This means that in order to change, we need to go through a wide range of experiences (the more powerful the better) that teach us that speaking and interaction are both safe and enjoyable. The language that the subconscious understands is experience. It will conform to what experience teaches it. It will not conform to much else. Therefore we must use experience in a skilled way to shape the subconscious to become what we want it to become.
Now, as stated, our subconscious as people who stutter goes on heightened alert and is in a slight state of fear during interaction based on our past experiences of pain in interactions.
To reverse this, we must accumulate new interaction experiences with positive outcomes that teach our subconscious that interaction is safe and enjoyable. The key to successful new experiences is how you feel immediately after the speaking experience/interaction. You must design experiences and build your life to maximize the number of interactive experiences that result in positive emotions following the interaction. This will begin to teach the subconscious that interaction is enjoyable and safe. Over time, these new experiences will teach the subconscious to let its guard down in interactions.
There are many experiences that can positively reshape the subconscious. Below I will list a few ideas and suggestions you might find helpful. I have other ideas for overcoming stuttering outside of reshaping the subconscious through experience. However, the ones I list below are experiences specifically geared to reshaping the subconscious. You’ve likely heard of some of them. However, it is not about knowing about them. It is about doing them. Experience is what changes the subconscious; not knowledge.
- Most people who stutter have extreme fear of stuttering; probably deeper than we realize. In a safe place, like online stuttering chats, stutter an extreme amount on purpose. Block an extreme amount on purpose. Do this consistently for a year or longer. Time and repetition matter.
- Toastmasters – For those who don’t know, Toastmaster’s is a safe place to learn to give public speeches. This may take a lot of courage so you should feel really good about yourself when you part-take. You are accomplishing so much! Make sure you feel this way. This experience can be a powerful subconscious changer.
- Interact with people you are comfortable with as much as possible. If you have friends or family members with whom you interact where you do not go into a state of heightened alert or fear, spend a lot of time with these individuals. Make sure you feel very good after and during each interaction. Enjoy their company.
- Part-take in one-on-one online chats or group chats with people who stutter. Go to a local stuttering support group like an NSA (National Stuttering Association) chapter. The more you can speak with a comfort level the better.
- This idea is far from original but voluntary stuttering and blocking can reshape the subconscious to not fear these experiences so much. However, I would not advise doing a couple voluntary stutters here and there every few days. I would advise spending a full day doing it excessively all day in a place you feel comfortable once a month or so.
- Visualize very positive interactions – While these imaginary interaction experiences are not real experiences, they still carry some weight with the subconscious as they feel somewhat real. If you imagine three powerfully positive interactions per day (maybe in situations in which you normally struggle) this can start changing the subconscious.
- Go somewhere where there will be opportunities to chat with a person or people for a long time who you don’t know. Stay for a high number of hours and just talk with them. Just talk as you normally do. Stutter as you normally do. Focus on enjoying their company. Focus on learning about them and getting to know them. Don’t worry so much about yourself. Treat it as an experiment. They’re a stranger so don’t worry about your impression. Just enjoy the company of another human being.
- Joining an improv group is gaining in popularity in the stuttering community and I believe this could be helpful. If you can find one in your area, I suggest you do it.
- There are many more exercises and experiences you can incorporate into your life to further mold the subconscious into one that feels safe in an interaction and enjoys it. Be creative. Come up with some ideas that fall in line with the philosophy of how the subconscious learns. You can do it!
Following these suggestions, I want to say that it is important you feel as good as you can when going through the above experiences and after them. Mentally prepare yourself as best as you can to feel good about them. It is important that the subconscious begins to associate the above experiences with positive emotions. This plays a significant role in reshaping it.
Also, as a general rule, the more experiences you have which reshape the subconscious to believe it is safe in interaction (and can enjoy interaction), the more it will free up your speech to run on automatic. The amount to which you go through these experiences is up to you and will determine how much change your subconscious goes through.
SIDENOTE: I believe implementing REBT (Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy) and/or neuro linguistic programming with a qualified practitioner can also be helpful in reshaping the subconscious.
In closing, I’d like to share a vantage point that I find marvelous. Throughout most of my life, the state of my subconscious has dominated the will of my conscious mind. It has done what it does regardless of my wishes. In moments when I wanted to control it, it has always exerted its own agenda, often in the form of mild to extreme anxiety despite my efforts to suppress it. I find it very interesting that there is a way for the executive-functioning conscious mind to tame the beast of the subconscious through well thought out plans exerted over time. The conscious mind and its executive function can use its abilities of planning and drawing up strategies to eventually reign in the untamed beast of the subconscious to mold it into what the conscious mind desires it to be. Some of the strategies I have listed above are ways to give the conscious mind control over the powerful subconscious. Marvelous.