The Dysfluent Bully: The Critical Speech Voice

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Written by Matthew O’Malley

I would like to preface this by saying that often times, the most obvious things are the hardest to see.  They are so obvious, they’re invisible.  Sometimes when things are omnipresent; when they are always there and never go away, they elude observation.  Our mind is good at detecting change.  Therefore if something is always there, it often doesn’t notice it.

In further prefacing, I think as people who are dysfluent, we know that we’re hard on ourselves in terms of speech.  However, the level to which you observe and criticize your speech is likely beyond the level you are aware.

This is where, what I term “the critical speech voice” comes into play.  As I have shared in previous posts, I began a journey of insight gathering about my own dysfluency a while back in hopes of understanding it and treating myself.  Relatively early in this journey I identified this “critical speech voice”.

What is the “critical speech voice”?

The critical speech voice exists in my mind nearly twenty-four hours per day.  The presence of this voice grows louder as I am about to interact, during interaction and after interaction.  However, it is there even when I am away from interaction.  This “presence” constantly demands rapid and perfect speech; perfect interactions; zero blocks; and zero stutters.  This “presence” (the critical speech voice) is acutely observing every sound that comes out of my mouth; every movement of my body language; every pause; and every listener’s reaction.  Based on what it observes, it criticizes me and compares my interaction to the idea I have of what the perfect interaction should look like.  Every time I fall short of this “perfect interaction”, the critical speech voice pummels me and beats me down for not measuring up to it.

SIDENOTE:  I personally did not experience much bullying, but I once heard this saying which strongly applies to the critical speech voice:  “I thought bullying ended after high school.  Then I listened to how I talked to myself.”

In continuing, the critical speech voice is prominently present before, during and after interactions.  Let me list some possible thoughts it directs at us at these different times.

Critical speech voice before an interaction:


“This is an important interaction coming up.  Don’t mess it up.”

“Don’t block here.  They’ll think you’re weird.”

“Please don’t block…”

“This is your first impression with this person, you better speak well.”


Etc. etc. etc.  The messages it sends are endless.

Photo Credit: social.englishme via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: social.englishme via Compfight cc

Critical speech voice during an interaction:


“OH NO!  I can feel a stutter coming on!”

“Don’t mess up the goodbye!”

“Hurry up and get your words out!”

“You’re botching this bad!”

“They think you’re weird and nervous!”

Etc. etc. etc.

Critical speech voice after an interaction:

“That was painful.”


“They think you’re weird.”


“You should just avoid all interaction.”

“You came off like an idiot!”

“You couldn’t get your point across.  All they saw was your stutter.”

Etc. etc. etc.

The presence of the critical speech voice is there even when we are alone.  Here are some things it might say:

“You have to do a lot of interacting tomorrow.  Hopefully you’re not blocking all day.”

“How are you ever going to become what you want to become?  You can’t talk right.”

“Do something about fixing your speech!  Do you want to live like this forever?”

“I blocked a lot earlier in the day.  It was painful.”

“I’ll probably struggle all day at work tomorrow talking.”

I could go on for eons about phrases the “critical speech voice” blasts in our minds all throughout the day.  However, it doesn’t only manifest in thoughts made up of words.  It exists in the form of emotion.  When an interaction of mine does not measure up to what I think the ideal interaction is, the critical speech voice will make me feel shame and embarrassment.  The critical speech voice will manifest itself during an interaction in the form of emotion as well.  It comes in the form of a self-applied nervous pressure; a pressure to get my words out fast; a pressure to look good and come off well; a pressure to measure up to the perfect interaction.  The critical speech voice also shows up leading into interactions in the form of anxiety and nervousness.

In summary, the critical speech voice is brutal on you and is always there.  It constantly demands perfection and will harshly ridicule you when it doesn’t get it.

Now that I have explained “the critical speech voice”, we are at a state of awareness of it.  As always I want to turn knowledge into practical application as my goal is not only to understand the aspects of stuttering, but to be able to treat them.  So the question becomes, “What can be done to rid ourselves or at least minimize this omnipresent critical speech voice?”

The method I currently use is affirmations; but not just any affirmations.  These affirmations must be specifically designed to counteract the critical speech voice.

I suggest you make them in print form and read them a lot.  I also suggest you make them in audio form.  You can easily record on your computer and transfer it to your phone or burn it on a CD.  The beauty of having affirmations on audio is you can play them in the background while you’re doing things.  You can put them on in your car. You can go for a walk with your headphones on.  After all, the critical speech voice is always there.  You are going to have to bombard yourself with affirmations that contradict the critical speech voice in order to have much of an impact on lessening it.

In crafting these affirmations, you want them to say some of the opposite things that the critical speech voice says.  For example, the critical speech voice always wants you to speak with more speed.  To counteract this, make an affirmation that says, “Take your time when you speak.”  The critical speech voice is always screaming at you not to stutter.  Make an affirmation that says, “It’s ok if I stutter.  As a matter of fact I can stutter as much as I want.”  Get creative.  Be sure to make the audio tape and play it as much as possible for as long as possible.  Make new ones every once in a while.  Bombard your mind with thoughts that are opposite the critical speech voice to begin to reverse it.

Below, I list a few possible ideas for affirmations for you to both read and put on audio.  There are an abundance more you can create.  These are just a few suggestions.

My speech is good enough.

There is no law on how I should speak or sound.

Pauses are good.

I accept limitation in my speech.

I am a good person no matter how an interaction goes.

I speak how I can; not how my mind demands.

Only tell my speech mechanism to do things it is capable of.

Allow myself the freedom to speak how I can.

So what if I block?  I do the best I can.  This is always good enough.

Allow myself as much time as I want and need to say what I want to say.

Slow down.  Pause more.

I do the best I can and am proud of myself for this.

I am allowed to pause between words as much as I want.

I do not have to speak a certain way for anyone.

Allow myself the freedom to make speech mistakes.

I am not a perfect speaker.  I will never be a perfect speaker.  Nobody is.

Everybody makes a lot of speech mistakes.

I am free to speak anyway I want.

There are no laws on how I should speak.

2 thoughts on “The Dysfluent Bully: The Critical Speech Voice

  1. I have a very active critical speech voice in my head, which has done a number on my self-esteem. Affirmations didn’t help me to reduce it’s influence. I either wouldn’t believe the affirmations I came up with or my scumbag brain would find a way to outsmart the affirmation. It turned into an endless debate that I would usually end up losing.

    An alternative method is the defusion technique from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. It helps you see thoughts as what they are, words or images that our mind has created. By creating distance between them, you stop fusing with them and they lose their influence and hold over you. You no longer see them as an absolute truth.

    There are a number of different defusion techniques available. The one that always helps is to name the story my mind is telling me and then thanking it. For example, the ‘I have to be fluent story’ is a frequently recurring story. When I become aware of it I say to myself: ”ah, it’s the the I have to be fluent story, thanks mind!” in a neutral non-mocking tone. Another technique is to repeat the sentence in my head in a funny voice of a famous actor or on the tune of a famous song until I feel the defusion of the thought.

    A good resource on ACT is The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris.


    1. Hi Mike,

      Great comment with some quality insight. I too have had some experiences where affirmations do not seem to be having an effect. However, I have found that in order for them to have an effect on something as strong as “the critical speech voice” you must really bombard yourself with the affirmations. It can’t be something where you read them once a day or something. You must blast yourself with them over time. That’s my experience.

      Great points on what you called the “defusion” technique. I implement something similar and have heard similar principles under the “mindfulness” category. Like you said, it is possible and helpful to separate yourself from your thoughts. You can observe them just as what they are; something your mind creates. This allows you to, like you said, depersonalize them and remove their power over you. I would say you can even do the same thing with emotion. You can separate yourself from emotion and just observe it without judgment.

      Great post with practical insights Mike. I agree with a lot of what you said.


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