Written by Matthew O’Malley
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To move this cause forward as people who stutter, a community, and a treatment field, we need a truthful understanding of what we’re dealing with.
I’ve touched and dove into stuttering and trauma here at Stuttering Forward and elsewhere in the past, however, let’s dive in a bit more.
Many state they have a fear of stuttering. In a sense this is true. However, stuttering itself is not what is feared. It is the deep feeling of disconnection from their fellow human souls that one is fearful of; not stuttering itself.
As humans, we are social animals. We are evolved to connect deeply with our caretakers from birth. As adults, we live in groups and communities and our roles in these groups are perceived unconsciously as survival needs. Abandonment as a child unconsciously equals death. Ostracism as an adult/child unconsciously equals death. Why? Because these things did mean death for the vast majority of our evolutionary history.
Human connection is an extremely deep need. To feel connected; to feel seen, heard, and valued; to feel important to others; makes a human thrive in life. The opposite of feeling connected is an extreme sense of disconnection which manifests as feelings of shame; feeling misunderstood; feeling “unseen”; feeling deeply isolated.
I’ve heard trauma defined as an impending powerful punishment (unconscious death threat through abandonment/ostracism) and a helplessness to stop it (blocks are helpless feelings). That’s exactly what stuttering is; an unconsciously perceived death threat (ostracism/abandonment) combined with a helplessness to stop it (blocking).
If your stuttering journey is anything like mine, you have thousands of these experiences; feelings of shame after an interaction; feelings of isolation; feelings of not being “seen”. This is not a pathological pattern. This is how the human system is meant to react to a disconnective experience. These experiences literally are traumatic.
Sidenote: Many perceive trauma as purely psychological, however, more enlightened understandings have emerged to display it as a mindbody disorder with heavy implications for movement and energy. Speech is movement. One movement involved reaction to trauma is a freeze response. Pre-interaction for a person who stutters with these past traumas leads to an unconscious prediction of an upcoming trauma. This prediction leads to extreme anxiety and at minimum, heavily contributes to the stuttering block (freeze).
This repeated cycle of trauma leads to a state of social hypervigilance/PTSD. When most people think of PTSD, they think military. PTSD is difficult to treat on its own, but in stuttering its even harder. Why?
For a person in the military who has had traumatic experiences in battle, the traumatic stimuli is removed when they return home. A key component to successful treatment of trauma and PTSD is the removal of the repetition of trauma. The person must no longer experience the original traumas to heal. This is possible in most cases of PTSD – one can remove the traumatic stimuli.
However, in stuttering, the PTSD cannot heal as more social traumas continue to pile up as life goes on and the person continues to interact and have traumatic experiences of disconnection.
My hope for you today: Find a way to feel truly connected to someone; feel seen; feel understood. Watch your spirits soar.
As stated, we must first understand the reality of the situation we’re dealing with. Then, as a community, we can move forward.