Kia ora, I’m Felix, a social worker at START and a person who stutters.
Introducing yourself and talking to a new person or group of people can be a challenging and stressful thing for people who stutter. We tend to worry about what people may think or say if we stutter. We may also experience strong emotional and physical reactions, such as anxiety, shame, guilt, increased heart rate, shortness of breath or feeling shaky, hot or tense.
I know these feelings and worrying thoughts first-hand. I can remember some social interactions with new people and their surprised faces and negative comments when I stuttered. These reactions are usually not made to intentionally hurt or upset. However, they can reinforce the negative associations and strong reactions people who stutter may have about meeting and talking to new people. This can result in avoidance or reduced social participation and affect a person’s sense of self, wellbeing and quality of life.
So, how can a person who stutters manage worrying thoughts and emotional/physical reactions and navigate meeting and talking to new people more confidently?
Here are few tips and tricks:
- First and foremost, I believe it’s important to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings when meeting and talking to new people. They are valid and understandable!
- Be mindful not to over-generalise past negative experiences and predict they will happen again in the future. The human brain tends to magnify/remember the negatives and minimise/overlook the positives. So, remind yourself that not every social interaction you’ve had or reactions from others you’ve received in the past have been negative.
- Don’t look at social interactions solely through the “stuttering lens”, but explore other perspectives too, e.g., “What are other people’s view points on this?”, “What’s my reason to go to this social event or talk to a new person? Is it to hide my stutter and speak fluently or have a good time with my friends and potentially meet someone new?”. Also, “Am I forgetting about all my other awesome characteristics?”. Remember, you are so much more than your stutter! It’s something you happen to have; it does not define you!
- Try to take the initiative to introduce yourself and start the conversation. This gives you a sense of control and power, instead of letting the anxiety and worrying thoughts creep up in anticipation that someone may or may not approach you and ask for your name, start a conversation, etc. Personally, I find this strategy very helpful.
- Consider talking openly about your stutter if you feel it’s appropriate and helpful for you in that situation. Addressing “the elephant in the room” takes courage but can really help to reduce stress. It brings your focus back to the actual situation and directs your thoughts away from ruminating about stuttering. However, be mindful about the language you use. The way we speak about stuttering will influence how other people will think about and react to it.
Ultimately, if you are a person who stutters you will stutter and that is okay. There is no right or wrong way to speak. At the end of the day, it matters what you say, not how you say it.