I spent the first twenty years of my life avoiding conversation. It wasn’t that I didn’t like people; I stutter.
School was traumatic (speech classes were ineffective) and although most people were understanding and supportive, there were many awkward moments. French was a challenge (for example, “Il y a une probleme” was a showstopper) and word substitution figured prominently (like swapping “your majesty” for “sir” in a lengthy grade 9 history reading). A simple conversation was a minefield of potential dialectic disasters, all word-options weighed and rated for producing the minimal societal impact. If nothing else, it was certainly a cerebral exercise in organization and creativity.
In non-stuttering normal speech, PET (positron emission tomography) scans show that both hemispheres of the brain are active but that the left hemisphere tends to be more active. By contrast, people who stutter yield more activity on the right hemisphere, suggesting that this activity might be interfering with left-hemisphere speech production. Much evidence from neuroimaging techniques has supported this theory. **
This may be true. The increase in damage-control activity in the “creative” right-brain may overwhelm the “functionality” of the left-brain. I don’t know. I do know that in certain situations, and not all of them public speaking, my delivery of coherent and logical speech can be spontaneously interrupted with an internal electrical storm that overwhelms all of my senses and grinds my thoughts, and any hope of recovery, to a halt.
Stuttering has been compared to the structure of an iceberg, with the visible and audible symptoms of stuttering above the waterline and a broader set of symptoms, such as negative emotions, hidden below. Feelings of embarrassment, shame, fear, anger, and guilt are often a result of the inability to communicate clearly. This, of course, leads to increased frustration, tension and effort, which further exacerbates the stuttering. A common end result is self-imposed isolation. With time, continued exposure to difficult speaking experiences may crystallize into a negative self-concept and self-image. **
Stuttering is sometimes seen as a symptom of anxiety, but there is no correlation in that direction, although the inverse can be true, as social anxiety can develop as a result of stuttering. A person who stutters may subconsciously project their opinions onto others, believing that they think he or she is nervous or stupid, which then feeds a self-fulfilling cycle of self-deprecation. Many perceive stutterers as less intelligent due to their disfluency, however, as a group, individuals who stutter tend to be of above average intelligence. **
I deeply appreciate Brené Brown’s TED Talks on vulnerability and shame: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability?language=en and http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame. We all have coping mechanisms that help us get through our lives and each of us is different and saddled with our own perceived shortcomings.
All of us, as individuals, are not alone; we are not victims and are not any better or worse off than anyone else. Rest assured that everyone is insecure and needs support. Regardless of our own turmoil and personal battles, it is up to each of us to suck-it-up, get out there, and do the best we can.