Self-Disclosure: A Powerful Tool for the Stutterer

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For most of our lives, we have been trying to hide stuttering. 

But what if I told you self-disclosure — or telling people that you stutter –- could make you feel more comfortable and confident?  

In this post I’ll describe how to talk about stuttering and why disclosing this aspect of your personality is so powerful. 

Why self-disclose stuttering?

You might be wondering: 

Why should I tell people I stutter? They already know; they hear me doing it!  

This is why I self-disclose, or advertise, my stuttering.

  • Early on in my stuttering journey, talking about my stuttering eased my mind about what listeners were thinking. I felt that once that elephant-in-the-room was addressed, people would move beyond how I was talking and listen to what I was saying.  
  • In the same vein, early in my stuttering journey, I felt self-disclosure decreased some of the ambiguity surrounding my stuttering. I didn’t want to leave anything up to the listener’s interpretation. I didn’t want him or herto think I was nervous or shy or unsure about whatever I was talking about. I wanted them to know what was going on: I was stuttering! 
  • By addressing the fact that I stutter, I take ownership of my stuttering, instead of feeling victim to it. This makes me feel more confident.   

Others self-disclose for similar reasons:

  • Others report that self-disclosure lessens their fear that listeners will discover that they stutter (Plexico, et, al., 2005).
  • Some report that talking about stuttering reduces their fear of stuttering and their avoidance behaviors (Plexico, L., et, al. 2005).

At this seminar, Dr. Michael Boyle describes a recent study, which suggests a surprising relationship between quality of life and self-disclosure of  stuttering.

The results? 

People who reported a high likelihood to self-disclose stuttering reported higher quality of life than those who were less likely to self disclose
(American Institute for Stuttering, 2018).

Of course, this correlation between openness surrounding stuttering and quality of life does not specify a causal relationship .

But it does make you think.  

Us and Them

Interestingly, most research about self-disclosure focuses on listener attitudes.  

At first that didn’t make sense to me.  

“Who cares what our listeners think!” I thought. “Our main focus should be our comfort with stuttering, despite how our listeners react to or feel about us and our stuttering!”  

But then I thought about things a bit more: 

It’s only natural for people to be concerned about what others think. This is especially true for stutterers new to the concept of accepting stuttering.

And wouldn’t it ease these stutterers’ minds to know that research suggests self-disclosure helps listeners view them more positively?

Also: 

As described by Dr. Boyle, public stigma may lead to negative societal reactions towards people who stutter (Boyle, 2015).

This, in turn could result in stutterers trying to hide their stutter (which we learned has been linked with lower quality of life
(American Institute for Stuttering, 2018)) and avoiding life experiences because of stuttering.

This could lead to reduced psychological well being (Boyle, 2015). 

And: 

Many people who stutter internalize this public stigma, believing, like society believes, that stuttering is a flaw that needs to be fixed. 

And a correlation exists between higher levels of self-stigma, increased stress, and decreased physical health (Boyle & Fearon, 2018).

The bottom line: 

Though it’s my opinion that making the person who stutters comfortable in their own skin is of paramount importance, it may be beneficial for people who stutter to know that their listeners are comfortable as well.  

And making non-stuttering listeners comfortable could decrease public stigma surrounding stuttering, which could impact how people who stutter are treated, how they feel about themselves, and even their health.

Self-disclosure really does change public attitudes about stuttering! 

Dr. Boyle conducted another study , focused on how listener attitudes changed after watching three videos, each using a different anti-stigma approach (American Institute for Stuttering, 2018).

While videos of people providing educational information about stuttering or protesting unjust attitudes about stuttering changed viewer’s stuttering-related opinions somewhat, the video employing the interpersonal contact anti stigma approach changed people’s attitudes about stuttering the most (American Institute for Stuttering, 2018).  

And the interpersonal contact video simply involved a person who stutters talking about their stuttering! 

The implications of this study? 

Talking about our stuttering could change public attitudes about the disorder, lessening the stigma currently attached to it.  

And with less social stigma, self-stigma will likely decrease. 

Wins all around! 

When should I self-disclose?

Now you know what self-disclosure is and why it may be beneficial for you. 

But when would you do it? 

The answer:  Anytime it feels right!  

Maybe: 

  • At the start of  a job interview 
  • At the start of a presentation  
  • Before introducing yourself to a group 
  • When someone comments on your stuttering or makes fun of it 
  • In a conversation with a new friend  

So, how do we effectively self-disclose stuttering? 

In a follow-up study to the study presented above, Dr. Boyle asked participants to provide aspects of the interpersonal communication video that contributed to changing their stuttering-related attitudes (American Institute for Stuttering, 2018).  

They stated:

  • The speaker had a positive attitude about stuttering. 
  • He was not apologetic when describing his stuttering.
  • He was confident and comfortable while stuttering. 
  • The speaker provided personal experiences about stuttering 
  • He had an attitude that his situation would improve as time went on.  
  • He provided suggestions regarding how to talk with people who stutter.

Some people also like to self-disclose directly, without elaboration.(American Institute for Stuttering, 2018).

Still others insert some voluntary stuttering early on in a conversation (Plexico, et. al, 2005).

Research has also shown: 

Self-disclosing in an informative manner results in higher observer ratings than not disclosing. (Byrd, Croft., Gkalitsiou, Croft, Hampton, 2017). 

And disclosing in an apologetic manner does not result in significantly more positive ratings than not disclosing (Byrd, et, al., 2017

So: 

Self-disclosing in a positive, confident, non-apologetic manner is most effective in winning over your listeners.

And although you might not feel confident, the fake-it-‘til you make it mentality might just apply here. 

These days… 

These days I don’t self-disclose much to feel comfortable with stuttering.

But I have recently had to introduce myself at several group activities.

I usually do these things when introducing myself:

I make eye contact.

And I stutter openly, confidently, unapologetically.

I don’t really feel I need to come out and say that I stutter. I don’t really care what people think is going on. I’m comfortable stuttering.  

What do you think about self- disclosing stuttering?  

How do you talk about your stuttering?

Why do you do it?


Articles related to self-disclosing stuttering:

Voluntary Stuttering: This powerful tactic will improve your life.

4 Ways Stuttering Support Groups Could Improve Your Life

Help, I’m stuck! How to move through stuttering blocks: examples and tips.


Resources

[American Institute for Stuttering]. (2018, November 12). Dr. Michael Boyle: Disclosing Stuttering (video file). Retrieved from this link

Boyle, M. P., Fearon, A. N. (2018). Self-stigma and its associations with stress, physical health, and health care satisfaction in adults who stutter. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 56, 112-121

Boyle, M. P. (2015). The importance of challenging the public stigma of stuttering. Retrieved from: http://isad.isastutter.org/isad-2015/papers-presented-by-2015/research-therapy-and-support/the-importance-of-challenging-the-public-stigma-of-stuttering/ .

Byrd, C. T., Croft, R., Gkalitsiou, Z., Hampton, E., (2017). Clinical utility of self-disclosure for adults who stutter: Apologetic versus informative statements. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 54, 1-13 

Plexico, L., Manning, W. H., Dilollo, A., (2015), A phenomenological understanding of successful stuttering management. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 30, 1-22.



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