25th January 2022
Learning to become more compassionate to himself about stammering really helped Benjamin Farmer. Here he explains how he achieved it and invites you to take part in his research into the subject.
Up until my early twenties I strongly believed that stammering was a deficiency that I had to hide at all costs. Whenever a situation arose where I could not avoid stammering, I would internally berate myself and feel a distressing sense of shame. Thoughts like "why couldn't I have just stayed calmer and spoken more fluently?" would rush into my mind.
When I started full time work in financial services, the frequency of difficult situations hit a critical threshold. If I wasn't enduring what I then perceived as an embarrassing speaking situation, I was worrying about when the next one would arise.
I quickly established that making a rapid change to behaviours that were deeply embedded was very difficult.
I went looking for help. I was fortunate enough to come across a week-long intensive speech therapy course at City Lit in London and I enrolled. It was at this point that I learnt that my methods of coping, through avoidance of speaking situations and resistance, were in fact fuelling my feelings of shame and anxiety, rather than helping me evade them.
I set out with a fresh vision of how I could make my future brighter. Avoidance was now the enemy, and it had to be stopped. However, I quickly established that making a rapid change to behaviours that were deeply embedded was very difficult. I would instruct myself: "do not avoid in this meeting with your boss", but, when the pressure was on, avoidance reasserted itself.
Self-critical thoughts returned with a vengeance. This time not focused on hiding my stammer, but on calling myself a 'wimp' each time I avoided something. Although the contents of these thoughts were novel, they were still leaving me with feelings of failure and shame. It felt as if I was constantly testing myself and coming up short. I was falling back into the same trap I was in before.
When I initially heard about practices to cultivate self-compassion, I was highly sceptical. I had been drilled to be highly competitive and critical of my flaws, in line with a lot of my friends and peers. However, as I started to practice mindfulness and meditations involving a focus on self-compassion, I noticed a gradual shift as I began to treat myself more kindly.
At this point, I also became interested in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) after attending another course at City Lit. ACT is an empirically based psychological intervention that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies along with commitment and behaviour-change strategies to increase psychological flexibility. Psychological flexibility means holding our own thoughts and emotions a bit more lightly, and acting on longer term values and goals rather than short term impulses, thoughts and feelings. ACT helped me increase my own psychological flexibility and allowed me to connect with my values, whilst accepting difficult feelings that may come in their pursuit.
…as I started to practice mindfulness and meditations involving a focus on self-compassion, I noticed a gradual shift as I began to treat myself more kindly.
After clarifying my values, I used the tools that I had learnt from ACT and self-compassion exercises to take a leap of faith and leave my secure financial services role for the uncertainty of a career in psychology. I continue working to accept the fears that I have around stammering in this new field. I am willing to experience these in pursuit of my long term goal of helping people who stammer to live in the ways they choose and to embrace stammering as a valuable difference.
I strongly believe that the combination of these two approaches has helped me escape the trap of self-criticism and allowed me to follow a path that aligns to my values, no matter how difficult it may be.
My research project
This personal experience has fuelled my interest in psychological flexibility and self-compassion. I am currently doing a research project for my Masters in psychology at BPP University, which aims to assess how these two things are related to quality of life in adults who stammer. This research has the potential to provide empirical support for approaches such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Compassion Focused Therapy for people who stammer.
I would be incredibly grateful to anyone who would like to support my study by completed an online survey.
I think this research into self-compassion in people who stammer is particularly important because of the high levels of self-criticism that studies have shown that we endure. This does not surprise me given my personal experience. Therefore, I hope that this study could help to inform future interventions and help people who stammer live a fulfilling life where they live closely to their values and treat themselves kindly.
I would be incredibly grateful to anyone who would like to support my study by completing an online survey. The survey takes 15-20 minutes and you can find the link below.
*Update Feb 2022: Benjamin's study is now closed.
Note: City Lit is just one of the therapy course centres available for stammering. See our Therapies & Courses section to see the full list of options.
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(This post is adapted from the original, which was posted on the Redefining Stammering blog on 6th January 2022.)