BSA leaflets for adults

Interiorised stammering (BSA leaflet)

Features of 'Interiorised Stammering'

  • high levels of fluency
  • high levels of avoidance
  • strong negative feelings about stammering

Do you

  • habitually conceal the fact that you stammer?
  • live with fear and panic that people will find out you stammer?
  • have very few, if any people in your life who know you stammer?
  • struggle with feelings of secrecy and shame about your stammer?

Do you

  • exhaust yourself by searching ahead in your mind for potentially difficult sounds?
  • extensively substitute feared words for others which are easier?
  • internally rehearse speech over and over?
  • block silently on starting to speak?

If you can identify with a number of these characteristics and your speech is very fluent a lot of the time then read on.

Some people's stammering is more on the inside: 'covert' than on the outside: 'overt'

Examples of interiorised stammering

  • You may habitually hesitate before you say your name
  • You may hold back from ordering drinks at the bar, or decide to suddenly change your mind at the last minute to order something you can pronounce more easily

"Interiorising the stammer, developing extensive strategies for maintaining the overt fluency, meant that I'm pretty sure that even my family were largely unaware of the problem that I knew I had. Living with this secret was a nightmare. The constant hiding and fear of being found out caused many problems."

"It has always been predominantly an internal struggle, a struggle of will, of developing an ever changing array of tactics, 'tricks' by which overt stammering could be avoided."

IcebergStammering is like an iceberg...

Joseph Sheehan, an eminent speech and language therapist from the USA, who stammered himself, has described some people's stammering to be like an iceberg:

"The part above the surface, what people see and hear, is really the smaller part. By far the larger part is the part underneath, the shame, the fear, the guilt, all those other feelings that we have when we try and speak a simple sentence and can't. Like me you have probably tried to keep as much of that iceberg under the surface as possible...."  

This table is a picture of the stammering iceberg. Overt stammering, involving obvious blocks and repetitions, is the visible part of the iceberg above the water. The covert aspects of stammering are represented by the much larger part of the iceberg beneath the water. The covert aspects pictured beneath the water may include hidden negative feelings e.g. fear, shame, humiliation, hiding, embarrassment, self hatred. These feelings can lead to changes in behaviour which hide stammering, e.g.avoidance of talking and/or avoidance of certain situations, avoidance of relationships - you may stammer as you open up and get to know people, changing words at last minute, not making phone calls, pretending to be someone who does not stammer. These behaviours are also shown in the part of the iceberg beneath the water.

Some people's stammering is more underneath the iceberg so that others may not be aware you stammer at all.

What you can do

Because interiorised stammering is more or less successfully hidden from others it can be hard for others to know or understand how you are feeling on the inside. When you tell people about your stammer they may say e.g. "Oh don't worry about it, I would never have known!" This may imply to you that you don't really have a problem at all and may make you feel you are just making a fuss. In extreme cases you may have been so 'successful' in your hiding that in fact you are not believed for having a stammer at all. This can feel hurtful and frustrating. Of course, an important part of you is not being seen.

Because your stammer is more hidden it is not less of a problem but a different sort of problem.

There is help available for you. There are people who understand exactly what you are feeling.

"Pretending you don't have a stammer stands in the way of personal development; you cannot get help for something you don't outwardly admit to. I am 37 yrs and have only now decided that I need to stop this charade and get help for my stammer. By not being honest and getting help earlier, what opportunities have been lost by interiorising?"

Speech and language therapists are well aware how strong the feelings associated with interiorised stammering can be and how these can affect the choices you make in your life. It is possible to make real changes by facing these fearful feelings and therapy can be liberating.

"Before therapy, there were considerable costs of hiding my stammering. I wasted huge amounts of energy and mental resources concentrating on 'how I said' things, rather than 'what I said'. This impacted on the quality of my communication. My emotional communication was also compromised. While I kept my smile going, habitually suppressing all my negative feelings (internally the world was collapsing around me), my emotional health and sense of well-being was badly affected."

"Therapy helped me see that the habit of hiding the stammer, not the stammer itself, has been the biggest problem in my life. It's such a freedom to feel it no longer matters to the same extent whether I happen to stammer from time to time. It no longer feels like the end of the world!"

Contact your local speech and language therapist for an appointment.

Further details from British Stammering Association.
Information and Support Service

June 2002