Make Room For The Stuttering

On Empathy and Stuttering

Posted on: May 31, 2009

I received an interesting question from Bob. We know each other from NSA and one of the stuttering email groups. He asks:

Pam, have you ever done any dialogue about empathy and stuttering? I have been pondering my connection with others, both stutterers and non-stutterers. I found your post on acceptance level most interesting with regard to empathy. Some suggest that stutterers are overly sensitive to the feelings of others. I know I tend at times to shut out others which would have autistic (anti-empathic) tendencies. Then there is the other view of how others react to our struggle as pointed out in your post.  Let me know your thoughts.

I definitely feel connected with other human beings who have had difficulties in their lives, regardless of their speech pattern. My empathy comes from both my stuttering experiences and from the personal impact of  a difficult childhood. My gut deeply empathizes with anyone who has felt pain or shame in their life. Sometimes, I can almost feel what another person feels. Not like I am a psychic! I can just feel a connection with some people, and the empathetic part of me just takes over.

If we accept ourselves as we are, having empathy just comes naturally. If we are hiding and experiencing shame, we can sense that in others as well. I think this is why I have always been very good in my jobs as counselor. Having had personal challenges to face has  given me inner strength to share with others. For a long time, I didn’t even know that inner strength was there.

As Bob points out, it is not easy to have empathy with those who choose to react negatively when we stutter – be it dismissal or mockery. But I am learning that these situations provide an opportunity to teach someone about an experience that they don’t share or understand. Then, maybe empathy will one day be possible. I wouldn’t have this attitude if it were not the inner reserve of strength that I now have because of some painful experiences.

The one area that I need to work on that will bring me full circle to being able to offer empathy and deeply connect with some others in my life  is one that has been previously discussed. That is forgiveness. Being able to forgive my parents is a big challenge for me. I can honestly say I might not be able to do it. I have often asked myself, “Is that OK if I can’t do it?”  As a matter of fact, Greg offered me something really important to think about – forgiveness is for me,  not “the wrongdoers.”  Hmmm, I really need to see if I can adopt this.  As well as what Cricket says, that maybe I can forgive myself for not being able to forgive. More to think about.

Being able to forgive people who don’t understand stuttering should be easy. I can choose to help educate them, or I can choose to not interact with them. I can choose to hang out with the very large community which does get stuttering and me, and for that, I am grateful.

I am not sure about the last part of Bob’s concern. He says that sometimes he shuts out people, and views that as non-empathetic. He wonders if that is an autistic tendency. I don’t think it is. I think that’s just a natural, human reaction to hurt and pain. I have shut my father out of my life. I am not autistic. I am still reacting to childhood pain, and at times, the wounds still feel fresh.

As humans, we have been blessed (or cursed, depending on how you look at it!) to have feelings and emotions. In my case, I can’t always control my emotions. And I have not always been able to express or even identify my feelings. I used to stuff all of my emotions, now I am really working on freeing them and me.

I am a work-in-progress. We all are. That’s part of life and being human.

This is a great topic. Thanks Bob. What do other people think? Where does empathy come from? Do we all have it, or can it be learned?

Copyright © 2009

2 Responses to "On Empathy and Stuttering"

Pam, very well done. As a side note the SFA has a lot of info on autism and stuttering.

I know these things about you, and I’ve felt your pain before. But every time I’m reminded about it, I get a fist in my stomach. (It feels like) I see myself as an empathetic person, because I can easily identify with other people’s feelings. And I think I was born this way. But I also believe we can learn to become more empathetic. I’ve worked with kids for a while, and I’ve especially worked with the kids who have social trouble. The thing I’ve noticed about the “ADHD boys” is their apparent lack of empathy. They do not understand that if they hit someone, it hurts them as much as they get hurt when people hit them. I’ve explained this on several occasions to them, and some got it little by little. I remember a situation I had with a first grader who kicked me in the face. THAT hurt! He had his shoes on… I put him on my lap, gave him a hug and calmly explained to him that it hurt, and he should not do that. He didn’t get it. So I tried again and again and again, until he did. He was very sorry after. We worked together for a year, and had several situations we worked on together. He’s in the 5th grade now, and I still get a big hug when I see him. ;o) So, I believe we are all born with some sort of empathy, but that we have to learn more and work on it. And it helps to work on it together. We all need feedback on our actions. Mead was spot on 😀

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