If you’re struggling with stuttering or stammering, you might have realised your perception about yourself, your stuttering, certain situations and particular people is most likely negative. Perhaps you perceive yourself as being inadequate because you stutter. Maybe you perceive talking to strangers to be a context to avoid. Maybe you believe people in authority to be threatening. Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) offers tools, which can help you to change the way you perceive yourself and stuttering through taking on different perspectives (or perceptual positions). This can be very helpful as changing your perception allows you to step out of problematic states of fear and anxiety and adopt more resourceful perspectives that can help you to feel confident. In the following section, I describe 4 perceptual positions and consider the types of insights you could generate as a person who stutters, or stammers when you take on each of these positions.
The 4 Perceptual Positions
The 4 perceptual positions are known as first position, second position, third position, and fourth position. The first two positions are known as associated positions and the following two are recognized as dissociated positions.
In the first position (an associated position), you are experiencing the world through your own self. This means you see out of your own ears, hear using your own ears and feel through your own body. You also speak using your voice in order to communicate with others. However, If you’re a person who stutters and are struggling, chances are being in first person creates problems for you as you feel blocked in this position.
Second position is also an associated position. However, instead of experiencing the world through your own senses and body, you imagine looking out of the eyes of another person and experience what it is like to be this other individual. You also hear voices and sounds from the ears of the other person and you feel what this person is feeling. What is the benefit of doing so? It enables you to take on a different point of view, which can begin to help you get out of the crippling impact, which staying in first position can have.
As a person who stutters, or stammers, when you’re in third position, you’re dissociated as opposed to being associated. What this means is that you look at the stuttering experience more objectively, a bit like a fly on the wall. This position opens up even more different perspectives, as you create distance between yourself from the recollection of the experience. From this distance, you can analyse any judgements you might have made about yourself and the other person and objectively challenge whether these judgements are really true or not.
Adopting fourth position means combining the first three positions in order to create a system, which contains various components and parts including people who form a part of a collective. As a person who stutters, taking on a ‘systems perspective’ of a stuttering episode enables you to observe other factors that are occurring around you and enables you to see beyond your stuttering, as you’re part of a system that is there with a common goal and purpose.
Exercise – Changing Your Perceptual Positions
In this exercise, you’ll have a go at changing your perceptual positions to help you change how you feel about yourself and your stuttering, or stammering. Throughout the exercise I use a hypothetical person who stutters called Sunita to help illustrate each step. I suggest reading each step several times to get an understanding of the exercise and then come back to step one to try it out.
1. Notice what it is like to be in first person
In this first step, remember the last time you stuttered, or stammered really badly. Remember it as vividly as you can by being associated. This means recollecting the time in a way where you’re looking out of your own eyes into the same situation seeing what you saw, which could be the person or people in front of you when you stuttered. Chances are highly likely it will now feel like you’re having the same experience again, as you also hear what you heard, and feel what you felt such as anxiety, worry and stress.
Using the example of Sunita, she remembers a time recently when she stuttered. She was at the office last week, and one of her colleagues asked her what she did at the weekend and Sunita started to stutter when responding. She becomes associated by looking out of her own eyes into the same scenario, hearing through her ears and feeling afraid. As Sunita stutters when responding, she perceives her colleague as judging her because of the way she is speaking, and then feeling sorry for her because she is stuttering.
2. Notice what it is like to be in second person
In the second step, taking the example you remembered in step one where you stuttered badly, imagine floating out of yourself and into the body of the person you were talking to. Or if you were talking to a group, imagine floating into the body of one of the people in the group. As you do, look back at you stuttering through the eyes of the person and listen to yourself with the ears of the other person. What does it feel like to be other person looking back at you?
With Sunita, she imagines what it is like to float out of herself into the body of her colleague who asked her what she did over the weekend. As she takes the position of her colleague, she continues to use her imagination to look out her colleague’s eyes and notices what she looks like from her colleague’s perspective. Sunita imagines hearing out of her colleague’s ears as Sunita describes what she does over the weekend and Sunita begins to stutter. Sunita also begins to take on what her colleague is feeling towards her. As Sunita takes on the role of her colleague, she notices insights she never considered before. One of these is that her colleague isn’t judging Sunita for the way she is speaking. Her colleague isn’t even feeling sorry for Sunita as Sunita believed she was when she was in first position. Her colleague is genuinely interested in what Sunita has to say.
3. Notice what it is like to be in third person
So, continuing from the previous step when you stepped into second position of the person who was talking with you with when you stuttered, now take on third position so that you can see both yourself and the other person during the difficult experience. As you do this, notice what additional perspectives you see, which in the second position you were not aware of. When you look at yourself stuttering and see the person you’re speaking with from a distance, how does the way you feel change. Do any strong emotions lessen slightly?
Sunita takes on the third perceptual position. She can now see herself and her colleague engaging in the conversation about the weekend from the perspective as a silent observer. As she does, Sunita notices how the way she feels changes. She’s looking at the scenario much more objectively, and can just see two people engaging in conversation. Although Sunita can see herself stuttering, it doesn’t really bother her.
4. Notice what it is like to be in fourth person
In this step, now take on the view of being in fourth position. If it helps, imagine looking down at the environment in which you stuttered from a birds eye view, where what you see beneath you is a system, and in this system you are just one part. As you do, what other things do you notice? Are other people around that are interacting with one another? Notice what the actual purpose of the system you’re in is. For example, if you were sitting in a coffee shop in your stuttering situation, when you consider the coffee shop you were in as a system where staff are there to serve customers coffees, teas, and cakes, and customers come and buy them, sit down and relax for a while and then leave, how does this change the way you feel about yourself and your stuttering now?
Sunita in her example moves from a fly on the way position and takes on a bird’s eye view and notices what the office she is in is like from a ‘systems perspective’. As she does, she notices that her conversation with her colleague where she stuttered is just one little part of the overall office system. She notices her boss sitting at his table on the phone, and sees her own line manager busy away typing at a keyboard. She sees two other colleagues sitting behind her talking to each other about a client. Sunita now realises she is a part of a system contributing to the overall success of her department, in which people also make general conversation in between work tasks. Doing this also allows her to create distance between the initial negative feelings she experienced when she stuttered as she looks at herself as a part of a system, which is beyond one person and the way she/he might feel.
Bodenhamer, B.G., 2004. Mastering Blocking and Stuttering: A Cognitive Approach to Achieving Fluency. Carmarthen, Wales: Crown House Publishing.
Are you a person who stutters, or stammers and need some help to adopt different perceptual positions? You might want to take a look at the NLP coaching I offer for people who stutter, or stammer.
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