“Nobody worth your attention gives a damn if you stutter,” writes Cheryl Strayed, replying in her Rumpus Dear Sugar column to a woman who anonymously wrote to her as ‘Ashamed and Afraid’.
With her characteristic mix of tenderness and insight, Cheryl tells A & A, “It’s time for you to do the work you need to do to become the person you must be. That means tossing out the ugly and false notions you have about your stutter and taking in the fact that you have the power to redirect the blowtorch of your self-hatred and turn it into love.”
It is a beautiful piece, one that glues your eyes to the page and gives you whiplash from nodding your head so vigorously in agreement.
It is the type of writing that unifies us. Stuttering or not we all need to work on becoming the people we’re here to be. We all need to foster our own resilience, that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and and come back stronger than ever.
Strayed has that quality in spades and in my interviews for Out With It I saw resilience in the most successful stutterers I met. Stuttering might have battered their self-esteem for some part of their childhood, but they were not cowed by it. They described it as ‘toughening them up’, as ‘increasing their empathy’, as ‘instilling a fighting instinct.’ They were formed, rather than undone, by their struggle.
They were not unique, or superhuman, in their ability. We are all capable of astonishing resistance, coping, recovery and success. We just need to work out how we can withstand, rebound and transform the inevitable obstacles of our life into triumphs.
In The Resilience Factor, Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte explain seven elements that anyone can cultivate to boost their own resilience:
1) Emotional regulation. The ability to respond appropriately in any given situation and control our emotions and behaviours so they are productive rather than knee-jerk reactions.
2) Impulse control. The necessity to notice our thoughts and sit with them for a moment, quietly, before we react.
3) Empathy. The capacity to understand and share the feelings of others, so we can keep ourselves from misreading situations.
4) Optimism. Not irrational optimism, rather the ability to believe that things can change for the better, to hope for the future, without denying the reality of our lives. The need to aspire and work towards positive outcomes without assuming that they are a forgone conclusions.
5) Causal analysis. The ability to accurately identify the causes of problems and think flexibility. The so-called father of positive psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman, focuses on explanatory styles as the habitual way we explain the good and the bad things that happen to us. The need to look for specific, limited, short-term explanations for bad events rather than seeing them as permanent, personal and pervasive.
6) Self-efficacy. The sense that we are effective in the world, the belief that we can succeed at solving our problems.
7) Reaching out. The intention to create nurturing relationships and strong social support. We often learn by mimicry and a resilient, trusting and supportive community incubates reserves of optimism and resilience.
All of us will face failure at some point in our lives. Those who have been shielded from difficulty, who have spent their life coddled and protected, are not always the most successful. Those who grow up battling against some form of adversity need more grit, more social intelligence and more self-control to create the kind of giant, full lives that they aspire to. If they can develop the strength to derive knowledge and meaning from their setbacks, they are at a significant character advantage. As the researcher Ann Masten puts it, “resilient children have the benefit of ordinary magic."
Do you have that ordinary magic? How often are you able to transform the setbacks of life into everyday triumphs?