Taking the Lid off your Jar

Taking the lid off your ‘jar’

Do you feel tongue tied, afraid to speak up?

Do you plan everything before you say it, loading your brain’s speech centres with anxiety to get it right and avoid looking stupid? Are you always trying to say the ‘right’ thing so people will like you, approve of you or just leave you alone.

Do you feel intense shame, anxiety, and a sense of being not good enough, not a ‘man’, not whole because of the quality your speech?

I used to feel like this. But now I don’t. What about you? Would you like to reduce these feelings or get rid of them altogether? Let me illustrate with a story.

Fleas are remarkable creatures.

The average flea can jump around 13 cms which is over 50 times its body height. That would be like a human being jumping a 100 plus metre building. As humans we can’t do that, but allow me to make a contentious assertion. We human are like fleas in another way.

When fleas are put into a jar with a lid, after bumping their heads on the lid a few times they learn to jump just under it. What’s more remarkable, their offspring born in the same jar will do the same. This happens even when the lid is taken off the jar. And all future generations of fleas born in that jar will only jump as high as their parents, as if the lid was still on.

How is this relevant to humans, especially those who stutter?

Consider this possibility. That as a person with a stutter we are like those fleas. The lid has been put on the jar of our speech, our major avenue of self-expression.

How did that happen? Consider that on a global perspective, our parents and grandparents were mostly raised in a restrictive jar moulded by the horrors and human loss of WW1, the Great Depression, WW2, post WW2 materialism and the Cold War. Nationalism was rife. There was safety in the group, in conformity. This would have been accentuated if your ancestors were raised in an English or European country.

People did what leaders directed. We followed the system and didn’t question it which enabled Hitler to mobilise the German people to persecute the Jews. We valued authority and loyalty, learning not to raise our head above the ‘trench’. Ridicule, physical violence and incarceration was often the price of going outside the ‘norm’ or breaking the ‘rules’.

The ‘lid’ was tightly screwed on and attempts at going beyond the confines of the jar were definitely painful.

This my fellow ‘fleas’ I suggest is the societal jar I was raised in as well as many of you.

The ‘lid’ was tightly screwed on and attempts at going beyond the confines of the jar were definitely painful.

Back then, children were expected to respect their parents and authority, do as they were told, and to be seen and not heard. We were punished severely for stepping out of line. Parents were warned not to “spare the rod and spoil the child”. We accepted most of what we were told as true, especially when it comes from our parents.

Dr Morris Massey is well known for his work on the stages of psychological development in humans. He identified the age 0-7 years as ‘the imprint’ period’, the time when a child is like a sponge, taking on all the influences in its primary environment, such as the family home and early primary school The confusion and blind belief of this period led to the early formation of trauma and other deep problems.

Within the family and school structure, corporal punishment was widely used to control children using fear of physical and emotional pain. Shame, guilt, isolation and ostracising non-compliant individuals were acceptable strategies.

The critical thing the child was meant to learn was a sense of right and wrong, good and bad, mostly where behaviour was involved. However the ‘tactics’ of the time most often led to children feeling that they themselves were ‘bad and wrong’, instead of their behaviour. Furthermore these tactics often had damaging effects on children in terms of our self esteem and self expression i.e. our speech and fun was often shut down-the lid was put on our jar!

Come the late 50’s and sixties, the ‘lid’ started to come off the jar, especially with the spread of television. But the ‘damage’ to we ‘young fleas’ had already been done. Click on the link below to hear Dr Morris Massey expound on this period in detail.


As a counter culture of individual freedom and rebellion spread, youth started to rebel. Compulsory conscription, and the threat of being sent to the Vietnam War stimulated a questioning of authority at the national, societal and local level. The government, the Church, the army, the police, teachers and parents all started to lose their automatic position of respect. You will know some people who are still stuck in this mode of rebellion, driven by the anger of how they were treated.

Watch this short video of Morris Massey, as he explains this effect in American society.

Within the premises of modern neuroscience including disciplines like Neuro linguistic Programming, all the information and beliefs of the imprint period are stored in our subconscious mind, not in our current conscious thinking. However the beliefs we formed in that time such as “I can’t, I’m not good enough”, are still at work running our adult behaviour, though we are often blind to these beliefs, making excuses when confronted about them because they are unconscious, in our ‘blindspot’. So we deny them. I did this too at first.

On a personal level, I have been an individual who stuttered to various degrees. Worse than the stutter however was the social anxiety I felt in certain situations, the decisions I made about my self-worth as a result of my “defect” or “disorder”, and how I limited my life to avoid being in situations where I may stutter and feel deep embarrassment, shame and inadequacy, which were painful deeply rooted feelings.
The memories most vividly burned into my psyche are those trying to communicate with my father, a man I found fearsome and intimidating who was determined to ‘toughen up’ his anxious and sensitive son. “No son of mine’s gonna be a sissy,” he would say.

What I found helped me reduce my stutter immensely was personal development. Despite most speech experts stating that stuttering was caused by genetics, speech mechanics and non psychological factors, my greatest gains in fluent speech came when my self-esteem and confidence were increased, most often in a workshop or coaching situation. These were not incremental gains as in speech therapy-they were quantum leaps. They came about from looking at my ‘blindspots’ and accepting my hidden beliefs.

In a workshop I remembered starting to stutter when my father would ‘talk at’ me, and that stuttering helped give me time to think of the right thing to say, especially if I thought I’d done something wrong and might be punished. My stutter was my ‘creation’.

Then I started to recognise there were certain situations that ‘triggered’ my stutter. Some of those were interactions with authority, very alpha males, angry and aggressive customers, those who treated me as below their level, beautiful women and successful people I judged internally to be better than me. And most of these triggers were related to incidents from the imprint period.

When I was able to verbalise these events clearly and powerfully in a space where I felt safe and free of judgement, this gave me tangible experience that I was actually born a fluent speaker who had developed blocks to fluency rather than a person with a disorder. My ‘catastrophe-my stutter’ became my challenge which I took on as something I was responsible for ‘creating’.
This helped me reduce my conscious and unconscious doubt and fear, and the amount of pre-speech editing, mental rehearsal and trying to ‘get it right. I actually stopped seeing myself as a person who stuttered. In fact when people pointed out an occasional speech hesitancy I was often surprised.

Later I did a 7 day intensive course called “Speaking with Confidence”, based on the principles of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). In it I began to see my stutter not only as a challenge but as a gift that could help me become a master communicator. My ‘challenge’ became the ‘chariot’ to follow my path of inspiring people to action in pursuits of their own goals. The work I did on myself was the tool that helped unearth the gifts I wanted to share with the world. The desire to overcome my stammer was the motivation to dig into what held me back in life.
So if you would like to express yourself more freely, feel confident in your communication and impact others with your speech, then in my experience, personal development, NLP and personal coaching are effective tools I have used to gain that freedom from anxiety and fear.

They can help you take the lid “off your jar” and release your inner ‘flea’. Then you will have real ‘fleadom’.

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