18 Communication Disorders

Most of this essay is from Peter’s Forthcoming Book on Communication Disorders:




Some of these behaviors are automatic, unconscious, sporadic; they may appear when some stresses are at their peak. Still others may be deliberate. Or they started as a temporary intentionality, and became, over time, a hard-to-shake habit. This happens. This list is not exhaustive. It is constantly growing, as more and more “disorders” occur to me or to others. Many items on this list are simply personality traits which tend to come out in speech, or in listening.

THAT IS IMPORTANT: A big part of communication is LISTENING! Some of the items on this list have to do with problems with listening, not with speaking, or a combination of the two.

Once you start to watch for these less-than-perfect examples of communication, you start to see things you never noticed before. Some of the disorders on my list are actually successful compensating gestures—automatic or deliberate—for dealing with the over-riding problem which many people, most people, experience, which is: it is very hard to tell the truth. 


I have been a lifelong stutterer/stammerer, so I’ll start with those. Until I began to add new disorders to the list, I thought I was a marked man, all alone, incurable, and the most miserable of all. I don’t feel that way any more. Don’t feel so noticed. Not singled out. Also, I don’t stutter that much these days. Hmmm. Can we all agree on one thing? Let’s assume that everyone who is speaking is really trying to display, truthfully, honestly, the thought inside their head. Unless they are using their mindful moment to deliberately lie.

I’ve given some of these disorders a new name. Or made up an acronym. I invite you to do that, too!

You are trying to communicate with someone. But maybe you…

  1. stutter
  2. stammer
  3. lisp
  4. talk too loud
  5. talk too quiet
  6. say fuck fuck fuckin’ in every sentence
  7. lie
  8. use “like” in huge quantities in, like, every sentence you speak.
  9. say um, uh or all the time
  10. finish all your sentences with a ?

Or perhaps you…

  1. talk too much
  2. talk too little
  3. never finish a sentence you start (ISS–incomplete sentence syndrome)
  4. talk about yourself all the time
  5. refer everything anyone says back to you (SSR–stealth self-reference).

Do you suffer from…

  1. irrelevant detail obsessive disorder (often comes out in email form) (IDOD)?
  2. illogical reasoning?
  3. tit for tat syndrome. (you can not hear a mildly critical comment without balancing it with one right back at the speaker)?
  4. super-aggressive honesty?
  5. captive audience exploitation syndrome?
  6. nervous hostess syndrome? (you start an irrelevant conversation just when the food is served, taking guests’ attention away from the cuisine. Maybe you just can’t stand silence! Especially when it is combined with subtle animal sounds, like chewing….)
  7. slow speech: rambling, uncertain delivery of thoughts?

 Do you…

23. think you know-it-all, or at least talk as if you do?

24. finish other people’s sentences?

25. shamefully avoid (pretend to talk about what’s being talked about, but…)?

26. jump around from thought to thought? (SAS: surprising association syndrome?

27. baby talk? Come on; it is never appropriate! Talk like your age.

27.5. refer to yourself in the third person? (You don’t talk about “I”–rather, you refer to yourself in the third person.  Very creepy! “Daddy is not pleased with you.”)

  1. automatically say “no” to any new idea, or, in fact, to anything someone else says? (PN: perpetual negativity)
  2. instantly automatically picture and mention a “reason why not”–why someone else’s perfectly good idea is impossible?
  3. tease? (SWAT: Start With a Tease)
  4. engage in abusive, bullying speech?  (knee-jerk anger. can’t hear or say anything without jumping into default-set anger. Always picking fights!)
  5. incessantly joke  (sometimes joke and be bright without coming up for air, to cover up your awkwardness on a date that’s going nowhere? Also called “The Dancing Bear.”
  6. incessantly dirty joke? (see also “Tourette’s Syndrome”) (see also “sexual harassment”)

 Do these remind you of anyone?

  1. unconscious–or deliberate– making hints about status. (one-upmanship).
  2. chronic complainer’s complex.
  3. extreme explaining behavior.
  4. verbal diarrhea  (clinically called logorrhea). 
  5. advancing own agenda.
  6. proselytizing–every communication is a plug for your personal system of faith or belief.
  7. the salesman—every communication is a commercial pitch.
  8. owning the room (you NEVER stop and listen to what is being said, first. You start as soon as you walk in).
  9. unearned knowing. (you think you know the person who’s speaking, you think your knowledge privileges access to their mind and to whatever conversation they are involved in.  You don’t. It doesn’t.)
  10. you don’t listen. you never listen!
  11. ideological idiocy–you refer everything back to your jerking, jerking knee.
  12. born-again barricade. (you have accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior; the person you are talking to has not. That is the 500-pound gorilla YOU have placed in the space between you and your co-talker. Hence the failure to communicate.)
  13. commercial capture (you can’t converse without repeating some corporate jingle. With no investment, said corporation has achieved a product placement in your speech.)
  14. weeping. (every conversation is so emotional that you frequently tear up, thereby triggering compassionate response in your co-talker. Often deliberate and highly manipulative.)
  15. political doublespeak: sentences deliberately delivered to mean nothing at all, or at least to preserve political viability the next day. political speech—you sound serious, you seem concerned, committed, mature, caring. but, you DO NOT ANSWER THE QUESTION THAT WAS ASKED. You want them to think you did, but you didn’t. You hope that they don’t notice…
  16. disordered desire to please (the urge to say what you think your co-talker wants to hear.)
  17. claiming other peoples’ acquaintances as your own.
  18. fraud, plagiarism: claiming others’ wisdom as your own, even claiming others’ opinions as your own.
  19. claiming someone else’s experience as your own. artificially placing yourself in a narrative/story as if you were there. In that life! You weren’t.
  20. Implied Intimacy Syndrome: (you mistakenly think you are your conversation partner’s closest friend. You talk to them that way.)
  21. empty brain block: (happens to a lot of actors. they can’t speak without a script, preferably one that someone else wrote.)
  22. forgetfulness, selective amnesia, senior moment.
  23. excessive concern with process. You talk about talk about talk about talk.
  24. the bore: is always mouthing platitudes or searching for a proverb or quotation relevant to the conversation. Though the search is often unsuccessful, the bore uses the result they have chosen anyway, not caring that it does not really, actually, relate.
  25. (from Ken Pick) Implied Accusation Disorder. This person you know always makes you feel guilty but you can’t even tell why! It’s in the tone of voice.
  26. Projected Lack of Information Irritation, (Someone is irritated with you, because you are not up to date on important information. They forget the fact that they are at fault; they could have informed you of the stuff they are irritated about that you don’t know!)
  27. Can’t handle the Truth. Someone tells you the Absolute Truth of Something and you ignore it and go right on with your contradictory statement, opinion, or point of view.  (See also Rebecca Solnit: “Men Explain Things to Me.”)
  28. Always Defensive!  (Okay! Just admit it. Nobody loses when a small fault is admitted!)
  29. Here Comes The Judge. You listen judgmentally to everything, and leap into the conversation with your verdict, even though no one asked for it.
  30. Patriarchy Rears His Head: (You say stupid patriarchal things, automatically. You are unaware–or not! And no one calls you out!)
  31. Inability to Finish. (You make One Great Point, and then keep talking–which you shouldn’t—and tail off into “and, uh, so yeah…”—thank you to student Kevin Gold)
  32. Code-Switching (If you are used to speaking, for instance, comfortable Black English, and in some situation you are too worried about the way that you sound to White people, you may find yourself feeling distracted from the Truth. Thanks to César Guerra Castillo for pointing this one out.)
  33. Speak English! (You are intolerant of new ESL speakers in your midst, and you don’t listen to what they are saying. You may even think they are stupid. Thanks to my 2022 Brandeis class for adding this one to the list.)
  34.  Speak English2! (You are learning to speak English as a second language, and you find yourself disappointed in your attempt to communicate what you are thinking so that your audience can appreciate you.)
  35. Speak English3! (You think in, and speak, two or more languages really really well—what an accomplishment!—and you are distracted by your audience’s failure to appreciate this. Let this feeling go as quickly as you can. You’re on a roll!)
  36. The Eye Above the Pyramid—-the student of all these variations who is always watching to see which communication disorder people have. This behavior gets in the way of just being in the moment. (Peter Gould does this all the time.)

Are we up to 100% of the population yet? What? We’ve exceeded it? Oh, That is because some people have more than one! Be the first kid on your block to collect five or six!

The introduction to this article could be called, “hey, you don’t stutter when you meditate.” Of course, that is one of meditation’s supreme benefits to the speech-impediment-challenged. When you are settled into silence, your monologue has no hesitation. Your speech (to yourself) moves as quickly as your brain can produce it. And, moreover, the biggest source of stress in your life—the need to communicate the truth inside you to the outside world— is automatically removed. I speak here as a stutterer/stammerer, who has felt the comfort of silence. But it would be very interesting to see how many others of these behaviors (some of which are comical) disappear when a person within the comfort of meditation is only conversing with the Self.

Does the compulsive liar speak truth to himself?

I am always eager to add to this list! If you think you have identified a new one, send it in: pgould@brandeis.edu

And let me end with the thought I began this essay with: honest communication is very very hard. It’s as hard as honest, compassionate listening. None of us can claim to be perfect at either one of these important living skills. Some of us have lifelong or acquired physical limits,, and we can’t help our variable inability to communicate clearly.  Still, we don’t stop. We continue to try.

Many of us have had things happen along the way that make communication difficult. We have had illness. We have been shamed, abused, tortured or beaten into silence. We’re afraid to talk. All I set out to do, in compiling this list, was to demonstrate that any one of us who suffers from a communication challenge doesn’t have to feel isolated or rejected or abandoned, because of a diminished ability to get the truth out. We’re not alone! Nearly everyone in the whole wide world has some form of communication challenge.

You can ignore what you’ve learned from this essay. For some people, it’s a listening thing. I rest my case.



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