“ . . . your presence and support are the things that really count, not your ability to answer every question or solve all problems.” – Walter St. John, in his book, “Solace”
Have you ever felt that way when someone is talking down to you? Has someone spoken to you as if you were ignorant? Perhaps you have been spoken to as if you can’t hear or think? Condescension is unpleasant in any form. It feels as though the person speaking with you is doing a favor to give you their time and attention. Does anyone really like or benefit from this approach? It is hard to imagine. This is particularly important for in home caregivers.
If you have felt this way, then you know how it feels. Why would someone elderly or ill like it? It feels “fake.” You know the speaker or visitor is not being natural, so you know there may be another purpose or motive for the conversation. How do we, as those who wish to provide in home or hospital care and be helpful, translate this experience, which we know to be unpleasant, into a change in our own attitude or conversation with others?
“Just be yourself. Act and talk like you really care. If you are generally an optimistic, upbeat person, act that way around someone who is sick— being sensitive to his or her mood, of course. But trying to put on a show of cheerfulness when you don’t really feel that way will be readily detected by an ill person as nothing more than contrived.” – Walter St. John, in his book, “Solace”
“Fake it till you make it” doesn’t work here. Visit, sit with, and give comfort to those who are sick or ill when you actually do care and want to genuinely help them.
If you are feeling down and just feel like you need a friend, have you noticed that someone who is willing to just listen is often the most helpful? So many times we like to solve problems for others, and in doing so it helps us feel useful. But, does it help them? Maybe they just need a “listener.”
The role an in home care listener plays is substantial. A listener validates your reality. The listener hears you and can accept simply that you feel horrible or are worried. They can’t necessarily solve it and don’t actually need to. It helps so much just to have someone hear your thoughts. It can serve as a validation that your feelings are real.
Often just speaking your story, your feelings or your fears, to someone else helps you hear them out loud and accept them. Sometimes this is just what you need. Isn’t it easier to approach someone when you feel as though you do not need to solve the problem? It can also be just what they really need and want.
There are times you can listen and just leave it at that. But there are times that you really do need to help solve the problem. Using the language, “I perceive” is a way of explaining how things seem to you. This can minimize emotion and feel less threatening to the hearer. Stating something this way, as your perception, allows you to be clear but less stinging to the other person. It avoids placing blame on the one you may be trying to help.
If there are facts someone needs to know and they are real and available, you can use words like “The chart shows . . .” instead of just telling someone what you think they need to know or do. It places the information out there in a manner that you can look at it from a distance, with the person you are helping, and discuss options for action without accusations or emotion.
It is important to listen to responses carefully as well and control your own emotions. When you wish to honor the intelligence of the person you are speaking to, an approach like this allows for helpful discussion and planning together as equals. It could help a sick or elderly person still feel that they have a voice in their own life.
It is about the right time for them, not the right time for you. Be careful to sense times that an ill person needs to talk, or to be with you without talk, or just wants to be alone. It is not about your needs, your emotions, or your schedule. You are here for them. The value of your presence may just be all that is needed.
If you are a person giving in home care, these ideas may be helpful for you. These simple ideas were inspired by the book, “Solace, How Caregivers and Others Can Relate, Listen, and Respond Effectively to a Chronically Ill Person”, by Walter St. John.
Jaleh Neshat is the owner of “Homecare Assistance Raleigh NC” which provides in home care for families in the Raleigh area. Their “Balanced Care Method TM” caregivers provide emotional, social, nutritional, and physical care.