In the midst of caregiving, it’s easy to lose yourself, as if tucking your needs in the back of the dresser until next season. When life gets rough, you tell yourself to hang on, things will turn around soon. Unfortunately, after a traumatic brain injury, “soon” doesn’t come soon enough, and your needs may stay buried in that dark drawer for a very long time.
Do you find yourself wishing you could scream, but you don’t? Instead, you squash it down and develop other habits like biting your nails, grunting out curse words, or slamming the door. Do you resort to the silent treatment?
How can a caregiver know when it’s okay to speak a painful truth? In my opinion, it’s always okay. It’s not speaking the truth that’s problematic; it’s the way we speak the truth. The approach we use to express ourselves, especially when expressing negative emotions, can change the way others hear us, and our meaning can easily be misinterpreted. Here are three things that matter when speaking a hard-to-deliver truth: timing, tone, and temper.
If you know there is a touchy subject that should be out in the open, but you are afraid to bring it up, it’s worthwhile to ask yourself: why does it feel so impossible to talk about this subject? It may be that you are angry about something like a person’s behavior or inability to connect with you, and the self-talk you engage in 24/7 is a rant in your head that goes something like this: Why can’t you ever stop and think about me for once. You don’t give a damn about me! You are so selfish. It’s always about You, You, You! When you scream this to yourself, you are miserable, and unless you find a way to let these feeling out, your resentment will fester and you’ll never feel better.
First, I don’t care how perfect some caregivers appear, it’s human to have complicated feelings along with these inner rants, especially when you are caring for someone with something as traumatic as brain injury. Here’s what may help: being mindful of timing, tone, and temper.
Timing: It’s best not to blurt these feelings out when they are burning through you in the moment. If you are having a particularly difficult encounter, take a deep breath and make a plan. Think of a time of day that you will be alone with your loved one engaged in a peaceful activity like a meal or a walk around the block, and plan to discuss your feelings then, once you have calmed down. Making a plan to address your concerns will also help you choose the right words ahead of time.
Tone: Tone is the inflection in your voice that expresses mood or emotion. When you begin your conversation, be mindful of the words you stress when speaking, how loud you speak, and try to keep blame, bitterness and bossiness out of the conversation. The point of your discussion is not to instruct, berate, or accuse your loved one; the point is to express yourself clearly so you are understood.
Temper: While speaking, work hard to control your temper. Be mindful of remaining steady while discussing the issue you are trying to convey so your loved one will hear what’s truly bothering you and not feel like you are just yelling at him or her.
Also, using “I” statements to express what’s bothering you may help avoid the anger and resistance associated with blame. Here are a few examples.
You don’t appreciate me!
I’m not feeling appreciated lately.
You need to get up on time!
I would feel less stressed if you would get up on time.
You act like an idiot!
I don’t understanding why you act this way.
You make life miserable for me.
I’m not comfortable with the way things are.
Now you are communicating instead of avoiding, and who knows, things could take a turn for the better. If you hold back your feelings and never address your own needs, your relationship will surely suffer. By respectfully expressing your true concerns as they arise, you may find that discussing difficult situations gets easier with practice, and life improves each time you resolve a problem together.
And I can say all this because I know from experience.