Here’s one simple way that caregivers can help their family members with TBI: just listen.
In the day-to-day rush, it’s easy to half-listen or not offer your full attention, but listening is an act of love, and it’s critical for caregivers. Listening well will allow you to better understand your loved one’s feelings, challenges, and needs, and you will be better equipped to handle problems or offer encouragement when needed. It’s a skill I always work on because I get distracted easily and it’s difficult to listen well.
The people I love and admire most are great listeners. They give me time to speak, they maintain eye contact (unless they’re on the phone, then they offer positive verbal cues), and they respond appropriately to my concerns and ideas.
Did you ever call someone up to say, “Hi,” and find yourself listening to your friend for twenty minutes without a chance to get a word in? According to The Devil’s Dictionary, a “BORE is: a person who talks when you wish him to listen.” Enough said!
A person my daughter deeply admires once told her, “I never want to be the person who doesn’t hear you.” Feeling heard and understood is a deep human need. It’s the basis for our connection to one another. Thankfully, listening is a skill that can be improved with practice if we strive for these qualities:
- Staying present.
- Listening with our ears, eyes, and heart. Body language and facial expressions say a lot. Sometimes silence says more than any words can convey.
- Minimizing interruptions.
- Not always trying to fix or solve, just receiving and accepting the message openly, without judgment.
Last year, I read about a woman in a New York Times article who was in hospice care. She called her alma mater — a nursing school — to see if any students there wanted to learn about cancer or hospice by using her as a case study. The school thought it was a great way to give students hands-on experience with a patient. The article goes on to say:
At Ms. Keane’s urging, the students eventually stopped asking questions and practiced what she called “therapeutic communication” instead. “The way we’ve learned in school, and haven’t applied enough, is just saying, ‘I’m glad to be with you; you must be frustrated; you look uncomfortable,” Ms. Keane said. “And let the patient just talk and talk and talk, and see where they’re at.”
There’s great value in good company. Listening to words, gestures, facial expressions, and silences will help us fill in the blanks and provide us with information we may need to find the right treatments at the right times. And sometimes, the only treatment that is needed is to feel heard and understood.
P.S. - If you are a caregiver under stress, a great place to be heard is in counseling. A safe place to express troubling emotions is necessary for our health. When open to it, counseling provides not only a place to vent, but to discuss viable solutions with a skilled professional who has the knowledge and resources to help us through the toughest times. I say this because I know from first-hand experience.
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary Copyright © 2013 by WriteIntoPrint.com. Ambrose Bierce (0101-01-01T00:00:00+00:00). The Devil's Dictionary (Kindle Location 4). Kindle Edition.