By Jane Verity ©Dementia Care International
Have you ever found yourself thinking, ‘If only John would stop his continuous repetitive questions, it would be so much easier to care for him!’, or perhaps, ‘Because mum doesn’t recognise me, I won’t go and visit anymore.’
These real life examples are very understandable however because they are based on blame, neither reaction is going to create happiness. In the first scenario, we blame John and his repetitive questions, and in the second, we blame mum and her lack of recognition.
Both reactions stem from deep frustration and a sense of loss of our loved one as we once knew them. To protect ourselves from this emotional pain we tend to step away and blame the other person. Blame only replaces our own uncomfortable feelings of pain with anger, resentment, grief, and guilt. This blame can spiral out of control and cause further emotional pain for both the person with dementia and their carer.
So what is blame? We fall into blame when we decide to see any situation solely from our point of view. The way to dissolve blame is to shift the focus from ourselves and step into the other person’s shoes to experience their perspective. In the examples, this means you step into John’s shoes and imagine that perhaps you have told someone about an experience you had. When they say, ‘You have already told that story!’ you may feel embarrassed and humiliated.
Think of a place you drive past regularly that reminds you of a childhood memory or a special piece of music, a certain fragrance, or maybe your child’s birthday that triggers a specific memory. You may unconciously repeat the same story every time your memory of this particular event is triggered. The person with dementia also experiences the same memory triggers and feel significant emotional pain when we point out that they have repeated a story or question many times.
By stepping into the person with dementia’s shoes, we can automatically connect with our compassion – our innate desire to enrich another person’s life. Then ask yourself, ‘What can I do right now to make their life more wonderful?’ The need to blame will naturally disappear when you shift your focus from your own feelings.
In the example of visiting a loved one, you may try to protect yourself against the pain of your mother appearing to not recognise you. You may place the blame on your mother for her lack of recognition and feel the right thing is to stay away. This approach only considers your own personal needs and does not remove the core reason for your emotional pain.
Look for any signs of recognition in your mothers eyes. Even if she uses another relative’s name, this can be a positive sign of recognition. Think about this relative and their relationship with your mother. This mix up could mean that your mother connects emotionally with you but cannot place you in the right context in her memory. Shift your focus onto your mother and acknowledge her special need to love and be loved. This could be your opportunity to become the nurturer of your mother.
Releasing blame is about letting go of feelings of grief or of ‘losing’ your mother. You may need outside assistance to do this so enlist the help of a trusted professional to work through this stage. Once you have accepted the changes, it becomes possible to embrace magic moments without expectation on a completely new level.
When we make the shift from blame to compassion, our own lives are enriched as we are able to face what used to be an uncomfortable or painful situation and turn it into the basis of a truly supportive partnership.