In “Eliminate Behavioral and Verbal Hand Grenades in Our Relationships with Our Loved Ones with Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease – Part 1,” we looked at the first six of the 12 verbal and behavioral hand grenades that psychoanalyst Trevor Mumby has identified that hamper and inhibit communication with our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.
As I stated in the first post, these 12 verbal and behavioral hand grenades should be eliminated from all our communication with all humans, because although our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease will visibly and negatively react to each of these hand grenades while non-neurologically-impaired people may not, we still damage and destroy relationships when we use them.
The last six verbal and behavioral hand grenades of communication that Dr. Mumby has identified follow below.
Slowly and insidiously tearing people down from the foundational level with regard to their abilities, their intelligence, their senses of self, their independence, and their character is devastating whether those people have dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease or not. It is literally the equivalent of ripping people apart one piece at a time until there is nothing whole left.
This verbal and behavioral hand grenade is especially destructive because it is thrown subtly at, in the shadows of, and behind the backs of its targets.
It is disguised in whispering about and frequently looking at the person it’s aimed at. It is disguised as joking with the person it’s aimed at, yet the words are always putdowns and the laughing is always at that person’s expense. It is disguised as help for the person it’s aimed at, but the tone and the words are anything but helpful.
For our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, this hand grenade has an even more profound effect. Already aware of something being wrong, but not knowing what (I discuss this step of the journey in detail in Chapter 2 of You Oughta Know: Acknowledging, Recognizing, and Responding to the Steps in the Journey Through Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease), our loved ones are especially sensitive to their deficits and undermining them verbally and behaviorally adds to the distress that they are already experiencing. This can lead to emotional outbursts, intense agitation, and even violent behavior.
Additionally, if our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease also are in the paranoia step of the journey (this step is thoroughly explained in Chapter 5 of You Oughta Know: Acknowledging, Recognizing, and Responding to the Steps in the Journey Through Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease), undermining them verbally and behaviorally feeds that paranoia and can lead to escalated anger, fear, and physical confrontation.
We all struggle with pessimism in our lives from time to time and it can be difficult, if not impossible, for it not to spill over into human relationships. That’s normal. However, pessimism that is always expressed verbally and behaviorally is a hand grenade.
People like me, who see the glass as always being half empty, struggle more than anyone else with this hand grenade. From my earliest memory, I have always expected the worst – because if you’re at the bottom, you don’t have anywhere to fall, but if you’re way up at the top, the fall to the bottom is going to hurt a lot, if you survive it – and if anything other than that happens, then so be it.
I’m a pragmatic person, so I tend to keep my emotional hedges low enough to the ground so that I don’t spend my whole life on a crazy roller coaster with huge ups and huge downs. I could not survive that.
I generally keep my pessimistic tendencies buried deep within because it’s my perspective and one that I don’t want to color anyone else’s perspective with. If someone’s happy or enthusiastic or even just okay, then who am I to spoil that? I don’t want to, so I make a conscious effort not to.
(The few times in my life when my pessimism has gotten bigger than me and spilled out into my other relationships, the responses have tended to be brutal in their condemnation or dismissal accompanied by unsolicited “expert” solutions that I’m apparently too stupid to see on my own.)
I will probably never lose my pessimistic perspective in this lifetime because it’s hardwired into who I am.
However, just because I naturally possess a verbal and behavioral hand grenade doesn’t mean that I have to use it. I work very hard not to use it and it’s one of the big battles of my life to put the brakes on something that is naturally part of the way I think and am, but I do it because I know it’s the right thing to do and because I don’t want to hurt and upset other people.
It can make me unknowable at times. I hide much, if not all, of what’s going on inside myself and I do my best to let people be where they are and express that without me ever saying anything negative. But I also share next to nothing about myself because that’s the only way to keep this hand grenade in check.
For our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s disease, the verbal and behavioral hand grenade of pessimism can be even more potent than with people who don’t have these neurological diseases. It can lead to severe depression, a loss of all communication, and eventually a loss of the will to live.
This verbal and behavioral hand grenade marginalizes people and eventually makes them invisible. It is characterized by not listening and non-responsiveness, either in vagueness or silence, in verbal communication. Behaviorally, it is manifested by acting as those someone who is in the room isn’t.
We’ve all been in situations where we’ve been ignored both verbally and behaviorally. It’s dehumanizing, it’s disrespectful, and it’s painful. Most of the time when we experience this hand grenade, we simply want to really disappear and get out of the situations where we’ve already become marginalized or invisible because we already aren’t there.
When our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease are ignored verbally and behaviorally, we are telling them that we don’t respect them, they’re already gone as far as we’re concerned, and, most importantly, that they don’t matter.
The most obvious manifestation with our loved ones will be people talking around them, making decisions for them, and not including them at all.
This is a dignity issue (Chapter 12 of You Oughta Know: Acknowledging, Recognizing, and Responding to the Steps in the Journey Through Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease comprehensively covers dignity, independence, honor, and respect).
It is our responsibility as team leaders for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease to ensure that they are not ignored by anyone. That means including them in all conversations and in all decision processes. That means listening to them with undivided attention and working to communicate with them (Chapter 3 of You Oughta Know: Acknowledging, Recognizing, and Responding to the Steps in the Journey Through Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease is a must-read for maximizing back-and-forth communication) so that they are heard and understood.
The right tenor of human relationships is to guide where we can, advise when we’re asked, and contribute our strengths, when we are invited, to decision processes. It is not to force (control) or insist (control) or make (control) anyone else do or say anything.
The verbal and behavioral hand grenade of needing to control everything and everybody comes from fear in the person doing it. The effects of someone who needs to control are never good.
For those of us without dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, someone trying to control everything will be met with resistance, anger, rebellion, and, eventually, total disconnection. Taking choice away from people – which the need to control does – takes life itself away.
For our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, someone who needs to control everything will bring the same responses, except that the behavior will be different. Emotional outbursts (anger, screaming, yelling, crying) will be continual. Agitation (pacing or restlessness) will be on steroids. Wandering will increase and “escapes” will be frequent.
Wandering and escapes are particularly scary because they present the risk of mortal danger to our loved ones. Therefore, if we struggle with this hand grenade, it might be fortuitous to understand that if we use it, we are potentially putting a live or lives at risk. I wouldn’t want that on my conscience.
Have you ever had someone ask you repeatedly – after you’ve answered “Yes” – “Are you okay?” What was your response? Have you had someone ask so many questions that it seems invasive? What was your response?
Even though I just asked four questions, I crafted them in such a way to evoke you identifying with them, instead of getting annoyed by them (which is generally what our response to the two scenarios above would be).
Constant questions mean there’s a lot of uncertainty. For our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, the reality is that there is already a lot of uncertainty in their own minds. A constant flow of questions will likely enhance that uncertainty and cause confusion, followed by irritation.
The other aspect of questioning as a verbal and behavioral hand grenade is that of someone questioning everything another person does. This is commonly known as “second-guessing.”
What second-guessing says is that the person who is doing it has no trust, no confidence, no faith in anything the person they’re doing it to says or does. For those of us without these neurological diseases, this is a morale-killer, at best, and an anger-generator, at worst.
For our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, the effect is even stronger. Already wrestling with confusion and a sense of not quite knowing things in context, second-guessing confirms their worst fears. The result is anger, more fear, increased hesitation, and eventually complete withdrawal.
This verbal and behavior hand grenade is doing and saying things that we are aware irritate other people, but we do and say them anyway.
This hand grenade is both disrespectful and selfish. People who use this hand grenade say things like “Well, that’s just me” or “Take me or leave me” when they are called out for using it. The implication is that they are not going to change anything about themselves to accommodate or make things easier for everyone else. It expresses the height of both self-conceit and self-importance.
This hand grenade can be even harder on our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, since thoughtless words and actions are much more difficult to understand and process. Our loved ones will take things much more personally because they don’t have the neurological executive functioning to see them for what they are and to ignore them or recover from them quickly.
This can lead to anger and increased agitation, as well as withdrawal as a protective gesture.
I sincerely hope this series has been beneficial and helpful. We all can learn and change as we examine our own words and behavior to see which hand grenades we might have and not only will eliminating them improve our communication with our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, but every other human relationship we have and will have.
It’s that important.