Why Words Hurt

2010 June 10

If you are caring for someone you love, you’ve no doubt been hurt by what a friend, a family member, or even an acquaintance has said or not said.

‘You have it easy. You’re just caring for someone.’

‘It must be nice to be home all day. I wish I could do that.’

‘Why are you so tired? All you do is watch your loved one sleep.’

‘You’re not acting like your normal self. Come on, you used to laugh a lot more.’

‘Why aren’t you returning my phone calls and emails? It’s not like you don’t have the time.’

Being hurt—by words—is an occupational hazard of caregiving that can strain relationships and can contribute to caregiver depression.  Words hurt people all the time, but why is it that caregivers are so prone to getting wounded by what others say or don’t say?

As caregivers, we are sleep deprived, anxious, overwhelmed, and too often, feel alone in our struggles. Let’s admit it, we are vulnerable.  What others say matters to us more than it might under so-called normal circumstances (caregivers never care in ‘normal’ circumstances).  We pay such close attention to what others say or don’t say because we are looking for solace. We want others to make us feel better. We are looking for reassurance. We are looking for understanding. We are looking for our burdens to be temporarily lifted.  Simply put, we are the perfect audience for others’ words because we are deeply listening to what others are saying or not saying.

Unfortunately, we too often listen too well because we can’t let go of what has been said to us.  Under ‘normal’ circumstances, others’ words are forgotten almost as quickly as they are uttered. Under the influence of caregiving, however, others’ words stay with us throughout the day and into the night. They are played over and over in our heads and with each passing moment, they become louder and louder until their words are the only words we hear.

When another person is completely dependent on your care, it’s hard to discount what someone (a friend, someone from church, someone you had a short conversation with in line at the grocery store, a doctor, another family member) had said to you earlier in the day.  It’s not their fault, but they don’t see what you see. They don’t hear what you hear. They don’t know what your moment-to-moment existence is like. They have no idea that their words will stay with you longer than they can imagine. They are still living in a world unlike ours—they dismiss others’ words more than they listen, forget more words than they hear, and unlike you and me, they aren’t looking for solace. They’re just talking.

2 Responses leave one →
  1. Nan Schweiger permalink
    August 16, 2010

    Dr. White, you have provided a much-needed service with this wonderful website, providing important tools for caregivers, a very under-supported, not-well-understood segment of the population.

    Thank you!
    Nan Schweiger

  2. Dr. Zachary White permalink
    August 17, 2010

    Thanks Nan. Your comments are appreciated. Thank you for helping me reach these under-supported and misunderstood audiences.

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