The Secret Language of Caregivers

2010 September 17

Do you not know what to say to your loved one when you are sitting only inches apart?  Do you wish your loved one would say more to you when you are sitting only inches apart? There should be so much to talk about and share, right?

Not exactly.  In fact, the closer you are physically to someone, the less the need for words.  We are so used to being physically apart from one another that words are thought to be the only means of “getting closer” to someone. But words are most useful when bodies are far apart from one another, not close enough to touch. Research on what anthropologist and communication scholars call proxemics states that the closer you are to someone when you communicate, the more important nonverbal communication becomes.

Touch, not words, is the secret language of the caregiver.  Your physical presence near your loved one frees you from having to explain or justify because what you want to say or need to say is being expressed without you having to open your mouth.

Words, not touch, are the language of the spectator.  Being more than an arm’s length away from others has become the new normal. Consequently, our intimate (6-18 inches) space and personal (2-4 feet) space is so often left empty that we forget what to do and how to act when someone is close enough to us that we can touch them and they can touch us.

The caregiver’s secret language isn’t a perfectly eloquent sentence. It isn’t something that can be recorded for posterity. The caregiver’s language is always secret because it isn’t meant for other audiences and it asks nothing of the person you care for other than what you share with them in that moment—physical presence.

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