Think about the last time your loved one was upset. How did you comfort them? What were the results? Could it have gone better? Was your approach more empathetic or sympathetic?
In this illustrated short video, popular researcher and author Dr. Brené Brown demonstrates how responding with empathy – or feeling with someone – fuels connection while responding with sympathy – or feeling sorry for someone – drives disconnection.
“Empathetic approaches work because they validate the person’s feelings, show respect, and reassure the person that they are not alone,” says Jessica Smith, Community Relations Director at YourLife™ of Wildwood, a new Memory Care community in Wildwood, Florida. “When we try to cheer up someone without validating or respecting their experience, our attempts to soothe can backfire quickly, upsetting both parties and leaving the caregiver wondering what went wrong.”
So, how do you respond empathetically? Let’s say, for example, your dad now lives with you and is upset that his home has been sold. Here are 5 approaches you can take to help him through his feelings.
1. Avoid Silver-Lining Clichés
The following responses are characteristic of sympathy. While well-intended, these phrases are not helpful to someone with memory loss, especially one who is confused, anxious or scared … and just wants his home back. Don’t say:
• You didn’t really want that big, old house.
• You’re better off here with us.
• Look on the bright side, you have a cook and a maid now!
• God has a plan.
• At least you’ll never have to fix those stairs again.
2. Acknowledge His Pain
When you show that you understand your dad’s pain or struggle, it helps him feel supported. He needs you to acknowledge that what he is experiencing is difficult and that he is not being silly or overreacting. Empathize and try matching his emotion or rephrasing his concern:
• I miss the house, too.
• Selling the house must make you sad.
• I can see how that would be difficult.
• I wish I could make it better.
• I’m sorry you are going through this.
3. Show Interest
The best way to show interest is by listening. Ask your dad questions, listen to his answers, and show a genuine interest in what he has to say. Share a memory or what you liked about growing up there, and allow him to talk through his feelings without judgment.
• What do you miss about the house?
• How did moving make you feel?
• What has living here been like for you?
• I want to make sure I understand…
• What I’m hearing is that you are feeling ____. Is that right?
• Is there anything else you want to share?
4. Thank Him for Opening Up
People with dementia may avoid discussing their struggles for fear they will be misunderstood or made to feel like they are overreacting. When someone trusts you enough to open up, treat it as the honor it is and respond with care.
Tell your dad you appreciate him speaking with you and acknowledge that it might have been difficult to do so. When you do this, it shows he can trust you in the future, too. Simple, to-the-point phrases will often do the trick:
• Thank you for sharing with me.
• I’m glad you told me.
• Thank you for trusting me with this. That really means a lot.
• This must be hard to talk about. Thanks for opening up to me.
5. Be Supportive
Don’t try to “fix” your dad’s feelings by forcing him to look on the bright side, remind him that you love him, want him to be happy and comfortable, and are there to talk whenever he wants to. Tell him:
• You matter.
• I’m in your corner.
• I love you.
• I’m proud of you.
• I’m happy to listen any time.
“Empathy is a powerful unifier, particularly for people with dementia,” says Jessica Smith from YourLife™ of Wildwood. “And the best part is, we can all learn how to improve our empathic communication skills for more positive interactions and stronger relationships.”
For more positive communication tips, call our dementia care experts at YourLife™ of Wildwood today at 352-433-0942.
Designed for You. Defined by You.
YourLife™ of Wildwood provides the most exceptional Memory Care and uplifting lifestyle for our residents. In fact, we were created with that one purpose in mind. Each day, we focus all our energy, attention and resources on creating an environment that caters to each resident’s personal needs, choices and individuality, while ensuring unequaled peace of mind and dedicated support for families.
At YourLife™ of Wildwood, we have the ability to design and personally tailor plans around our residents thanks to our sole focus on Memory Care. We understand that everyone has their own story, specific needs and retained abilities, so we develop personally inspired care plans that help to enhance and support each person’s independence while enriching their days. To ensure further peace of mind, our team of YourLife™ Personal Care Specialists is on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide assistance with everyday activities, gentle reminders and redirection.
With our signature YourStory programming, we not only personalize Memory Care, but we are able to create an individual experience centered around each resident. From cultural, educational and wellness programming to scheduled outings and other special events, to personal care, assistance and multiple therapies, we create days with meaning. At YourLife™ of Wildwood, our residents and their families know that this is a community designed for you, with a lifestyle defined by you. Contact us to learn more!
Call us at 352-433-0942 for more information or to schedule a personal visit today.