Specificity

specificity

Some posts get a lot of response both publically and privately. Back in March of this year, “When they SHOULD, but They Don’t” posted. In 2015, this post has generated the most “mail”. This tells me that the topic is important. This tells me that this problem exists. This tells me that people with chronic illness, invisible illness or disability, and health challenges struggle with:

  1. Asking for help
  2. Accepting help
  3. Realizing that assistance ≠ diminished independence

My husband and I travelled to see his parents two states away this weekend. I love having Terry all to myself in a car where he can’t get away from my enthusiastic chatter and conversation. Thankfully, the man doesn’t seem to mind that a seatbelt is all that separates him from his talkative wife.

I shared with him how much follow-up email I have received about this post. I know many people who are differently-abled personally. I also “know” many only through “Hearing Elmo”. Why is it so hard for the people in our lives to support us in a healthy, loving way without creating codependency, “IOU mentality”, and decreased self-esteem? I shared with my husband an article I recently read at the Invisible Disabilities Association, on what family members of differently-abled people should know. (You can read it HERE).

My husband, a psychologist who has worked with special populations for 25 years, reminded me of something that I really needed to hear. You see… lately we have not been communicating very well. Yeah, yeah, I know! Hearing loss is a communication disorder, but this isn’t new to us! Once in awhile, our communication breaks down. I get frustrated, he gets defensive, and the dogs choose sides. It’s ugly.

Be Specific or Be Quiet

One of the most common things people say to me about this topic is, “If the shoe were on the other foot, and THEY were differently-abled… I would be supportive and accepting!” In other words, “I’m sure I’d respond to all of this much better because I’m a super hero and they are NOT”.

Now don’t get me wrong! Maybe you WOULD respond more effectively! I believe that circumstances such as dealing with a health challenge can make us more compassionate, empathetic, and helpful to others in the same boat. I tried to point out to a reader that they “could not know how they would respond and support the other person because it isn’t their reality”. They “could not know how hard it is to love and support someone 24/7 that is differently-abled because they are not living that life”. These folks immediately fire back, “Well I LIVE WITH THIS 24/7 so I think I would know how hard it is”. Apples and oranges, my friends! They are both fruits and grow on trees, but are different in every way. Bottom line, if you are differently-abled or live with chronic illness, your perceptions and reality have changed. You cannot know what it would be like to be completely healthy and instead love/support someone who has special challenges.

I can already HEAR picture some of you freaking out about this. Before you send me hate mail though, please remember that I, too, am a person with special challenges, married to someone whose only significant challenge is to lose 20 pounds now that he’s middle-aged. (Hmmm. I may get called out for that comment should hubby read this week’s post).

I’ve already explained that my “captive audience” reminded me of something about good communication because I have slipped into some old habits and was feeling frustrated with him as a result. We need to be specific. Our loved ones are not mind readers. Here are some REAL specifics I have learned in my own communication – all of which we re-visited on this trip since communication has broken down lately.

Instead of:

You need your laundry done? Do it yourself MORON!

You know I love doing laundry. I need you to carry it down the two flights of stairs to the laundry room. Then, when you get home from work, at some point I will need you to carry it all back upstairs.

Instead of:

What? You can’t carry your own plate to the sink? Well I guess I’m making dinner FOR ONE from now on, You MORON! 

I don’t mind cleaning up after meals. My Meniere’s disease does not allow me to carry things to the sink very safely. Could you pile your stuff in the sink please?

(This specific instruction garnered the benefit of his carrying MY dishes to the sink, too!)

Instead of:

I can only walk one dog at night. You think I have excess energy? I guess poor Chloe is going to believe she is unloved and definitely UNWALKED. MORON!

Would you walk Chloe with Milo and I tonight? She needs the exercise.  You don’t need to go as far as I do, and it will mean a lot to her.

Instead of:

You’re tired of the empty cupboards and fridge? Go get your own groceries, MORON!

(Can you tell my unfiltered, “go to” cut-down is moron? Poor Terry) 

I am running on empty this week. Milo is a huge help, but I’m just “done”. Would you go get groceries with me this week? It would really help.

Instead of:

You never help me! (and just to stay consistent… MORON!)

Would you mind helping me with some housework today? My balance is particularly bad. I could dust if you would vacuum?

Specificity helps communication. Generalizations will lead to communication breakdown. It takes practice. You wouldn’t think it would, but it really does. Learn to be specific. You may even have to learn to be specific in how you want your loved ones to back off! A recent example:

Instead of:

Cripes, Terry! I can do this, you know. I’m not totally incapable!

(He was trying to help me get Milo’s leash on and Milo was super excited).

I know Milo is “blowing a gasket” here. But I have to learn to calm him down and give him the proper commands since I’m usually alone with him. He has to learn to settle on MY terms. Thanks for the help, but I’ve got this!

If you need help, be specific. If you can do something yourself, be specific. If you need a listening ear, be specific. If you need a hug, be specific.

Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

P.S. I’m hoping to launch a series of blog posts over the next year. See HERE for more information. We need guest authors! 🙂

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4 thoughts on “Specificity

  1. This is a fantastic post. The thing that is sticking in my mind is the “IOU Mentality” — I am so guilty of this that I try to do absolutely everything myself. I don’t like feeling indebted to anyone. But I didn’t even realize I was like that until I read your words. I’m going to be thinking about this for a long time, I think. Thank you!

  2. Denise, one of the things I have to talk to the Lord about a LOT is that I am pretty confident that I would not have been or continued to be as patient, supportive, or as gentle a caretaker as Brian was during my illness and thereafter as I deal with the aftermath both physical and mental. I don’t know how he copes and I continue to see it as an instructive role model for the day when or if he needs my long term care. This is a great reminder to be clear in how your loved ones can help you best.

  3. This is such an articulate reminder of the “obvious”. Why we all do that, I don’t know. A quirky (annoying?) feature of being human. We understand intellectually yet seem unable to remember or honor on emotional levels that no one can know another’s mind, no matter how much conversation, or time together, has passed. We have to ask. But it’s also true that we tend to hate to have to ask, most of us anyway. I am pretty resistant to asking for help. Thank you for the reminder and the tips on how to help us communicate better with each other, no matter what the situation.

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