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“I don’t have pet peeves; I have whole kennels of irritation.” – Whoopi Goldberg
Hurtful words. Changing behaviors. Loss of social filters. Physical risk. Unchecked actions. Inappropriate language. Outbursts. Lack of enthusiasm. Stubbornness. So many things can come into play when someone develops dementia. And for a caregiver all the change can be overwhelming, perplexing, and downright irritating. And feeling that irritation can lead to guilt. This is not a fun cycle to be stuck in.
Let’s explore the why, and then get to the how of changing so you can stop being angry, and instead just love.
Why you get irritated
Understanding why you get irritated can go a long way in creating a calmer, more peaceful space for you and your loved one with dementia. And here’s the truth bomb…
You don’t get irritated because of them. You don’t feel guilty because of them. The irritation comes from your own thinking.
This can be a tough pill to swallow, because it places all responsibility on you. There’s no one or nothing to blame. No words or behaviors that allow you to say “it’s your fault” to someone else. Let me explain how this works.
Up until this point in your life, you’ve been taught how you should react to things. Your programmed mind (the part of the mind I call the doer) has programmed reactions to all the scenarios that dementia can create. For example, if you had a grandparent that had it, that influenced the thinking you have about dementia today.
If you saw movies, TV shows, read books, heard stories about dementia, all that sensory information impacted what you think about dementia today. And let’s face it, modern society tells a pretty dismal story when it comes to dementia and the diseases that cause it.
We are taught to feel bad about it. We are taught to commiserate and blame and feel like victims. This is highly acceptable in modern society.
But it’s not necessary. Humans have known for a very, VERY long time that we can change our thoughts, the very thing that creates the way we experience EVERYTHING in our lives.
Think about what that means: you don’t have to experience dementia the way we’ve all been taught to.
A mindset shift
So at this point you might be thinking “so what, am I supposed to feel GOOD about dementia?”
No. Dementia is a tough human experience to go through. But imagine this:
Picture in your mind a child and mother, living together or in close proximity their entire lives. Not once was either of them ever exposed to anything having to do with dementia, so neither of them had any programmed thinking about it. As they age, eventually the mother starts to develop dementia. The dedicated child (now an adult) has had no previous exposure to dementia, so has no thoughts to lean on about it. He or she is starting from a clean slate.
There’s nothing negative, or positive, to attach this new circumstance to in their mind. It’s just something happening, and the child gets to build their own narrative about it, make it mean whatever they want to (negative or positive), and without a pre-programmed picture of future possibilities, just let the disease unfold on its own.
We don’t have that luxury. Imagine if our culture taught us that developing dementia was a sign that god or nature were calling us back home, and it was considered an honor. How would we treat people with dementia then? Would they be revered, honored, cared for with the highest regard?
How to change
The point is, what you FEEL about dementia is directly connected to what you THINK about dementia.
The feeling of irritation is brought on by judgmental thoughts labeling the behaviors of dementia as irritating. And those judgmental thoughts are just part of the programmed thinking your brain accepted at some point. Thoughts like:
- this isn’t how a person should behave
- it’s rude to say that to someone
- a civilized human should be nicer/calmer/more agreeable
- this is embarrassing
And while intellectually you know that someone with dementia is losing control over much of their behavior, your programmed mind will keep on judging with programmed thought.
In order to change getting irritated, you have to recognize the programmed judgments you are thinking. This can be unpleasant work, because then your programmed judgments will turn against you, and it will be easy to think you’re a horrible person for judging someone with dementia.
Isn’t the human brain fun?
But seriously, once you do the work to actually see the thoughts you are thinking, you can set about changing them.
I use a tool call the self coaching model that I highly recommend. This blog post will lay that out for you. You can also work with someone to help you identify your thoughts and deliberately change them.
Work with me
Do you want to identify all the thoughts that are creating a feeling of irritation in your body, so you can let them go and reconnect with your loved one? I can help you do that.