The Whitworths of Arizona, bringing science to you in everyday language.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Magic Tools 4: A Sincere Apology

Apologizing to your irate loved one for something you didn't do may be the last thing you want to do. But it is magic! To understand how it works, you must see the interaction from their reality. When your loved one feels wronged and voices an accusation, they need to have their concern recognized and validated. Only then do their negative feeling stop blaring. (See the second blog in this series, The Magic of Empathy, to learn more about the importance of paying attention to your loved one’s emotions.)

This often means apologizing for something you didn’t do. However, the issue isn’t about what you did. It is about what your loved one BELIEVES you did—and this is something neither he nor you can change. But you can change your response. Our book, Responsive Dementia Care, explains it this way:
The last time Gerry accused me of infidelity, I just told him I was sorry. I was amazed. Once I'd accepted his way of seeing things, he calmed right down. Then, when I suggested we go have lunch, he was happy to go. - Olivia

Olivia’s apology defused the situation. Gerry felt heard and was able to let go of his painful negative feelings and relax so that Olivia was then able to use his short attention span to deflect his attention onto something more pleasant.
Don’t wait to apologize. Do it quickly. The longer you resist, the stronger your loved one’s emotions become and the harder it will be to deflect them.

When you apologize, be sincere even if you didn't do anything wrong. Without sincerity, your apology may not work. You can justify to yourself an "I'm sorry" statement about something you didn't do by:
  • Thinking about how sorry you are that your loved one is having to experience this unhappy experience, even though it is not your reality.
  • Considering yourself an improv actor in their drama.
  • Accepting apologizing as a tool that can quickly defuse negative feelings and replace them with positive feelings like validation and acceptance.
Don't worry that your apology will cause your loved one to believe even more firmly in their accusation. The opposite is actually true. Since emotion, not fact, is the driving force for your loved one’s behavior, your resistance increases your loved one’s negative feelings and strengthens their belief. Your apology deflects those emotions and replaces them with positive feelings of being heard, understood and valued. It also weakens their emotional memory of the event—and thus, the strength of these residual emotions when attached to upcoming events.

Next week, the blog will be the first in a series on what we call the LEADER Principles. This are a guide to help care partners deal with dementia-related behaviors.

For more information about Lewy body disorders, read our books:
A Caregivers’ Guide to Lewy Body Dementia
Managing Cognitive Issues in Parkinson's and Lewy Body Dementia
Responsive Dementia Care: Fewer Behaviors Fewer Drugs
Lewy Body Dementia: A Manual for Staff

Helen and James Whitworth are not doctors, lawyers or social workers. As informed caregivers, they share the information here for educational purposes only. It should never be used instead of a professional's advice.

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