I was talking to a friend of mine at the gym yesterday whose mother and father had recently been put into aged care. His father has advanced dementia and his mother keeps telling him how sad she is being away from her home and how she hates the aged care facility.
My friend would like to help his mother but there is little he can do. He said, “I feel so powerless. I can’t fix it for her and she’s so sad.”
I told him that feeling powerless in such a situation is perfectly natural, but then I asked him, “Have you tried reflective listening? It’s true that you can’t fix your mother’s problems but what you can do is listen to her and try to understand what she is feeling. It’s a wonderful thing to be really listened to and receive empathy. So instead of feeling powerless, why don’t you try to immerse yourself in your mother’s world, really listen to her, and try to understand how she is feeling? If she feels you are listening to her and really trying to understand her situation, she is very likely to start talking about other things or even start talking about the benefits of her new situation.”
Reflective listening is a wonderful tool. Examples of reflective listening in this situation are, “It seems the change has really been unsettling for you mum” and/or “You sound very sad mum.”
My friend left me feeling so much more able to face his mum. He no longer felt powerless. He now had a strategy, a strategy which would help him to connect with his mum in a meaningful way. The magic of really listening and trying to understand can work wonders.