We have all experienced overload. It happens when our minds are just too full of worry, problems, or things that must be done now. The list is so long, the constant headache so great, that we feel certain that if we tip our head, a “to do” list will fall out of our ear and be lost forever.
Overload is not a comfortable state of mind. It makes decisions difficult. It leaves us vulnerable to scams. A person in overload might easily make a wrong or impulsive decision just to unload one more burden. Overload leaves a person fragile and sensitive to criticism, especially when he has shown poor judgment. He has already verbally beaten himself up for ignoring his inner monologue that told him to make a different choice. He feels guilty enough, reprimands himself enough, and knows well enough that at a calmer time in his life, he would have acted differently. Criticism when one is in such a state is not needed, wanted or constructive.
Overload is a constant state of mind for many well spouses. They are worried about their spouses, unhappy with their limitations, and concerned for their children. Most well spouses experience overload as a part of their everyday life. They know they are vulnerable to wrong decisions, make them anyway, and then beat themselves up for doing so. They need understanding and support – not criticism.
Brenda owned a tiny summer home. It was her haven. She was able to get there for a day or two every week in the summer when she had a caretaker for her husband, who was chronically ill. It was very hard to find help when something needed fixing there. If something broke, the burden of finding someone, coordinating her schedule to be there when they said they’d come, wondering if they’d show up and then rescheduling, often left her depressed and angry.
When Brenda’s deck needed fixing, she hired someone who came recommended. He wanted the money for the materials up front. She gave it to him. He gave her a receipt. He never returned to do the job. When she tried to reach him, she discovered his phone had been disconnected and the address on the receipt was non-existent. One friend told her how “stupid” it was to have given him the money up front. Another told she her to sell the retreat house since she couldn’t do the work herself. A third held her hand and told her, “Be kind to yourself. These things happen. Everyone makes mistakes, especially when you have so much on your mind.”
Shoshana had just had her yard landscaped. She hated yard work, especially now that her husband’s illness left all the heavy work to her. Wherever it was appropriate, she had the landscapers put down a weed preventing carpet covered with decorative stone. She hoped this would give her a pretty yard that was maintenance free.
She was showing off her new yard to a friend and explaining what she had done. “What are you talking about?” said the friend. “I can see plenty of weeds. Are you sure you got what you paid for?”
There is a difference between criticism and advice. The two just don’t sound alike. Offering advice, good advice, comes with an understanding of the situation. Not only an idea of what needs to be done and how to do it, but also an understanding of the person’s state of mind and what he/ she can cope with.
Criticism, on the other hand, just highlights mistakes, oversights or misjudgments and offers little in the way of dealing with the problem or helping the person in distress. Often, criticism serves to boost our own ego at the expense of another. We know only too well that we could easily have made the same mistake but didn’t – this time.
When dealing with people who are overloaded (a temporary state of mind for many, a constant state of mind for most well spouses) it is so important to think of what we are saying and how we are saying it.
What, if anything, are we offering the person with our words? Do our words give solace and make them feel better? Do our words give them ideas for handling similar situations in the future? Or do our ideas just add to their overload, make them feel worse then they already do, and encourage them to verbally beat themselves up some more? Are we using our words to comfort, or to add to their pain? The choice, in the end, is ours.
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