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October 31, 2014 / 7 Heshvan, 5775
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Use Your Filter

(Names Changed)


 


         We all have a filter, should we choose to use it. It is the sensitive part of us that allows us to hear what we are about to say before it leaves our mouth. It is that part that stops us before the inappropriate words exit our mouth leaving pain, shock and hurt feelings in their wake. We never set out to deliberately hurt someone with our words. Especially when our intention is to give comfort. However, if we do not examine what we are about to say and filter out that which is not quite right or is downright hurtful, that is exactly what we do. We all have this filter. All we have to do is think before we speak. Hear in your mind what effect our words may have on others and then make a conscious decision to speak them or try again.

 

         Mandy’s father was in the hospital. The prognosis did not seem life threatening, but it was serious. He needed both massive antibiotics and a feeding tube. There seemed to be some conflict on which to do first and days went by before either was done. Still Mandy’s father was lucid and seemed comfortable when his family visited. Ten minutes after Mandy’s daughter visited, her grandfather passed away. Everyone was shocked. Tearfully, Mandy was explaining what had happened to a very close friend. Along with the words of sympathy came, “If it was my father, I would have never left the room until they put in the IV and feeding tube!”

 

         Let’s take a pause and examine the results of what was said. Mandy had left the room. She had placed her father’s care with the doctors, trusting that they knew what to do and would give her father adequate care. She knew nothing of IV’s or feeding tubes or how they interacted or what the priorities were. She trusted the system. Now, Mandy is suddenly presented, though not deliberately, with something to feel terribly guilty about. Did not insisting that things be done immediately cause her father’s death? Was she indeed responsible for this? Should she have acted differently? Her grief was now compounded with guilt. Guilt she had not experienced before her friend’s comment. And, the comment came at the most vulnerable time in her life. After all, she had, just that day, lost her father.

 

         It certainly would have made sense, days before, to be presented with the suggestion that perhaps she needed to press the doctors into treating her father more swiftly, or having them explain to her why they were holding off. But what purpose did those words serve Mandy now, today? If her friend had just thought it through, she would have realized that her words had no useful purpose. The situation was over. Her friend’s parent was gone. Telling her what she should have done could only make Mandy feel terrible.

 

         After his father-in-law’s funeral, Menachem found himself alone in the kitchen with his mother-in-law. It had been a heavy, sad, terrible day. Searching for something to say to fill the uncomfortable silence (and not thinking before he spoke) Menachem said, “Do you think you’ll ever remarry?” His mother in law was shocked by the question, particularly on this day when she had just buried her husband. Worse, the question had been overheard by Menachem’s brother-in-law who decided, at that moment, never to have anything to do with Menachem again. But the words were out there, never to be withdrawn. If only Menachem had used his filter.

 

         Words are so very powerful. They can heal hurts or open old wounds. They can cause guilt that will last a lifetime or take guilt away and give peace. They can destroy a relationship of years. Once out of your mouth, they can never be taken back. That is why we must use our filter. Think about the effects of what you are going to say before you say it. It is not that hard to do. It is a habit that takes practice. It can become second nature. You may wind up speaking less and speaking more slowly, but if successful, what you say will be so much more valuable. You might even find that people will listen to you more carefully and seek your counsel.

 

         You can reach me at annnovick@hotmail.com

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When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

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Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

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