(Names and circumstances altered for confidentiality)
Doubt is a very powerful force. It slowly erodes what we know to be true. It can undermine our self-confidence and even change our reality. Doubt comes from many sources and very often in the form of innocuous comments from friends and family. The comments that may cause the most doubt may not be the loud ones. They may be whispers, simply asking why we made the decision we did about our loved ones care or why we aren’t afraid of an undertaking. Though said quietly, the effect is the same as if they had yelled, “you’re wrong!” and suddenly you begin to rethink the decision you were so sure of moments ago.
Perhaps it is because well spouses are fragile, that the questioning works so well in causing self doubt. Or perhaps it is that each decision you make about the care of someone with a progressive, chronic illness will have consequences that are always new and certainly difficult for everyone in the family. Or maybe it is just universal for all of us to second-guess ourselves when our decisions are repeatedly challenged. Miriam had a week to herself when her husband was taken to a facility for respite. It was winter and her friend offered to let her use her Florida home, which happened to be empty. Even though Miriam knew no one in the area, she couldn’t wait to get out of the cold. That was until a friend quietly asked, “Aren’t you afraid to be by yourself? After all, you don’t know a soul there. What if something happens to you?”
Most of us are vulnerable to criticism, even in areas in which we feel competent. But when we are unsure of ourselves or when the situation is a new one for us or when we hear implied criticism (all of which apply to a well spouse’s situation) we become even more vulnerable and the criticism takes on great power in eroding our confidence. We make plans. They are plans we are comfortable with. They are plans that will work for us and for our spouses – chronically ill or healthy. Suddenly our plans are questioned. “Are you sure you can leave him? Are you sure you should make the trip? How will she be able to manage while you’re gone?” or simply, Why are you going this way?” And suddenly, everything you painstakingly put into place doesn’t seem quite right and you begin to second-guess yourself. As important as it is for each of us to fight against these doubts that come packaged in unsolicited questions, it is equally important for those making the comments to realize that they are doing much more than asking a question. The confidence they are eroding may take a very long time to rebuild.
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