Empathy and Communication

“When people are… treated as though they have a chronic,
lifelong, progressive, disabling illness which will prevent them from accomplishing anything, they begin to believe it. Crucial to people learning to cope effectively with mental illness is having others
who believe in them and have hope and confidence that they can
live productive lives.”

Adapted from:
When Someone You Love Has a Mental Illness,
Rebecca Woolis, 2003

 People with HD are fully aware of what is going on around them. They know when someone feels empathy for their problems and when someone feels anger or disgust toward them. The person with HD is doing his or her best, and you may not always see that effort.

Actions that demonstrate empathy:

  • Attend to how the other person feels more than how he or she acts. Try to read emotions, and if you can’t, ask about emotions. Look for clues that help you understand.
  • Avoid thought content that you can’t agree with. The facts are not as important as the emotions they create.
  • Actively listen. Reflect your understanding in words rather than assume the person with HD understands your non-verbal behavior.
  • Use “I” statements. “I feel hurt when you are angry with me.” rather than “You make me so angry!” Someone can always argue with you about your opinion, but they can’t argue with you about your emotions. You are the only person who knows how you feel.
  • Ask others to tell you stories about the person that may explain their behavior.

Communication Roadblocks:

  • Defending yourself, arguing with the person with HD
  • Asking why
  • Correcting
  • Changing the subject
  • Giving false encouragement.
  • Giving unasked for advice
  • Using “You” statements

Factors that affect Behavior

  • Stage of Disease
  • Loss, Grief, Stage of Acceptance
  • Awareness of symptoms
  • Ability to communicate
  • Behavior and needs of others, especially caregiver and children
  • Emotional State: mood, anxiety
  • Health Factors: hunger, fatigue, thirst, pain, medical illness or injury
  • Community resources: financial, social, health care
  • Family beliefs