I-Thou Relationships in Caregiving | SYNERGY HomeCare of Broomfield Blog


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I-Thou Relationships by Kassandra A. King

German philosopher Martin Buber wrote of human interaction based on relationships structured as either  “I and Thou” or “I and It.”  The word thou is rarely spoken these days, yet the concept of  I–Thou communication should still apply in loving relationships. Using thou evokes a sense of being involved with a loving and powerful presence.  Thou can be replaced with the word “you” to demonstrate a relationship in which both persons are equals.  In a respectful person to person encounter, we regard the other as an equal, despite a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or cognitive impairment.  Unfortunately, often the person with Alzheimer’s or any form of dementia becomes non-equal, sometimes even regarded as non-human.   Buber refers to this as the “I–It” relationship.

Rementia, an upward pathway, is promoted with I-You communication. Dementia, a downward spiral, is supported in the I-It relationship. Caregivers have a huge impact on the direction.

When you have a cold and cannot get up from the couch, you are glad to have your loved ones take care of you. But you do not want to be treated as an out of touch person with no feelings. You would be offended if your loved ones gave no consideration to your preferences. You would feel shunned and ashamed if everyone talked about you rather than to you while you were sick. A person with any type of illness is still a complete person.  Within the I-It mode, persons are denied any say in what happens to them, unable to or discouraged from showing any power over a situation.   With the I-It mode, caregivers are ‘doing’ without considering the person’s deeper needs—the unseen, psychosocial need to be a part of what is happening around her and to her. We believe ourselves to be efficient as we are doing, doing, doing.  Perhaps we are being productive with objective, measurable tasks, yet we cannot see the “forest for the trees.”  Has the human being we care for become an item on the to-do list?

“Every You in the world is doomed by nature to become a thing or at least to enter into thing-hood again and again.”  (Buber 69)

Thinghood is the opposite of personhood.

“Love is a cosmic force. For those who stand in it and behold in it, men emerge from their entanglement in busy-ness…Love is responsibility of an I for a You....” (Buber 66)

Love returns us to I–You.

The I–You relationship is one of the highest regard for another.

The I–You relationship allows for graceful interaction. Communicate with dignity for yourself and the one to whom you speak.

The I–You relationship allows for grateful exchanges. With gratitude for even the smallest moments of connection, we acknowledge the glory of our relationships.

When practiced, Buber’s philosophy empowers caregivers to truly connect with those they assist.  Today, notice your interactions.  Remember, a posture of equality shows how much you still adore and respect that special someone who is depending on you for support.

Blog by Kassandra A. King, the author of “Getting REAL About Alzheimer’s:  Rementia through Engagement, Assistance, and Love.”  Ms. King is the owner of Alzheimer’s Connection, provider of professional rementia care training for the caregivers of SYNERGY HomeCare in La Mesa, CA, and Broomfield, CO.

SYNERGY HomeCare provides a variety of in-home care services such as senior home assistance, homecare support, and in-home companionship services to families living in Broomfield, Boulder and North Metro.  Call SYNERGY HomeCare today to learn more and discuss your options at 303-465-4663.

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