Bobcats and Turtles

My husband, John, was diagnosed with Lewy Body Disease in 2007 and remains in the early stage.  Part of what I did to help both of us cope was to seek out counseling as an aide in communication, stress management, and emotional support for John in his disease and me in my caregiving.  Counseling has been of great value to us both.

During a session with our counselor, Dr. Terry Ledford, we were talking about the differences in the way people approach emotional issues in their lives.

Dr. Ledford said at one point in the discussion, “Think about the bobcat. When it is confronted with some perceived threat or challenge, what is its response? It shows its teeth and claws and moves forward.

It asserts its strength to fight the threat.

“The response of the turtle to the same thing makes absolutely no sense to the bobcat. The turtle withdraws inside of its shell. It retreats from the perceived challenge or threat. Turtles want distance from the perceived threat.”

I am including these comments from our counselor because I suspect that in any family dealing with a diagnosis of LBD, there are going to be family members who respond differently to the threat and challenge that comes with the diagnosis. The primary caregiver is going to have to deal with all of these responses in a way that allows you to keep your own balance. If you lose your balance, things can get bad very quickly.

Some of us are bobcats, and some of us are turtles. All of us care when a loved one is in crisis. Just knowing that has helped me keep my balance.

Learning the art of dealing with both types of people is not easy. It is ongoing. I am getting better at it over time. Here is what I understand so far.

Bobcats are more assertive, even aggressive at times. They use more words and tend to be verbally expressive. They are more direct and confrontational in their thinking and speech, and their default response to hurt, fear, or frustration is anger. They have problems with feelings of rejection.

Turtles are somewhat more passive with their emotions. They use fewer words in general and struggle with expression of their feelings. They like to “go in a cave,” so to speak and avoid or escape confrontation.

They like some distance in their relationships. They have a “live and let live” mindset and assume things will often work out on their own.

Their default response to hurt, fear, or frustration is silence or retreat. They have problems with criticism.

Married couples are often one of each. To improve communication and satisfaction in the relationship, each person must do some work to change his normal pattern.

Bobcats have to learn to approach situations more softly, less confrontationally. The number of words needs to be reduced with simultaneous reduction of volume and intensity. They also need to be careful of sounding critical and figure out how to say what is needed softly. If bobcats feel anger, they should seek out within themselves the hurt, fear, or frustration underneath that anger and give the hurt, fear, or frustration a soft voice. When these feelings are addressed appropriately, the anger will dissipate. Their anger response is viewed by the turtle as criticism.

Turtles have to learn to use more words in general and especially in the expression of emotions. They need to put their hurts, fears, or frustrations into words. They have to fight the urge to retreat into their shell and stay in the conversation or situation until it is resolved. Their retreat is viewed by the bobcat as rejection.

Learning to break the patterns of the bobcat and the turtle is not easy, and it takes time. It does yield good fruit though, and it is worth the effort.

The good news is that when one person in the relationship chooses to change his own pattern, there can be improvement overall. That is because the communication pattern for bobcats and turtles is circular.

For example, if the bobcat gets better at softening speech, the turtle is less likely to go into his shell. The less the turtle goes into his shell, the less rejection is felt by the bobcat, who then is less critical of the turtle. A positive spiral can replace the former negative one.

John and I have worked on improving our pattern of communication, and the difference is huge in our relationship. The stress of caregiving is greatly reduced for me. But I have also learned to apply some of this to other relationships and seen the benefits there as well.

Pat Snyder is caregiver to her husband, John, and author of Treasures in the Darkness: Extending the Early Stage of Lewy Body Dementia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Disease. Pat's mission is to help her husband and promote awareness of Lewy Body Dementia, which affects up to 40% of people with Parkinson's.

Posted: 10/17/2012 9:19:56 AM by Cathy Whitlock

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