Call to Care: Avoiding “Pink Thinking” (part 2)

Pastor Nuerge

Today’s post is from Concordia Chaplain Rev. Roger Nuerge and is part 16 of the “Call to Care” series. Concordia’s Chaplaincy Department actively contributes to our residents’ well being.

“Pink Thinking” is a term used by Dr. Kenneth Hauk in his book Don’t Sing Songs to a Heavy Heart to describe caregivers who think their role is to get a suffering person out of despair by helping them to “look on the bright side.” Although well intended, “Pink Thinking” denies a person’s suffering and glosses over their pain.

“Pink Thinking” can be just as harmful as “words that hurt, not heal,” but they are more subtle. In a previous blog post we looked at two ways pink thinking can sabotage our caring efforts. They were:

Cheering People Up – On the surface this looks like the thing to do, but in reality trying to cheer hurting people up can make them feel even worse because they feel they are not being listened to and understood. It seems to meet the needs of the caregiver than the care receiver.

Glossing Over – This form of pink thinking tries to minimize or trivialize a person’s suffering. It makes them feel even worse because they feel they are not being taken seriously. Examples are statements like, “You’ll get over this in time!” and “Others are worse off than you.”

Other examples of “Pink Thinking” include the following:

When one has a shocking experience, denial can be a natural way to deal with the initial pain. There are times, however, when the hurting person views the situation realistically, but others around him or her refuse to acknowledge the truth.

A hospice patient one day had her family and friends gathered around her bed, and looking at them all wistfully said, “I’m sure going to miss you guys!” Immediately, one from the group shot back, “We’re still hoping for a miracle.” One can certainly always hope for a miracle, but that comment ignored the fact that this person was trying to say good-bye to people she loved. Denial like this springs from the same root of all pink thinking: the caregiver’s discomfort when faced with another’s pain and suffering.

When asked how they responded to denial, suffering people answered saying:

  • “I felt very hurt.”
  • “I avoided that person.”
  • “I turned away.”
  • “I withdrew.”
  • “I didn’t talk with that person about it anymore.”

Tough Encouragement
A college student whose mother had a neuromuscular disease told of some so-called comfort she received which was no comfort at all. She came home for the summer to discover that her mother’s condition had worsened since spring break. She was understandably sad and afraid. She looked to a youth worker at her church that she knew from high school for some help and comfort. Early in the conversation, the youth leader said, “I know that whatever happens, you will do well. I know that you are a strong person. I have confidence in you.”

“This is not what I needed to hear,” said the student. “I didn’t feel strong. I just needed someone to listen to me and let me get it all out.”

Strong is not a word people want or need to hear when they are weak. They need and want people who are willing to let them be weak for a while and be given the permission to let others be strong for them. That’s what bearing one another’s burdens is about.

Unbridled Celebrating
The apostle Paul says in Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Celebrating can be a good thing. Celebrating even little victories can be a good thing. But celebrating victories with a person who is hurting can be different. Oftentimes the people around the hurting person want to celebrate victories, but the hurting person does not. Victories seem small and trivial when someone is in the depths of pain and despair. It makes them feel unaffirmed in their pain. Here are some guidelines:

  • As a caregiver don’t initiate a celebration.
  • If you do initiate a celebration, do so cautiously, if the care receiver doesn’t respond, stop immediately.
  • Make sure you are celebrating victories with a hurting person and not forcing celebrations onto a suffering person.

Hurting people often see themselves as broken and others as whole. Pink thinking tends to gloss over, deny, or in some way minimize the painful reality of a suffering person. Banishing pink thinking opens the door to caring for hurting people in meaningful and comforting ways.

For more information on the health and senior care services offered at Concordia, message us through the Contact section of our website or call 724-352-1571.

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