I was sitting there on my doctor’s stool listening…to the second new patient in two days tell me about his highly charged prior dental experiences. His face grimaced and contorted and went through a series of gyrations reflecting his mixed emotions as he related his perceptual reality of his past.
The misemotion coming out as this new patient told his story was the recurring mix of sadness, anger, frustration, pain, disappointment and varying degrees of hopefulness. He was grasping for help, but was still a bit uncertain if he could trust me and my team yet – even as he wanted to. Here was yet another patient emotionally wounded to the point of disability – disability of rational thought, disability of decision and disability of self-worth.
Let’s examine all three. The first is disability of rational thought. When a patient feels you have rejected them emotionally, it literally alters their ability to think straight. A quick example to illustrate: Just remember a time that you got so mad that you wanted to hit someone (or did hit someone). Was that rational thought? In hindsight, you likely answer was no. [If you are still feeling upset about that prior situation (misemotional) then you could have said yes, “I still want to hit them”] The point is that emotional pain carries forward from the past and lingers and often permeates thinking. This is the “reason” that some patients seem to like to tell us: “I hate dentists.”
Think of another time when you experienced loss: the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the denied acceptance to the school of your choice, someone else getting the promotion you felt should be yours. The deeper the upset at that time, the less able you were to think straight, to think through things with reason. It may not have been a total loss of rational thought, for it is on a gradient: the deeper the emotional wound, the less rational you become at that moment.
(Trial attorneys use this misemotional lever all the time to emotionally strike (upset) a witness on the stand to the point that the witness says something that he wishes he hadn’t! They also use it in depositions to create a fear of being made to look foolish, stupid, or irrational and therefore help “force” a settlement before trial.)
The second of these is the disability of decision. Without our emotional physiology being activated, man is incapable of making decisions at all. In certain brain injured patients the missing emotional physical contribution to your thinking stops even the simplest of decisions! The opposite part of this is also true: when our emotions are overwhelmed, you or I can’t, at that moment, decide. When forced to decide, we select the decision that seems safest, almost always this means NO.
When meeting an emotionally charged patient for the first time, we need to defuse “the overwhelm.” I purposely use the term defuse for the patient’s misemotion is akin to a figurative bomb that will blow up and destroy every thing in its path including you and all possibilities of getting a yes and success.
The third of these disabilities, disability of self-worth, doesn’t get much attention; nevertheless, it is important if you care about your patients. How do you feel about yourself when you see that you have failed at something? Can you imagine how it would feel to fail at something that you “know” you should succeed in doing…like being able to sit in a dental chair and allow someone to help you get your teeth fixed? Failure of all kinds can drain your and my sense of self worth.
Look we are highly educated, able, successful people. Can you imagine the less able and what it does to them? How about “the very able” in all other facets of their lives who can’t self-manage a dental experience? Do you think these people question themselves because of this disability? Oh, yeah-they do.
It really is quite simple here: when we help the patient who has emotional dental disability get through her appointments and complete her treatment we have raised her sense of personal self worth. For some, the self esteem screams to new levels, new successes are somehow magnetized to our newly rejuvenated patient. They come almost magically. Promotions parade through their lives, often in rapid succession. New relationships are created. Our formerly single patient finds the mate of her dreams. Not only does our patient look better, she also feels soooo much better about herself. She carries herself differently. She walks with a quiet confidence. She rubs off this positive, glowing energy on those around her. You can’t necessarily see it with the eye, but you “know it is there”. It gladdens the heart. Now that is a positive ascending spiral. Creating that is why I became a dentist.