Help brother-in-law shine light on health issues

Published 10:31 am Saturday, February 22, 2014

by Abbie Long

Question: My brother-in-law has been feeling bad for a long time. My family has been trying to get him to go to the doctor, but he always seems to find an excuse not to go. I know the reason he won’t go is because he is scared. Is there anything we can do to get him to go to the doctor other than what we are doing, which is telling him we are worried about is health and just want him to feel better? We are out of options.

Answer: Suppose you walk into a dark room. Is there something in there? Until you turn on the light, you will not know for certain and, if you choose, you can deny the presence of anything. Once illumination enters the room, however, the chair that resides within can no longer be denied because it has been revealed and can be seen. A person’s fear is much like this chair. It resides in a dark room of the mind. Until a light is turned on, it is possible to deny its presence. Once illumination enters the room, however, the fearful contents cannot be denied because its presence has been revealed.

Your brother-in-law’s fear of going to the doctor appears to be residing in a dark room of his mind and as a result he is choosing to deny its presence. Bring illumination into this room by compassionately acknowledging the possibility of its presence.

Do so by telling him he is not wrong for fearing the doctor. After all he has a right to have this fear and you do not have a right to judge him for having it.

Another way to bring illumination into his currently darkened room is by dispelling medical myths with medical truths. For instance: Cancer is a death sentence. The truth is many cancers that were once considered a death sentence can now be cured or treated effectively.

Shine another ray of light into his room by presenting him with real and somewhat gloomy medical statistics in conjunction with equally as strong, if not stronger, positive ones.

For instance, it is true that 600,000 people in the United States died last year from heart disease, but it is also true, according to a report in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, that from 1997 to 2007, deaths from heart disease declined by 27.8 percent due to improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of the disease. This approach validates his fear yet invalidates his rationalization of it; it was unsoundly built upon a lie masking itself as an inevitable truth, not on an inevitable truth in itself.

In addition to adequately acknowledging and showing understanding of your brother-in-law’s fear and feelings, make clearly known your own concerns, objectives and feelings to him.

Do so in a loving manner free of both accusation and anger. Make sure to include the effect his present and possibly continuing denial is having — and will have on ­— all of those around him who love him and are depending on him.

Throughout your efforts to impart any ray of light upon your brother-in-law’s fear, it is imperative to avoid the use of “you” statements and to rely on the use of “I” ones instead. For instance, “I am sad” instead of “You make me sad.” This approach is less defense-arousing for it describes behavior rather than voices feelings, opinions and judgments. It is also a learned skill whose success relies on your consistent focus on clearly objective actions, not on ones that are subjectively inferred.

Finally, do not become discouraged if your brother-in law does not immediately respond to your initiative.

His denial has been put in place, although temporarily, as a protection mechanism to keep him from being overcome by whatever physical or emotional pain he is experiencing.

Not until he is able to overcome this pain, rather than be overcome by it, will his denial dissipate, his fear be revealed, and he becomes ready to accept your help and encouragement as he begins to explore his medical options.

Remember, you can and should do your part to shine light into the darkened corner of his mind where his fear resides, but it remains up to him whether or not he is ready to open his eyes and see what the light reveals.

Love, such as the obvious kind you have for your brother-in-law, refuses to let any light switch stay in the off position or any blown light bulb remain unchanged. It persists because it never knows when the closed set of its loved one’s eyes will decide to open.

ABBIE LONG is a Franklin native and advice columnist for The Tidewater News. Submit your questions to