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Sawubona – the Zulu greeting that literally means “I see you, and by seeing you I bring you into being”. It reminds me of the question of a tree falling in the forest…if no one sees the tree falling, did it actually fall? Perhaps one of the most devastating states of being is not to be seen. It is through being seen by others that we are validated. Or is it?

Kitwood’s definition of personhood being a status that is bestowed upon one by others worries me. Does it mean that I am only because others validate me? Ubuntu says “I am because of you”. Tutu said, “It is not ‘I think, therefore I am’, but rather ‘I belong, therefore I am’”.

How much of our sense of Self is determined by an inner knowing of who we are? How is that inner knowledge created? Who writes the script of our inner discourse? Our parents, teachers, lovers? “You look good, you are fat, you are clever, don’t be so stupid..” These labels can become our status, our identity, and the way that we navigate our journey through life. At what point do we actually start questioning these labels and consider their validity? The dichotomy of being is to be trapped between what we have been told about who we are in the eyes of others, and finding our authentic voice. This seems to be a lifelong battle for most people.

To be seen is to be brought into Being. To be truly seen, as opposed to being judged, is what validates our authentic Self and helps us come unto our Selves.

When a person is diagnosed, be it with dementia, cancer, ADHD, being bipolar, a new label is added. The narrative of Self and being-in-the-world changes, a new subtext is added and the discourse becomes tainted. Whilst this can be very helpful for the person who has been confused and worried about their dis-ease and not knowing was going on, it can also change the lens with which the world sees and judges us. The “medical gaze”, the question “What do you see, nurses? What do you see when you look at me? A decrepit old woman? …look closer, see Me?” Growing up with shame around so many personal issues, many of us spend our lives hiding who we really are, ashamed to make ourselves vulnerable to stand in our own truth. We are constantly battling and grappling with NOT being who we are, trying to be what we think people would want us to be. How to be so that we would be liked and loved, to be popular or successful.

For many people, with old age comes a kind of battle fatigue. We simply cannot keep up appearances any longer. With forgetfulness and memory loss also come a kind of detachment from what social norms have dictated. Filters start to disappear. Often we would hear that “he has had a complete personality change since his diagnosis”. Perhaps. Or perhaps he has just given up to try and be the person that you have always wanted him to be. “He has become so aggressive..”. Maybe, for once, he is just showing you exactly how he feels. Maybe he has been trying all his life to tell you exactly that – but never felt seen.

Many people living with dementia lose their fighting spirit. They become softer and gentler. Others become more esty. When there is no longer the need to impress or to t in, perhaps we start seeing the true Self?

Sawubona – I SEE YOU, and by seeing you I bring you into Being. How do we see the true Self of another, without filters, without preconceived ideas, without judgement? Is it even possible? Naomi Feil, the founder of the theory of Validation, says that our biggest challenge is to UN-learn. We have been so bombarded by a deluge of so-called “facts” about people living with dementia in particular, the different stages, behavioural patterns, why they do this and not that, etc etc. To see a person as a Person has almost become impossible.

So – it can really centre yourself, open your mind and your heart, be present, and you might see the person (living with dementia) for the first time for who they really are. This might just be a pleasant surprise.

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