Dealing with Opinionated Seniors

Nov 26th, 2010 | By Dr Jerry D Elrod | Category: Senior Moments Blog

You probably know the type… the ones who challenge your patience, endurance and tolerance.  People who are always right, no matter the subject, make it difficult for us senior citizens to extend grace.

No matter what position one takes, they always take the opposite one.  No matter the subject at hand, they always can find something to disagree over it.  No matter the conversation’s direction, they can attempt to redirect it to their point of view.  It is a real conundrum.  You may want to share the company of the person, but you really find it too much to try to engage in a one sided, “By damn, I am right” experience.

Each time it happens it is even more draining.  It is as if the individual’s whole persona depends on their being right and proving how wrong you are.  Not much fun.  Where is the latitude for conversation?  For exploration of information and feelings and opinions and ever-changing perceptions?  Why must the conversation center on such persons, whose perspective, it seems, must be the final word?  Opinions, someone said, are like belly buttons, everyone has one.  Daniel Monyihan put it better, “Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but not to their own facts.”

Such people seem to be seeking constantly a means for verifying and reinforcing their point of view.  Somehow, your opinion doesn’t count.  No matter how much you have worked at developing it, it is put down.  No matter your wide and conversant familiarity with the subject, their’s is superior.  No matter how carefully you attempt to explain or defend your perception, they will find a way to discount it.  Perhaps you are in a trap and can’t avoid company with such folk as these.  Retirement centers and assisted living facilities sometimes inherently create that trap.    So understanding the possible reasons for the behavior may be helpful in dealing with it. 

The rigid response we describe here is most likely an expression of inadequacy, verbal behavior that attempts to compensate for feelings of inferiority.  For example, in a conversation recently, someone was met with a subject he knew little about; his response was ”Well, I’ve never heard of it.”  And the conversation ended.  The subject did not exist, because he had never heard of it.  His response, translated, was really a statement that said, “I feel inadequate because I’ve never heard of this topic.  I cannot admit my lack of information, so I have to end the conversation and make it look like I’m a competent human being.” 

If relationships with such persons creates enough discomfort for you, avoidance is probably the only solution.  On the other hand, with a deep breath and some patience, you may be able to guide the conversation to a more comfortable place.  For example, your response to “Well, I’ve never heard of it,” might be, “Hmmm, well let me try to tell you what I find interesting about it…”   If you stop with their ‘cut-off’ statement, their attempt to falsely protect their ego is the last word.  But if you move on to more discussion, seeking their input and providing the means for some give-and-take in the conversation, you just might find their rigid defenses breaking down.  There just might be a friendship lurking under the defense system.



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