Gentle words

We often use words without being aware of the meaning of the words and how this may affect our feelings and actions. In this lexicon, we explain the meaning of words often used by caregivers from the perspective of gentle teaching. By being more aware of the words we use, we can influence our own feelings and attitude towards the persons we are serving.  For their benefit and ours.


This page is a translation from Dutch. If you have any suggestions for improvement or correction, or if you know any typical words used in your language, please help us improve this page.


Anger, or in a mild form ‘irritation’, is a feeling which doesn’t only cost us a lot of energy, but it also stands between us and the person we are angry with. It’s an obstacle in developing companionship. You can’t be angry and happy at the same time. The first to benefit of not being angry are you. So try to look at your anger and transform it. When you feel angry, just feel angry, but, remember……you don’t have to act angry.


Advice: Don’t ignore of suppress your anger, nor act out of anger. Take some time to look what’s behind this anger. Usually it’s a combination of to high expectations of the other, fear, or a feeling of powerlessness. By looking at the truth of your anger, it will probably disappear.


When we focus on the behaviors of a person, it easily puts us above the person and we might start judging him and his behaviors in negative or positive. The behaviors however are nothing more than the expression of the inner feelings of the person.


Advice: Whenever you have a problem with a behavior which you see as negative, remember that the behavior is not the problem to be solved. The problem to be solved is the problem the person is facing and which arouses emotions within him. Connect yourself with these feelings and do whatever you can to help the person.

Checking the boundaries

We say this when a person keeps doing things we don’t want him to do, until we tell him to stop. We explain this behavior as the need of the person to know what he may or may not do. He wants us to be predictable. When we see a person ‘checking the border’ we tend to hold back until he goes too far. Then we tell him to stop or punish him. This is a negative way of being predictable, and this is not what the person needs.


Advice: be predictable in a positive way. He probably is confused and he isn’t checking anything. At least not intentionally. As soon as you see that the person doesn’t seem to know what he may or may not do, or how you will react on him, make gentle contact with him and guide him through this difficult moment.


Client is a word often used for people who need care and support from professional care givers. The word suggests a functional relationship in which the professional  determines what the person needs and acts accordingly. This relationship focuses on what the person needs, and not on who he is.


Advice: try to avoid this word as much as possible. When you talk about a specific person, use his or her name.


This word also is used to talk about a person who needs care. But now the relationship between you and the person is like the relationship between a salesperson in a shop and a customer. You don’t have any other responsibility towards the person who needs care, than just giving him/her the right product.


Advice: Try to avoid this word. See yourself as a good friend of the person who needs your care and feel your responsibility as a good friend for the wellbeing of this person.

Feeling loved

Feeling loved means that by experience the person knows that out of personal engagement with him, we do whatever we can to help him. This is unconditionally. Some people find it difficult to use this word in a 'professional' relationship. But we have to realize that the person with special needs, needs to feel loved. So also for a professional caregiver, this should be the first focus in caregiving.


Advice: you can only teach a person to feel loved by you, if you have unconditional loving feelings towards this person. If it is hard to feel this in regard to a specific person, try to find out why it is difficult with this person and not with other persons. It’s all in your own mind and you can change this.

Feeling powerlessness

You may have this feeling when you can’t give a person what he needs, or when you couldn’t avoid harmful things to happen. This is probably the most difficult feeling to deal with for caregivers, since they always want the best for the people they are serving. The reality is that you cannot control all aspects of life. You have to learn to deal with this reality, otherwise you might blame yourself or the other person, or you might be complaining all days. This won’t make you very happy


Advice:  realistic, be human. You can’t solve everything and you have to accept that as a fact of life.

Feeling safe

Feeling safe is not the same as being safe. Feeling safe partly has to do with the current circumstances, but mostly with life experiences. Some people you literally have to teach to feel safe


Advice:  always be aware that your intentions are not the criteria for the other person to feel safe with you. It are his perceptions of you actions.

Enforcing attention

Some people need attention so intensely, that they a are very persistent in drawing your attention. This is usually seen as negative behavior and this puts you in a defensive mode. Nobody wants to be forced into doing something, and you don’t either. So usually you tend to respond negative to the person; you try to ignore him or send him to his room, etc. This defensive mode costs a lot of energy and is an obstacle in liking/loving the person and giving him what he needs


Advice: don’t interpret the  intensity of the behavior as persisting or enforcing, but as a sign that this person needs you very much and that you have a very precious gift for him: your attention. Give the person this gift as often as possible, and with a lot of joy. What’s nicer than giving a person a gift? It’s much nicer than trying to avoid the person from ‘stealing’ your time and attention.


When you feel joy in working with a person you have a good day and you feel your work as rewarding. You can feel joy by looking at the talents of the person or by looking at his face after you really helped him.


Advice:  never go home from you work without looking back at some joyful moments you had during the day and serving the people at your work.


Feeling loving towards others is the ground for feeling loved. Being loving and caring for others is an important core-quality of people. This quality is the binding force of loving relationships and of safe and caring communities. By evoking and emphasizing this quality in another person, we help him develop a positive self-image  based on his inner strength. People who have a self-image based on violence, neglect or materialistic competition need this approach very much.


Advice: both for the other person as for yourself it is joyful to evoke these loving qualities in the other. It will give him/her a chance to become a stronger and more integrated person and this will give you satisfaction.


This is what we accuse a person of when we say he tells lies or fancy stories in order to get a positive response of us, or in order to get something he wants. By using the accusation ‘manipulative’ we feel legitimized not to give the person what he needs and we ignore the fact that he obviously doesn’t feel safe and loved by us. Otherwise he could just ask what he wants and we would give it.


Advice: when you feel ‘manipulated’, remember that the other person has a bigger problem than you have. Try to solve his problem, and your problem will be solved simultaneously. 


Whenever we say things like ‘he/she must do this or that’ we are setting rules for the person which may be the cause of irritations and quarrel, and are therefore harmful to our relationship with him.


Advice:  just realize that the world doesn’t collapse when the person doesn’t do whatever you believe he ‘must’ do. Relax and relate with the person, so you can help him with whatever he finds difficult.


When we say a person ‘should’ do this or ‘should’ act in another way, we are falling back on general values which probably have no meaning for the person himself. This puts us above the person, instead of making him feel equal valued. By hanging on to these values, we create our own negative feelings towards the person if he doesn’t act according these values.


Advice: try to be aware when you use the words ‘he/she should’. It really isn’t the end of the world if he /she ‘doesn’t’.

Testing you

Suggests that the person is more or less intentionally doing whatever he can to challenge you. Actually this is a sign that the person doesn’t feel unconditionally loved by you.


Advice: don’t use this word, but do whatever you can to make the person feel that you are there for him unconditionally.

Un purpose

Often you may believe that a person does some negative actions on purpose with the intention to get some result, like attention or other kind of reactions by others. Even when he ‘knows’ that he will be punished for his behavior. This is a huge mistake. Only a masochist would intentionally do something with painful results for himself. Most likely the negative act is a result of fear or other uncontrollable stress. There is no other reason behind it

Advice: don’t react negative when the person ‘does it again’, but stay friendly and try to comfort the person. That is what he needs, unconditionally


Being unconditional means that you are there for the person, no matter what he does: if he doesn’t listen to you or when he shows harmful behaviors, this won’t affect your feelings and actions towards him. This doesn’t mean that you approve of whatever the person is doing, but just that this doesn’t matter for your relationship. ‘Unconditional’, in the relationship with a person you are serving, doesn’t mean 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is related to the moment of contact.

Advice: Being unconditional is very difficult for most of us, because it is not part of our culture. So you have to work hard on becoming unconditional. When you succeed, you will find out that it will also benefit you, because your relationship with other will stabilize.