“You have to be able to set boundaries, otherwise the rest of the world is telling you who you are and what you should be doing. You can still be a nice person and set boundaries.” – Oprah Winfrey
One of the most common challenges that we hear from caregivers is how difficult it is to use the word “no”, when caring for others. The word “yes” can be an automatic response for many caregivers. It can come from a need to people please, from a sense of guilt, or being tied to a situation.
Saying “yes” to everything can feel as though you need to maintain a certain standard of availability or uphold an air of perceived reliability. Sometimes the other person or party expects you to always say yes. Other times, your boundaries may feel rigid. You may feel defensive with a strong desire to self-protect. Many of us have felt a fear of losing connection to ourselves if we connect too strongly to others. Our “no’s” may have been met with negative feedback, descriptions such as “harsh” or “selfish.”
Many caregivers have varied experiences with the boundary setting spectrum. The key to navigating and implementing healthy boundaries, is first understanding why it is important for your own health and well-being.
Why boundaries are important for caregivers:
- Boundaries are essential to knowing and taking care of ourselves (for example, anger is often the language of a stretched or ignored boundary).
- Caregiving without boundaries leads to resentment, frustration, fatigue and burnout. Boundaries make caregiving sustainable.
- Boundaries prevent “compassion fatigue”, described as the emotional and physical erosion that takes place when helpers are unable to refuel and regenerate.
- Boundaries demonstrate respect for the independence and autonomy of others.
Setting boundaries and being a resilient caregiver is about recognizing the importance of our own lives, family, and work, and caregiving within those limits. This doesn’t mean we are no longer dedicated to caregiving—quite the opposite. Setting boundaries allow caregivers to continue caring with compassion and devotion. It’s a sign of self-respect and self worth, letting caregivers maintain an emotional connection to the person they are caring for without the negative results of feeling the “need” to rescue, enable, fix or control.
“Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.” Brené Brown, Rising Strong.