“Sure, Mom, I’ll help.” As soon as she spoke the words, Mary thought, “I do not have the time or energy for this! Why did I agree to help?”
Sometimes we say “yes” automatically because we are people-pleasers. We could be feeling guilty or emotionally tied to a situation and, before we even think about the effort involved, we slip out a “yes” response. Being mindlessly agreeable can become a habit and develop into a standard we struggle to maintain.
Setting boundaries and being a resilient caregiver is about recognizing the importance of our own lives, family and work. It is striving towards caregiving within those limits. It doesn’t mean we aren’t dedicated to caring. Quite the opposite. Setting boundaries allows caregivers to continue caring with compassion and devotion. It’s a sign of self-respect: to not feel lost or swallowed up by the caregiving role. Healthy boundaries let caregivers maintain an emotional connection to the person they are caring for without the negative results of feeling they “need” to rescue, enable, fix or control.
TIPS FOR SETTING BOUNDARIES
* What keeps you coming back for more? It takes two to do the shaky boundary-tango! Are you feeling guilty because you think you aren’t doing enough? Is the person you are caring for pushing your buttons? Maybe it’s a desire to please? Do you feel you want to rescue them? Once you figure out the underlying reason, it can be easier to set boundaries.
* Know your limits. You can’t set healthy boundaries if you’re unsure of where you stand. Consider what you can tolerate and accept physically, emotionally and mentally. Identify what makes you feel uncomfortable or stressed. Feeling discomfort and resentment are warning signs we are out of sync with our boundaries. If you feel you are being taken advantage of or not being appreciated, it may manifest in pushing yourself too hard (due to guilt, wanting to please or rescue). Or the person we are caring for is imposing their expectations, views or values on us.
* When someone acts in a way that results in feelings of discomfort, it is a sign they may be crossing a boundary. Ideas for managing your role as a caregiver can start with determining what parts of caregiving you – and only you – can fulfill. Ask yourself if someone else can meet the care recipient’s needs. Although it can be uncomfortable, sit down with the person you are caring for and discuss what you can and can’t (or won’t) do. Being clear on your boundaries is beneficial to both you and your loved one.
* Give yourself permission to find small ways to take care of yourself. Setting boundaries is usually in direct conflict with feelings of guilt, fear or self-doubt. Caregivers can often worry about the other person’s response when a boundary is set and adhered to. Caregivers also can feel
they “should” be able to cope with a situation even though they feel their boundaries are being violated.
* Find support. Having a group of peers to talk to or a close and trusted confidante makes it easier to set boundaries and remain accountable. It takes courage and practice to establish healthy boundaries and stay the course.