Setting boundaries with kindness

Regardless of the relationship, it’s usually easier to say yes rather than no as parents, partners or professionals. Saying yes, especially for caregivers, seems to be the order of the day and something others come to expect.

For many of us, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing our comfort and security are less important than the pressing tasks and responsibilities of the day. Feelings of guilt may be causing us to overextend ourselves and a lack of self-worth could be letting day-to-day hustle and bustle interrupt our self-care routines. But, as the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

Lack of boundary-setting while negotiating with family members or a loved one that requires care is one of our biggest mistakes, according to psychologists. Taking time to pay attention to where you need to set boundaries and feeling comfortable sticking with them is one of the keys to staying well, physically and mentally, as a caregiver. 

Challenging those guilty feelings and explaining how the situation makes you feel, rather than just saying no, is a fair way to handle things. Use “I” statements when it comes to making decisions or doing something that makes you uneasy. It’s okay to speak up and say, “I’m not comfortable doing that alone,” or “I’m happy to help find someone who can advise us.” Choosing your ideal time to engage on tricky subjects is another wise strategy. Instead of getting put on the spot by your sister who rushes in with lots of questions, suggest, “I’m available to talk tomorrow night,” or “I think we should set up a catch-up call next Friday.” (This gives you time to prepare.)

Choose your words wisely. Replace “I’m sorry” with “thank you” and use kindness and gratitude when enforcing the boundaries you’ve set. If you’re overwhelmed, tired or fed up, explain how you feel and re-state what you are able to do. Propose your solution and follow it with “thank you for your understanding.” Showing respect, preserving your dignity and setting realistic boundaries firmly and kindly, can actually increase our capacity and boost the amount of energy we have to care.

Caroline Tapp-McDougall, Editor

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