Note: The material below is based on information in Chapter 8 of “When You’re the Caregiver: 12 Things To Do If Someone You Care For Is Ill Or Incapacitated” by James. E. Miller. (Courtesy VA/AMI)
When you are helping to care for a loved one who has a life-limiting disability, including mental illness, you still need boundaries. The three principles for those boundaries are:
- You have a right to be safe and comfortable in your own home.
Violence and aggressive behavior, whether it is a symptom of mental illness or not, is never acceptable.
2. You need to establish boundaries for your own good.
Yes, it’s true – the other needs you. Yes, you can help, and yes, you may find meaning in doing that. But, no, you don’t have to do it all. And, no, you don’t have to do it to your own detriment. If you’re not careful, you’ll soon be on your way to exhaustion and burnout.
Some boundaries for you to set are physical. Some things are simply too strenuous for you. Some hours are too long for you to keep. Some chores you cannot continue to perform without relief.
Other boundaries are emotional. If you identify too completely with the other’s pain, fear or other strong emotions, you are in danger of making them your own. Your responsibility is to handle only one person’s feelings: your own.
Setting limits to your caregiving will make room for other caregivers. Family members and friends may wish to share in these duties. It’s one way they can cope with what has happened, and one way they can show their love.
Setting boundaries eliminates the need for arguments and criticism. It also makes dealing with issues easier and settles your mind. You have made the decision already. You don’t have to think it through every time.
3. You need to establish boundaries for the other person’s good. One way you can respect the other is to give them their own space. They need their privacy just as before – perhaps to read or meditate or write or just look out the window. If you do not provide for this solitary time, the one in your care may not have the strength or the heart to seek it.
The other person needs the freedom to do things on their own as a matter of self- esteem, and perhaps for continued recovery. If you insist on doing too much, the other has too little opportunity to flex their muscles. And there are several kinds of muscles they may need to flex.
Good boundaries give the other this added benefit: you can be a more objective presence in their life. Your insight can be more accurate and your feedback can be more useful.
All in all, establishing boundaries is one of the most thoughtful things you can do. It can even draw you closer together. And it is one of the most difficult things to do.