Friday, January 22, 2010


(Harmony) is when...
“Yes” is tempered by a gentle “No,”
and “No” is expanded with measured compassion.

—Mrs. Chana Rachel Schusterman

While times for silence in caregiving can be a rare gift, opportunities for defining boundaries and setting limits abound. As your loved one ages, your role can shift before your eyes. Within a given day, you may function as child, nurse, entertainment committee, adult friend, healthcare advocate, sibling and/or spouse, each role requiring a somewhat different voice. Notice that most of these roles are in response to others. How easily we forget ourselves!

When dancing with your various and mutable roles, you can remain effective by staying centered in yourself. To stay centered in yourself during caregiving, develop the habit of identifying, protecting, and asserting your own limits and bounds. Notice where your responsibility stops and another’s begins. Notice what is yours to do, and what could or should be done by others. Notice what you need in order to be effective. If what you need must come from another, but is not forthcoming, ask for it. Setting your bounds and limits in your relationships and in your life is an art of balancing control with allowing. Here are some guidelines for promoting healthy limits and boundaries:


There is no perfect limit. A boundary is determined by who you are and the situation in which you find yourself. Some of the following suggestions may help you to fine-tune your boundaries.
  • If you are a responder in conversation, practice taking up more room in conversations than you usually would. Though this may, at first, feel like a big change to you, your increase in outspokenness is most likely slight. You can afford to experiment with making room for yourself.
  • Become a curious observer of yourself (and others,) rather than a harsh critic. Be kind, yet discerning. A harsh demeanor often shuts down relationship. Kind curiosity will have you setting your boundaries within the context of who you and the other person are.
  • Confront what scares you. Look at it head-on, journal about it, describe it. It will diminish. Lack of healthy boundaries is often rooted in fear.
  • Practice tolerance of ambiguity and uncertainty. Living more easily with unknowns promotes inner peace and diminishes fear. Boundaries established from this centered place in yourself will be better aligned with your true self.
  • Notice what is yours to handle, as distinct from what is someone else’s. It is too easy to jump in to handle what could be done by others. It could be damaging to try to do what is someone else’s prerogative. It is deeply frustrating to try to fix or change what cannot be changed (like another person.)
  • Limit yourself to doing one thing at a time. Like the turtle in the race with the hare, you may get there faster. Certainly you will arrive with greater peace.
  • Adjust your limits according to your comfort level. Setting your limits too rigidly increases discomfort. Be somewhat flexible, and you’ll be less disappointed. When you are disappointed, pay attention. Disappointment can show us our unhelpful expectations, as well as what could be more realistic.
  • Refrain from reading other people's minds. Keep your attention on yourself while simply being aware of others. Listen actively and take others at their word. Then ask questions when you don’t understand. Explicit communication goes a long way toward clearly seeing the bounds and limits of each relationship.
  • Focus less on managing outcomes. As much as possible, limit yourself to what you can do in the moment. If you manage the present moment, the future frequently takes care of itself.
Here are a few suggestions for gently asserting your boundaries in conversation:

A Linguistic Prescription for Empowerment
  • Say NO (respectfully) at least twice a day.
  • Experiment with words and phrases other than NO that mean what you want to say.
  • (This will provide safety until you can release the idea that "NO" means "I don't like you.")
  • Counter self-criticism with 'SO WHAT?'
  • When someone asks a question that is invasive, instead of answering and giving information you don't want to, respond with the question, "WHY DO YOU ASK?"
  • Accept compliments. Don't deny or over-explain. Just say THANK YOU, or better, "THANKS FOR NOTICING!"
  • When someone is overstepping your boundaries, a useful neutral phrase you can say, without apologizing or over-explaining, is, "That doesn’t work for me."
  • Speak using “I” statements whenever possible. They make clear where you stand without creating unnecessary confrontation or conflict.
Experiment with any of the above approaches that feel right to you. Trust your instinct for what will work for you. The better you know yourself, the clearer it will be where you need to strengthen your boundaries or limits.

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