Expressing Love by Setting Limits

Posted on May 1, 2012


Are you a caregiver? Do you know someone who is?

If you are a caregiver it is vital that you keep yourself and your needs in focus through the caregiving period of your life. You know how difficult caregiving can be; it often requires extraordinary commitment, energy, and time.

It can be easy for a caregiver to ignore their own needs. Over time, as they become absorbed in the needs of the person receiving care, they can cease to care for their own well-being. One important way that caregivers can take care of their own needs is to establish and maintain loving limits. Loving limits require establishing flexible boundaries. Loving limits require that people honestly give care with open communication. Caregivers who ignore their own needs eventually burn out. Anger and frustration often accompany this phase. Burnout can develop when boundaries have been ill-defined, and when open and direct communication with the care recipient has not occurred.

Boundaries define emotional and behavioral limits. They act as parameters that define how caregiver–care recipient relationships work. Boundaries delineate what an individual will and will not accept in their own and others’ behavior. Ill-defined or nonexistent boundaries set up the caregiver for problems and powerful negative emotional responses. If boundaries are unclear or nonexistent, it is possible to change the situation and establish clear and reasonable boundaries. These tips can help.

  • Explore the situation. Are you comfortable with the boundaries and routines you have established? If so, congratulations. If not, read on.
  • Determine the care recipient’s authentic needs. Are you meeting his or her needs? Are you meeting your own needs?
  • How are you feeling? Are you often angry or frustrated? Do you feel burned out?

If so, something in the caregiving routine must change. Caregivers cannot continue indefinitely when they are feeling strong negative emotions. Look at the situations that elicit strong emotions. These are probably areas where you will choose to establish stronger, more consistent boundaries. Remember, boundaries are often felt out rather than figured out. Listen to your feelings!

  • Determine a plan of action for setting boundaries and maintaining them. Have a face-to-face, heart-to-heart conversation with the care recipient to discuss what is and is not working and why things need to change. There are three important aspects of this communication: First, define what is happening; second, describe how you are feeling; and third, define what you need to change to feel better. Explain how the two of you need to openly address issues and problem-solve situations together. Describe your relationship as a partnership.
  • Take a personal time-out on a regular basis. Answer these questions: “How am I doing today?” “What do I need to do to improve my well-being?”
  • Give yourself permission to change the routine.
  • Seek help if you feel overwhelmed and can’t see how to make changes.

I know it’s easy for me to sit here and say this, I’m not the one giving the care and each situation is different. However, I did take the time to become a Certified Senior Advisor so I could help with situations like this so let me share some ideas with you.

If you are feeling overwhelmed the sooner you get extra help, the better it will be for you the person you care for. Keep in mind it may take some time to find the right combination of services and support so start now.

  1. Family. The best starting place is with immediate family members. Use family helpers as much as possible. If they do not volunteer to help do not hesitate to ask them how they would like to contribute to the care of their loved one. One family member may be better suited for running errands while another is good at paying bills and some may not be local but would help financially. Not everyone is willing or able to contribute the same level of care. To keep both family and friends kept up to date use CareTogether.
  2. Friends. If friends, neighbors, distant relatives ask if there is anything they can do to help, say yes. Better yet, ask them if they can help. Many people will stand on the side lines assuming that everything is going great. When they say yes, assign them a specific task. For example, it might be helpful if they brought over dinner once a week, or maybe they could mow the lawn, or drive your loved one to see the doctor. Ask them to be a respite caregiver for a couple of hours so that you get a break.
  3. Area Agency on Aging. This should be one of the first resources you should contact. Almost every state has one or more AAAs, which serve local communities. You can find your local agency listed in the phone book or on the Internet.
  4. Local senior center. Most senior centers offer some services or can connect you with local community services. Also, senior centers are a good place to network with other caregivers.
  5. Churches and synagogues. Even if you are not affiliated with a church or synagogue, many offer caregiving help to people of all faiths. Even if they do not offer caregiving help they may be able to point you in the right direction.
  6. Local organizations. Contact your local United Way, Jewish Family Services, Lions Club.
  7. National organizations. For almost every ailment or illness there is an organization that can provide referrals or services. You can find listings on the Internet, yellow pages, and at your local public library.
  8. Government agencies. Contact your local health department, and departments of housing and social service. Look in the yellow pages.
  9. Adult Day Care. Adult day care agencies offer programs with varying services. To find adult day care services, check your local phone book or check out the Internet.
  10. Home Health Care Agencies. Most home health care agencies offer both skilled and custodial care. Home health care can be expensive. Medicare may pay for some skilled care.
  11. Don’t forget to use the free technology that you have available to you to privately share information with family and close friends while allowing those who are interested, like the church group or bowling league general information that you approve for them. You can keep up to everyone up to date with CareTogether so you are not updating all the friends and family on a continual basis.
  • Keep track of upcoming events like doctor appointments, birthdays, and anniversaries. Sync events with your Outlook or Google calendar, too!
  • Share memorable moments through photos, updates, and journal entries. You can even post updates from CareTogether® to Facebook if you choose!
  • Condition-specific resources equip you and your team with information for handling situations you may encounter when caring for your loved one.
  • Task list templates include: a home safety checklist, guide to interviewing a new caregiver, creating an emergency contact list, long distance caregiver checklist, and more.
  • Special medical resources that are disease specific help you research a condition with material written for laymen.
  • Telling family and friends about your new CareTogether® page is easy – send an invite on Facebook or load your contacts from Gmail and Outlook and send them an e-mail.
  • PLUS: Access to local skilled nursing care 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Finally, check to see if there are Certified Senior Advisors in your area.  The URL is and we are scattered around the country. Many of us are in a business that serves seniors on a daily bases and have networks of people that may be able to help.

It is a good idea to keep a notebook of all the people you contact. The more organized you are, the easier your job will be.

Rick Morey is associated with BrightStar of Downtown Houston, Texas, an in-home health care company serving anyone that needs in-home health care in the greater Houston area.

BrightStar of Downtown Houston

From childcare to elder care, the BrightStar of Downtown Houston team provides peace of mind. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our Director of Nursing ensures that each client receives the highest level of care administered by highly qualified personnel.