Midwest City, OK (PressExposure) September 06, 2009 -- Saying NO to a parent's request without feeling guilty is extremely difficult for most of us! However, the ability to set limits with loved ones is a crucial skill needed to maintain emotional, physical, and spiritual health. When caring for an elderly parent, we need all the energy, rejuvenation time, and emotional stamina we can muster. In order to keep ourselves full rather than drained, boundaries are necessary to protect our inner reserves and physical health. For without our health, we will not able to help anyone else.
In other words, it's our responsibility to create a balance between healthy self-interest and compassionate giving. Easier said than done, right? My motto on setting limits is, "it is better to feel a short-term twinge of guilt than to carry the long-term weight of deep resentment."
My mother died of ovarian cancer over ten years ago. My brother and I were her primary caregivers, during her illness. I gladly took a leave of absence from work, and stayed with her during chemotherapy treatments, surgeries, doctor's visits, and hospital stays. At the time, I was not as clear on my personal boundaries, and did not know how to ask for help. I also neglected to monitor my own needs, and ended up feeling chronically fatigued, anxious and overwhelmed.
A month after my mother's death, I noticed what I thought was a freckle on my leg, but when I had a doctor check, we discovered it was malignant melanoma. But, luckily it was caught early. My belief is that I ran my emotional self, and my body's immune system down during this traumatic and painful time. I had ignored my own physical and emotional needs for too long. This is not to say that everyone who runs themselves down will get ill, but most people will pay some kind of price, when mixing chronic stress and self-neglect.
Caring for an elderly parent that has constant needs, is demanding, no matter how much satisfaction we derive from helping, or how useful we may feel. If I had to pick just one crucial skill for caregivers to maintain their overall sense of health and well-being, it would be SETTING BOUNDARIES.
WHAT ARE BOUNDARIES?
Boundaries are imaginary lines we establish around ourselves to protect our body, mind, heart, and spirit. They serve as an invisible force field designed to regulate our exposure to people, places, things and situations that are not in our best interest and can be unhealthy, for us.
WHY DO WE NEED BOUNDARIES?
Having boundaries enables the caregiver to separate their individual wants and needs, from that of the person they are caring for. This is vital, because many of us dismiss and devalue our own needs while placing the other person's needs in a place of higher importance. We stop listening and paying attention to our inner voice, and end up feeling tired, angry and resentful. By setting boundaries, we actually have MORE to give because our emotional and physical tank is full, rather than empty. From this place of strength, we can generously and compassionately offer our time and attention to others.
WHY DO WE HAVE SUCH A HARD TIME SETTING BOUNDARIES?
The simple answer is FEAR. If you frequently find yourself saying YES to situations when you really want to say NO, fear is most likely a factor. Examples of common fears:
1. Fear that the other person's request could cause harm to or lead to potential loss of the relationship, if you do not comply. This restricts our ability to be honest with ourselves and the other person.
2. Fear of hurting the other person's feelings. Since many of us have been taught to avoid hurting people's feelings, we repress our desires and comply - hurting ourselves instead.
3. Fear that we will appear selfish or uncaring. Not wanting others to think poorly, or talk badly about us, we try to protect our perceived reputation and don't express our true feelings.
4. Fear of being overwhelmed with guilt. Because we may be in the habit of over-extending and over-committing ourselves, guilt probably will arise when we start taking care of our self. Consider this feeling of guilt a sign of progress and a welcomed replacement to long harbored anger and resentment.
5. Fearing your boundary will not be honored or respected, and you won't know how to stand your ground. With tools, practice, and support you can gain confidence in your ability to stand up for yourself on a continuous basis.
WHAT BOUNDARY IS CRITICAL?
The boundary, I recommend, is to designate Sacred YOU Time. Set certain times for yourself when others know you will not be available to them.
Recently, a client, Caroline, set a reasonable boundary with her live-in mother. She informed her mother that she needed decompression time when she returns home from a full day's work. For her, this meant having about 45 minutes of uninterrupted, alone time, to sit in her favorite chair, sip tea, and read the newspaper. She felt guilty saying anything, because her mom was starved for attention after not having had much interaction all day. She feared she was the only one who could give the attention her mother desired, and that she would be considered a "bad daughter" if she requested special time for herself. I encouraged her to explain the situation to her mother, and find alternative ways for her mother to connect with others.
Caroline was fortunate, she has two older daughters who live close by, and she asked them to share in the care giving responsibilities. They now alternate days to keep Caroline's mother company in the late afternoon, and every other Saturday.
So, are you ready to take action and designate Sacred YOU Time? No matter what time of day you decide on, make sure to communicate this new boundary with love, and not as a way to vent about the past. Setting boundaries and saying NO, is a skill that you can master. At first, it may be awkward, but with practice, it will be a natural and empowering experience.
Whether it is family support, professional assistance, or community service, consider asking for help. Don't let pride stand in your way. You'll be an example to others through your willingness to reach out, ask for help, and be able to say NO without suffering guilt feelings.