“NO is a complete sentence.” – Anne Lamott
I’m a recovering people pleaser. I tend to avoid conflict. I’d rather put up with nonsense than make a scene. My natural instinct is to flight rather than fight. Or tend and befriend rather than speak up. These are bad qualities to have and I hate admitting them. Largely because when I write them down, I am forced to confront it, and I don’t like confrontation, so I’d rather just look the other way. Hypocrisy at its finest!
But I digress.
Being a people-pleaser has its advantages in many social settings, sure. It generally makes you amicable and friendly and people like those things in a person. But being too focused on pleasing other people generally means you consistently give yourself the short end of the stick, and you sacrifice what matters to you for the sake of the other. And self-sacrifice CAN be a good thing, do not get me wrong there. The distinction is if we do it only because we are afraid to say no and want to avoid confrontation and an uncomfortable situation, we are not giving selflessly. We are letting our interior walls crumble and failing to protect our own standards. Drawing poor boundaries is setting ourselves up for disaster. For letting people take a little more than they give. For allowing yourself to feel guilty for choosing your way over theirs, even when completely justified.
This is one of those delicate and difficult areas of care-giving no one really warns you about. Take care of yourself, get good sleep, ask for help, yes, yes, and yes. But knowing when to say No? Knowing where the line is between fulfilling your care giving responsibilities and being suckered into either a punching bag or a slave? That’s tough. And so much guilt and resentment and bitterness arises from that blurred line. We already give and take on so much, it’s hard not to feel obligated to help with even more. When asked or expected to do what is outside the true nature of your loved ones needs… how do you firmly say NOT MY JOB. If you are doing a task and your loved one isn’t satisfied but it’s sufficient… who gets their way? If the priorities of your loved one are different than yours, who wins? If you want to crash on the couch but they want company, are you required to be constant support?
When your life becomes wrapped up in the daily agenda of another grown human, it doesn’t take long to feel responsible not only for the well being of that person, but their emotions and happiness. Just because you are a caregiver does NOT mean you are responsible for meeting every need of your loved one. It does not make you responsible for their happiness or require you to be their entertainment.
You are still your own person, you can still have your own opinions and your own life. You can care, care, care all day, but at the end of the day, you can draw a circle around yourself, your core values, your dreams, your passions, and not let anyone else take those things from you. We all get to have boundaries, no matter how many times in a day we’re sacrificing for another. And really, the more care giving you do, the more critical it is to have good boundaries in place.
So what do good boundaries look like and how do you establish them? Consider writing down your own rules of engagement or boundary lines that matter to you. Some examples…
- I am entitled to my own opinions and emotions.
- It is ok to say NO to what I cannot or do not want to do.
- As a caregiver, I have the responsibility to ensure this person is safe and basic needs met. If I cannot meet certain needs, it is ok to ask for help elsewhere.
- As a caregiver, it is not my job to make another person happy. I am not responsible for their emotions. I treat this person with dignity and respect, but am not responsible for their emotions. I am here to assist and reduce frustrations, but am not here to meet unreasonable demands.
- I deserve to be treated with respect and kindness.
- I am entitled to seek relief and respite and enjoy my own shenanigans.
It’s a very slippery slope and I find myself constantly on it. Sometimes I slide and sometimes I stand firm. Boundaries are a critical way to protect YOU as a caregiver and YOU as a person. It is okay to say NO and to not justify it to your loved one or anyone else.
How do you draw healthy boundaries in your caregiving relationship?