It goes without saying that when you are in a caregiving relationship, you are likely treading in personal territory—emotionally and physically. Providing meaningful support to someone can be very rewarding, but it also requires a healthy understanding of boundaries and the development of positive behaviors for both the person providing the care and the person receiving the care. Otherwise, the best intentions can backfire. The line between friendship and the professional relationship can easily get blurred if caregivers do not take the lead in establishing boundaries.
Here are a few key steps to take:
- Know Yourself and Your Motivations. It’s likely that you became a caregiver because you get satisfaction from helping others. But why do you get that satisfaction? Is it because you think that is what you are supposed to do? Do you think that is the only way to earn love, or respect? Probably not—but it’s important to be sure of that. And, it’s important to not let that overshadow the need to take care of yourself. Examine what motivates you to provide care and then remember that you need to love yourself as well as you love others.
- Make a list of what you need to stay healthy and have the energy to give to your clients. Then, make sure you get that.
- Know where you can go to get additional support when you are feeling burned out or stressed. This includes finding someone to step in and care for your client (or loved one) when necessary. It also includes asking someone to help you out with your own personal needs.
- Avoid Over Attachment. Of course people develop preferences for certain caregivers, it’s only human nature. But, the risk is letting those preferences develop into rigid expectations. If a person becomes accustomed to seeing only one caregiver or that caregiver becomes extremely attached to their client, then, both suffer. The patient may refuse the care of others when the one caregiver is unavailable and the caregiver may lose their ability to see the person’s care objectively and therefore compromise the level of care to maintain their own feeling of control over the client’s care. To avoid this, caregivers can:
- Try to avoid frequently going out of their way to provide additional/unscheduled care to the client unless it is absolutely necessary. This is about understanding the most essential needs of the client versus what would just be nice. That’s not to say you can’t do nice things for your client, but keep it in check so that it does not become an expectation.
- Speak highly of the other caregivers whom they respect and who work with the patient as well. This sets the client up for being open to other caregivers and situations.
- Keep Communicating. It’s good to set boundaries and it’s great to review and alter them, as needed. It’s hard to know what a relationship will truly look like at the beginning, so take the time to check in with yourself and your client on a regular basis.
- Schedule times to talk about how things are going.
- Don’t let situations fester: if something arises, address it in a timely fashion.
That said, don’t feel like you have to always explain yourself when you say, “No.” If it is something that you did not agree to do in the first place or something that oversteps your boundaries, you have every right to say it. Only you know what is best for you and what is required to make sure you can provide the best care you possibly can. Yes, there are times when an explanation is necessary. But, you will know when. Don’t let the guilt monster tell you otherwise.
There are many other ways to establish healthy boundaries, but these three approaches lay a foundation for success. Keep them in mind as you approach your work and you may find that you get even greater fulfillment from what you do.