Setting Appropriate Boundaries

We have all had those times in public where we’ve seen people not being treated well by those around them. Many of these instances occur when one individual is taking care of another, such as a parent with a child or a caregiver with a client. It is a natural reaction for us to judge the caretaker even when we don’t understand the whole situation and what has led to it. Of course, we end up seeing things differently or more clearly when we find ourselves in the role of caretaker and we, ourselves, have to learn how to handle problems in a professional manner.

Many vulnerable people, including elderly clients, will act in a way that reflects their desire for freedom and they may have unhealthy boundaries with their caregivers.

How do we handle this appropriately? 

Most individuals have an idea of what is right or wrong, but there will always be variation—or put another way, a situation is rarely black or white. The best way to minimize the occurrence of these tough situations is to know where each person’s boundaries lie.  If we have a clear idea of our beliefs and what we are willing to deal with, as well as what the other individual expects of the situation, then we will be able to stand our ground more effectively when a client is acting inappropriately. Also, knowing what unhealthy boundaries and behaviors look like is crucial to being able to respond quickly and appropriately when a situation arises.

A person with unhealthy boundaries and behaviors can demonstrate these characteristics:

  • Openly shares all information about themselves
  • Speaks intimately at the very first meeting
  • Easily falls in love with an acquaintance
  • Takes as much as possible, regardless of need
  • Gives as much as he/she can give, just for the sake of giving
  • Believes others should anticipate his/her and fulfill their needs
  • Falls apart to prompt someone to take care of them
  • Is abusive to themselves
  • Compromises their personal values or rights to please others
  • Allows people to take advantage of him/her
  • Exhibits food and/or chemical abuse
  • Participates in sexual and/or physical abuse
  • Demonstrates rage, anger, or yelling
  • Has poor personal hygiene
  • Often cusses, uses offensive language, or makes inappropriate comments
  • Is paranoid and/or has hallucinations
  • Shows obsessive behaviors
  • Hoards items

Of course, if we recognize these characteristics and the potential for tough situations to arise, we must know how to handle them:

  • In most cases, first identifying the cause or trigger of the behavior can help. For example, as people age, there is a lot that happens to bring about frustration, loneliness, and fear. If you can address those things, the situation can subside.
  • However, if finding a trigger and addressing it is not a viable option, distraction can also work. Try redirecting the person’s thoughts and tell happy stories or jokes to diffuse a situation.
  • Sometimes, our clients just need validation. They want to know that they are being heard and understood, so agreeing with what they are thinking or feeling can be helpful, especially with individuals who have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Having a set routine can greatly help with several of the behaviors that are not appropriate. When someone knows what to expect, they can learn how to act.
  • Of course, it is a bit harder to alleviate situations in public, but the best option is to remove the client from the public place and set down rules for future outings. This involves setting goals for your clients, so that they can enjoy going out and doing what they like to do, while ensuring that your own beliefs are not being changed or challenged.

We are all human and we make mistakes, but as caregivers, our responsibility is to understand boundaries and set guidelines and practices in place to protect our clients, and ourselves.

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