What to Do when Caregiving Boundaries Become Blurred

writing-journalCaregiving relationships can be wonderful, and complicated. We have talked about setting boundaries in these relationships, but despite your best efforts, you may still find yourself in an uncomfortable or unpleasant situation with your client or caregiver.

What do you do?

  • Don’t lose your temper. Caregiving situations are vulnerable situations, for everyone involved. It’s easy to feel taken advantage of or mistreated—but losing your temper only makes the situation worse. Recognize that something is not working, take a breath and think of how you want to communicate in a healthy way. Then,
  • Talk about it. It doesn’t matter how trivial it may seem, if it is bothering you and it happens frequently, it needs to be addressed. It can be about scheduling, extra tasks or the way people talk to you. It doesn’t matter. If you give people the chance to make it right, they often will. If they don’t, then it is not a surprise when you have to take other action to fix it.
  • Document it. Whether you are in a private or professional situation, take steps to document what is going on. Report to your employer, as things occur. Write things down if you are caring for your loved one and seek professional help with it. In this way, if a situation escalates, it is clear that you were doing your best to alleviate it.
  • Take a break. Sometimes it is really important to take a step away and gain perspective—both for the caregiver and the client. If boundaries are being threatened, take the time away from the situation to examine what it is that is not okay about it and come up with solutions. Ask another caregiver to step in or if you are the client, ask for a different caregiver to give the existing one a break.
  • Encourage self-awareness. As a caregiver, it is very important to know yourself and your boundaries, but it is also important to encourage that in your client. There are ways to gently call attention to someone’s behavior or what they are saying. You can repeat back what someone just said, or you can ask if they are feeling unwell or vulnerable, when they lash out or behave inappropriately. That simple question may open up a conversation that addresses their needs and also reinforces your boundaries. You can and should also stand up for yourself when you are mistreated. You are caring for the person; that does not mean they are allowed to abuse you in any way.
  • Review the rules. You should have already established a set of ground rules. If a problem arises in relation to the rules, then stop and go over those rules, together. If a problem arises that doesn’t relate to the rules, express the need for adding a new rule. Yes, this is about communication. It’s also about accountability. If someone can’t play by the rules, then the game is over and it’s that simple.

Hopefully, you will not find yourself in this kind of situation, but if you do, you have the power to create a positive outcome. Feel free to share your success stories with us. We all can learn from these experiences.

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