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Information about the author of this post.
tlwe223's picture Terri Weber, MSW, CSW
Elder Care Specialist
College or Department
Work-Life and Well-Being
Phone Number
(859) 218-0457
Email Address

Whether you become a caregiver gradually, or suddenly due to a crisis; whether you are a caregiver willingly or by default, taking care of yourself is as important as taking care of someone else. It’s difficult to set boundaries with our loved ones, family and friends, but learning to set boundaries is a sign of self-care and self-respect.

Setting boundaries can help you regain and maintain a sense of balance over your caregiving situation. When healthy boundaries are not established, feelings of disappointment and anger can build up, leaving the caregiver exhausted and stressed. Establishing boundaries is essential in making sure your caregiving relationship is mutual, respectful, supportive and caring. What starts out as a genuine sense of joy over caregiving can quickly turn into feelings of obligation and resentment. Not setting boundaries can lead to an unhealthy and toxic relationship. Insisting that your loved one change their behavior is an exercise in futility; you need to decide what behaviors you are willing and not willing to tolerate from others.

5 telltale signs that your boundaries are blurred

  • You feel resentful…often. Resentment is the sense you are being treated unfairly.
  • You feel tired and exhausted. You work, manage a household and are a caregiver. This leaves very little time for you and your needs. You are so busy taking care of other things and other people that you have no time left for self-care. You are burned out.
  • You feel compliant, obligated. You feel a sense of duty and responsibility for providing care for your loved one; you no longer feel the joy.   
  • You feel overwhelmed…most of the time. There is too much on your plate, and too much to handle in your life.
  • You feel anxious. You dread what your caregiving future holds and if you will be able to keep going.

How to establish boundaries

What are your boundaries?
Boundaries are a set of guidelines on how you want to be treated, what you are willing to do and how you want others to behave around you.

Oftentimes, caregivers become all things to their loved one, and vice versa. The line between caregiver and care recipient becomes blurred, leaving personal boundaries unclear and permeable. This alone can lead to caregiver burnout.
Communicate your boundaries
Once you’ve thought through and established what your boundaries are, you will need to communicate those boundaries with your loved one, family and friends. Be firm, but kind. When explaining your boundaries, there is no need to be callous or snide. Dropping hints or being passive-aggressive will only lead to anger and defensiveness. Be direct and explicit in what you are willing to tolerate and what you aren’t.   

Learning to say no…with no other words following it…can be challenging. Keep it simple; you don’t need to over-explain why you don’t want to do something. For many, saying no can feel uncomfortable, almost rude. But it is your right to protect your physical, personal and emotional space. A way to start is by saying no to the little things. Taking small steps will help you build your confidence in maintaining your boundaries when the bigger, more important issues come along.

Saying no can be a good thing. When you say yes to everything, you start to feel taken advantage of and exhausted. A caregiver’s time and energy are limited, and priorities need to be set. Saying no gives you control over your time and energy and allows you the opportunity to rest and recharge. This makes your caregiving situation more convenient for you.

Consequences for crossing boundaries
Once you have established and communicated what your boundaries are, they need to be respected. But when boundaries are crossed, consequences must follow. Consequences should not be punitive. They must remind the person that their behavior crossed a line.
3 things you can do when boundaries are violated

  1. Get up and leave. You don’t have to explain yourself, you don’t have to apologize. Just leave.
  2. Step back, or away, from your caregiving situation. Provide less help and reduce the time you spend with your loved one. Depending on your loved one’s capabilities, you might have to make arrangements for their care. This will take some planning and might involve things like recruiting other family members to step in for you, hiring in-home care, enrolling your loved one in an adult day care program, arranging for a temporary respite stay at a long-term care facility, or looking for long-term placement at a care facility.
  3. After you have communicated your boundaries and explained the consequences that will follow if the boundary lines are crossed, it’s important to stay true to your word. Don’t make empty promises. If nothing else, hopefully the consequences will help you find some peace and help others to realize they overstepped…again.

Establishing and maintaining boundaries is important in building and preserving a healthy relationship with your loved one. At first, setting boundaries may feel uncomfortable, but over time these boundaries will feel like your new normal. Remember, standing up for yourself is never wrong.

Stay well, stay connected,