Set Limits…But Don’t Expect People to Like It

Levels to Setting Limits

Loss and care taking have deepened my experience of setting healthy boundaries. My father died from cancer 4 years ago this month. My mom was diagnosed with moderate Alzheimer’s shortly after my father’s death. Walking alongside those painful experiences with them meant (and continues to mean) that I had to be present and tackle many difficult things that I had no experience with. I had to learn to take care of my parents (legally, medically, emotionally and so on). I had to do all of these things whether I was:

  • tired
  • sad
  • scared
  • busy
  • uncertain
  • shocked or
  • overwhelmed.

Those two experiences have taught me more about setting limits than all of my prior years of being a therapist. Many people that know me would think, “She is great at setting limits.” While there is some truth to that, what I have learned is that there are levels to setting limits. The closer to home it gets for me, the harder it is.

“Care Taking” a Sibling

In my experience, it has been easy to set limits in my career and in business. It has been super easy to set limits with strangers. What’s difficult is setting limits with the people I love. I didn’t recognize it, but I was slowly seeding my life to my loved one’s needs. Five years ago one of my siblings lost their job and I said, “Sure, come stay with me.”  I was thinking until “you get on your feet.”  Five years later little to no progress had been made:

  • My sibling ran out of savings,
  • was seriously under employed, and
  • has deteriorated in their health.

At the same time, my business was growing. I was trying to maintain my business/livelihood while my family was demanding more and more of me. I was not expressing myself fully to the members of my family that needed to know my limits. I would make half-hearted attempts to express my “concerns” but not state my limits.

I never wanted to parent any of my siblings. I particularly did not want to be or feel responsible for another person who is capable of taking care of themselves. My home used to be my refuge and it became a place I no longer had to myself.

Setting Limits is Thankless

The truth is setting limits can be a thankless experience. Most people aren’t going to say “Thank you for setting that limit with me.” The reality is that setting limits is what defines you. When I wasn’t saying “No”,  I was losing vital aspects of my self. My blood pressure was going up, along with my weight. My social life hit a wall and I struggled to make time for anything fun.

My massage therapy appointments were the only self care I kept consistently. It was keeping me from imploding. As we approached 2018, a limit was forming in my mind and spirit. I thought, by the end of 2018 my sibling needs to be on their own. The truth was…I couldn’t make it through another year. The truth was my sibling had a place to go…and that was to live with and help take care of our mother.

Finally, a day happened that I thought would break me…but it turned out to be a break through. I didn’t share all of the details of this challenging day…but suffice it to say things could not continue as they were. I wrote about it in my blog post on January 24, 2018 “Today Didn’t Go As Planned.”

Since the end of January 2018, I set a limit with my sibling. I essentially said “Enough, I won’t do this anymore.” I didn’t want any further encroachment in my home and in my life. I needed more help looking after my mom. I was willing to possibly lose the relationship with my sibling to save myself. To some people, that might seem like an overstatement. But in my family it is not. I have seen this sibling cut people (including family) out of their life and virtually never speak to them again, thus cutting off important relationships and social support. Somehow I was the last person standing. But I couldn’t stand for it any more.

I couldn’t fix it for my sibling and I couldn’t let myself drown in the financial strain, emotional stress and worry. I finally set a limit with the person with whom I shared a womb. The person who I’m told I gave my bottle to as an infant when he was finished with his.

Setting Limits is Liberating

Setting that limit was perhaps one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But when I did it, I literally felt like life was being preserved. My twin and I speak a lot less and really only about caring for my mom. I thought that would hurt…but it doesn’t. For the first time in 5 years I am not dual focused on my brother’s survival and my own. For the first time in 5 years I feel that my home is once again my refuge. A place where I can fully rest and recover from the challenges of the day. A place where I can invite guests (if I want) and they will be welcomed.

My mom needs me to take care of things for her because she is no longer able. While that is difficult, it is a labor of love. Not setting limits with my twin was possibly holding him back…but it definitely held me back.

I don’t know if you have anyone you need to set limits with or who they are to you. What I can tell you is that limit setting can renew your life force. Setting limits can be liberating. Healthy boundaries are an important reminder that you only have one life to live (at a time, I suppose) and that life is yours. It is important to honor and protect your life and to let those who are able to take care of their own life.

Copyright © 2018 Ruby Blow. All rights reserved.

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