By Karen Bromberg


So, when we speak about boundaries, what do we mean?


In a previous blog post entitled “The Importance of Learning to Say “No”, I discussed the reasons why we might say “Yes” when we really want to say “No”. Today I want to take it one step further. Today I want to talk about boundaries, what they are and why it’s important to have good ones. As caregivers, our boundaries are going to be tested, sometimes on a daily basis.


So what are boundaries? I like to think of them as invisible lines or walls, that if penetrated is immediately felt. There’s a discomfort, and usually, we find that we step back physically or mentally if we find someone’s crossed them.


Back in the 60s, there was a phrase when someone (usually from the opposite sex) was getting too close. “Hey man,” one might hear, “you’re invading my space.”


That’s what I mean of when I talk about boundaries, somebody crossing that invisible line and entering into your space.


Author Z. Hereford in an article on titled Healthy Personal Boundaries & How to Establish Them, says that “Personal boundaries are the physical, emotional and mental limits we establish to protect ourselves from being manipulated, used, or violated by others.”


We know what it feels when someone’s crossed a boundary, the uncomfortable sensation in the pit of our stomachs when someone whines and wheedles because we know they’re trying to play (or manipulate) us.


And, in my experience, it is worse when we’re caregivers. The stakes are higher and we are more vulnerable because the people we are dealing with are people we love. Our siblings who won’t lift a finger to help us out taking care of Mom, but always manage to somehow to be in crisis and ask you for help. You want to say something, but how can you? She’s your little sister. The spouse who seems to resent the time we spend at with Mom and Dad, thinking we’re having a good time when we’re busy doing the food shopping and helping them with their meals and bills. You want to say “Buzz off,” as you fall on the couch dead tired, but you don’t because he is so good and kind in other ways that you simply can’t. And then there’s our boss who REALLY wants us to stay late at the office to see a client he’s trying to avoid even though know what’s going on at home. Now, he could he ask someone else, but you are the only one out of everyone in the office he can rely on. What are you going to do?


Okay, I get it. But, why are boundaries so hard to set?


The “problem” with setting boundaries, at least the way I see it, is that we don’t want to be stubborn or rigid or inflexible. We don’t even want to appear it. We like it when people view us as the kind, helpful, “go-out-your-way” sort we view ourselves, am I right?


But as Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT says in What Are Personal Boundaries? How Do I Get Some? on says, “Love can’t exist without boundaries.”


We say yes then get angry or resentful. And if that’s the way we roll, we’re  not going to change once we become caregivers. In fact, we may get more entrenched. And as Margarita Tatakovsky, M.S. says in her article on entitled 10 Way to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries, “boundary-building is a relatively new concept and a challenging one.”


So what do we do?


To my mind, the first thing is to become aware when our boundaries have been crossed become aware of that we’re feeling uncomfortable, angry, etc. Of when we’re feeling:


  • the tightness in the belly,
  • the discomfort in the head,
  • the feeling of wanting to lash out or get up and leave.


Just notice it. Nothing more and nothing less.  As the saying goes, everything flows from awareness. We don’t have to do anything about it. Becoming aware already sets different wheels in motion. Then try to determine when those physical feelings started. Was it:

Then try to determine when those physical feelings started. Was it:

  • when your coworker told that joke you found offensive?
  • when your spouse called to tell you he’s bringing friends home for dinner that you didn’t plan on?
  • when your sister called and said that she can’t possibly take Mom for her doctor’s appointment tomorrow, can you?


Once you know all that, then you can decide how you want to respond. The ball is in your court. You have control and can decide to respond in any way that you deem appropriate. The tail no longer wags the dog, And that doesn’t mean you saying “No” to everything all the time. You may, in fact, say “Yes” every single time to every single request put to you. The difference is that it’s now the choice is yours.


Got it! But isn’t setting boundaries as a caregiver something completely different?


Yes and no. True, it’s easier to set boundaries when the people you are dealing with aren’t family or people you’re emotionally involved with. Those folks you can walk from. But when it comes to family . . .


That’s a toughy, isn’t it?


Setting boundaries with loved ones, especially elderly and/or ailing loved ones, can be a REAL challenge. Guilt aside, we really don’t want to be yelling at our elderly parents or sick loved ones. And we always want what’s best for them. We want them healthy and happy, their well being uppermost in our minds. So what do we do?

The same thing I laid out above.


  1. Become aware of what’s going on with you:
    • mentally,
    • physically,
    • see where there might be tightness: in the shoulders, the lower back, the belly.


  1. Determine when you started feeling that way.
    • Did someone say something?
    • Did someone do something?


  1. Then take a few moments to think about how you want to react.
    • Ignore it? A totally reasonable thing to do.
    • Respond to it? But instead of the habitual knee jerk response typically given, you might find a new, more measured and positive response coming out of your lips.

Can hurt to try it.


Did you find this information useful? If so, please let us know in the comments section below.

Karen Bromberg is the founder of as well as a certified caregiving consultant. Check her out on Facebook. Feel free to join her FREE Facebook group, the Caregiver’s Community. All you have to do is click the green “Join” button on the top of the page. If you’d like to connect with Karen directly, feel free to contact her at