During my recent webinar on boundaries I was asked a very good question.
As a care taker for a loved one, it is difficult to watch them make choices that cause more problems (pain, symptoms that cause problems, etc). But I will always be the care taker no matter what - even though poor choices makes my job harder. I can't figure out how to set a boundary about this. How can I not feel frustrated at the consequences of poor choices?
There is a lot to consider here, so I will answer this in parts over the next several weeks. Many of us have probably faced similar scenarios, so though I'm using this question as a prompt, my suggestions are directed at all of us, not just the lovely person who submitted the question. :-)
So the first thing we want to do is differentiate between the things we can control and the things we can't.
We don't have control over how our patients (or our loved ones) behave.
We don't have control over whether they like or respect us, or whether they value the education we give them, or whether they prioritize their health the way we would like them to.
Whether they are sick and tired or in perfect health, it is totally their choice as to whether they want to find the strength to overcome and change bad habits, or whether they retreat into comfortable old patterns, even if those patterns are detrimental.
(You might notice the fact that you, too, have this same choice for yourself.)
Pro tip: If you are focused on controlling things you can't control, then there is probably a very good chance you are going to end up feeling frustrated.
Because it leads us to having thoughts such as “If only he would do what he was supposed to do, then everything would be better.” Or “If he listened to what I was trying to tell him this would all be so much easier.”
But in either of those scenarios, you are delegating responsibility for your emotions to your patient. If he does what I want then I will be happy, and if he doesn't, then things will be hard and I will be unhappy. It is completely in his hands and I just have to wait and see what he will do before I know how to feel.
Ask yourself, is the role of victim really where you want to put yourself in this relationship? (I doubt it, and yet so many of us do this all the time.)
I can hear the objections now, and yes, it is normal for us to want our patients to do well, and to want to strive for the best possible outcomes. But do you think your frustration and anger and irritation are going to do anything to improve their outcome?
Is it going to do anything to improve yours?
The good news is that while our control over others is tenuous and illusory at best, the thing we can control, if we want, is our our own thoughts and behavior.
The question you might want to ask yourself is this: if not frustration and anger, what do you want to feel when you are caring for your patient?
Until next week,
PS. I'm looking for suggestions and questions that I might address in a future webinar. Reply to this message if you have any!