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Setting Boundaries When You're Chronically Ill

Updated: Jan 25, 2022

Boundaries may not be something you have thought much about but, setting boundaries when you have a chronic illness is imperative. It is not always easy to do but, it is essential. They help establish communication and understanding which is important for both parties in the relationship with someone who has a chronic illness.

As a person with a chronic illness, I know how hard it is to communicate how you are feeling or what you need. There are many times I have worn myself out and then ended up in a lot of pain just because I didn't communicate with my family that I needed a break or that I couldn't do the task or thing they wanted me to do. Since being diagnosed with a chronic illness, I would say two things that I have struggled with are allowing people around me to help or lighten my load and establishing new boundaries with my family on when a task is too much for me or when we are doing a family activity or outing.

For people with chronic illnesses, learning how to let people in is important. Opening up and sharing how you feel may not necessarily be comfortable but, allowing others to take some of the load will be a huge burden off of you. Explain to your friends, partner, and family members, what you need from them, what they can do to help you, and what your limits are. In turn, they are able to support you and understand your limits and boundaries. Finding a balance on how a relationship changes when one party has chronic health issues can be difficult. It will take work on both sides to maintain a balance.

To maintain good boundaries you need to have good communication. We can’t expect people to read our minds. That same principle holds true for each and every decision that is affected by our illnesses. It is normal to just want to keep everything in. It can be hard to explain to someone you are in pain or you are too exhausted to do the things your family and friends do. The people in our lives don’t know what we’re feeling. So, there are going to be a lot of times when you are going to need to communicate what you need to ensure that you help your friends and family understand what you need.

As a person with a chronic illness, I have learned we tend to violate our own boundaries at times. For me, I tend to spend time with others to the point of physical/emotional exhaustion and I cause my pain levels to get high and I tend to not ask for help when I need it. Other ways we tend to violate our boundaries are; giving too much of ourselves without having our own needs reciprocated, not making our own emotions/opinions a priority, and not letting others know our physical/emotional limits. I think, a lot of the time we keep everything in instead of expressing our needs and feelings and when we ask for the things that we need, we feel guilty. We feel like we should be able to do what our family and friends are doing or we should be doing something different. But, often we get stuck in our heads and overthink. We need to override these thoughts and flip the beliefs we have. A limiting belief is something that is untrue, it is not based on facts, whereas a limitation is more fact-based and is something you respect and use to manage your illness. By flipping these beliefs it will allow you to have good communication and boundaries with your family and friends. Knowing your limiting beliefs and understanding your limitations will help you know where to set boundaries.

It’s also important to respect these limitations. If you don’t, then you can’t expect anyone else to and that’s where people will test the waters and cross your boundaries.

Learning to maintain boundaries and set them is a work in progress. In the beginning, you may feel guilty but, stick with it as it will get easier with time. When setting boundaries, it’s important that you don’t beat yourself up if you can’t agree to plans.

Have you been able to create boundaries around your chronic illness? Has it been a challenge? Let us know in the comments below.


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