Boundary setting can be challenging for adult siblings as often many of us have grown up feeling that we have to be the ‘easy child’, or the one who is supposed to make things better for our disabled brother/sister and families. Many of us feel that we grew up being accustomed to putting our needs aside. We recognise that we’ve carried this difficulty in setting boundaries into our adult lives, whether that be with our families, relationships, or friendships.
The East London Adult Sibling group discussed the challenges of boundary setting and the feelings of guilt, responsibility and rejection that come with it. We shared our experiences of boundary setting talking about what boundaries look like for us, and some of the things that help us keep boundaries in place. Of course, boundary setting is not without its challenges, but some examples of boundary setting in the group included:
- Identifying what is valuable to you and what your specific needs are: This allows us to understand which boundaries are important.
- Writing down what your boundary is and how you want to express it. This can help in serving as a reminder. Come back to it when you are struggling.
- Protecting your time: Keeping certain evenings of the week free for yourself to dedicate time towards things you enjoy or that make you feel good.
- ‘Protecting your space’, in certain areas of your life such as work, certain friendships or relationships: Here, members of the group discussed keeping ‘protected spaces’ with work colleagues, certain friends or family. These people either didn’t know about our responsibility towards our disabled brother/sister(s) or agreed not to discuss the situation (unless raised by the sibling). This helped members ensure they have protected spaces where discussions are not always centred around their disabled brother/sister’s care and support.
- Protecting your space physically: Having a room in your house or living away from home helped siblings feel they had a safe space that was theirs. This allows siblings to physically remove themselves if emotional triggers come up or if they need a bit of a breather.
- If someone is not maintaining your boundary, keep strong and be sure to re-communicate it to them and anyone else who might help enforce it. It may be new for your sibling, family or friends, so it is important to remember that it may take them some time, but it is really important to keep your boundaries in place!
As a group, we reflected that boundary setting is not easy and sometimes friends and family will not understand. It can also be challenging to have difficult conversations with loved ones. Being kind to yourself and showing yourself compassion and giving the process of establishing boundaries is the most important thing.
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