Growing up and growing old years are times when personal boundary setting receives more attention. The nurturing of our early years taught us one way or another about sense of self, boundary setting and the associated values. Growing up and growing old years are also times of greater dependency when personal borders tend to be more porous and ignored in both casual encounters and targeted helping relationships.
As an example of nurturance, my own boundary learning was acquired in a bicultural, bilingual Swedish-American household where I was taught not only by my parents but by my 5 year younger sister. Two specific aspects of personal boundaries of it were linked to my relationship with her. She developed a sharp sense of self very early and vehemently announced in one of her first multiple word sentences, “You ain’t the boss o’ me!” At seven, she began her long journey to becoming a highly respected professional violinist and teacher. I joined her in the first decade as I learned the skills of being a piano accompanist. During music lessons we were taught that making music together required merging both egos and skills. We worked on it in hours and hours of practicing and performances. Once we grasped the idea we were able to recognize the difference in both the quality of our performance and our experience. i.e. the emotional high’s when we achieved unity and the disappointment when we hadn’t.
Another pivotal learning experience took place at 18 when I began the clinical phase of learning to become a nurse. Here, patient care required us to regularly invade our patients’ physical borders and sometimes even the emotional ones. We were taught how to do it “professionally” and also the important ethical responsibilities.
As a nurse and later an educator, I continued to learn about professional border-related encounters. Both casual and more purposeful encounter opportunities abounded daily in relating to colleagues as well as students.
Being nudged into writing this blog has led to my seeking even more knowledge from the aged person’s needs and perspectives. My being almost housebound and living alone limits social encounters and even those may relate to my age related changes (ARCs). I’ve found I’m uncomfortable about revealing my progressing limitations and compensatory strategies that don’t work. But, on the other hand that approach is self-defeating. I do need help (or at least adaptations to my ARCs) and that help tends to be more efficient when it is tailored to real capacities, strategies, and requirements. So, pride swallowed, I try to share my status when it’s called for. What I’ve found with professional care providers is that sharing ARCed capacities requires seeing the situation from their perspective. Paid encounters are most often time limited ones where both focus and task are discipline-specific.
In a rehab center recovering from broken forearm bones (encased in a full arm splint), my treatment included physical therapy to strengthen and manage the rest of my body. The ARC data I needed to share with her was related to my ARCed stamina. Exercises and repetitions I could manage in the morning were more than I could do in the afternoon. It was viewed as failure to try so she worked on my motivation. My effort and motivation were 100% but my capacity was not. I tried to share specific ARC data in ways that didn’t sound like whining excuses or resistance, e.g. I could do isometric exercises in later hours just not mobility ones.
At 100 I’m realizing that my ARC s of decreased short term and working memory are also affected by my distractibility. (Even a rubber band for snapping on the wrist to remind me gets forgotten.)
I’ve finally become up-front about this situation and have alerted family, friends and colleagues to stop me. Some will, but people really are remarkably tolerant even with this person I don’t want to be. I also notice that while others are assessing me, I’m assessing them and then storing that information for my adaptive strategies.
It’s obvious that boundary protecting is truly complex. Still, it’s there to be dealt with, however we manage it.