Robert Frost wrote in one of his poems that “good fences make good neighbors.” There is no fence between my house and my neighbor’s, and we cross the boundaries of our properties when we mow part of each other’s yard or pick up the trash. We don’t have a fence, but we do have boundaries. I know better than to weed his flower bed, and he knows better than to weed ours. We have a friendship going, and the boundaries we have in place provide room for the friendship to grow.

Kevin Mandt forwarded an email to me recently with a question about boundaries. “How do we respond when someone we support in our professional role says they love us? Boy, that’s a tough one. Here is my answer:
“To help me in such situations, I always had a picture of someone I loved on my desk, and when an individual I supported told me they loved me, I pointed to that picture and said “I love them, and I hope someday you find someone to love like I love them. Until then, we can respect each other, and enjoy talking with each other and spending time talking.” With children below the age of 6 I would be respond with “I love you and all the children here” if the child says they love me.”

It seems to me that there are many factors at play here in understanding how to respond within our caregiver roles. David Pitonyak writes that in his opinion, the primary problem facing the people served in what he calls the “human service industry” is loneliness. What people need is friendship, and our role is not to be a friend, but to help people develop unpaid relationships, unpaid friendships.

Being connected to one other person was a central reason researchers found to explain quality of life. In a 2013 study at the University of Northern Florida, Inna Kleynshteyn found that people who had high levels of connectedness had lower levels of depression and an increase in well-being and physical energy among people with chronic illness.

What people need, I feel, is to feel connected to someone else. Dr. Brene Brown writes and talks extensively about empathy and having that feeling of connectedness. Here is a link to a video on the topic:

If you do watch the video, please note this: if I were doing the video, the hug at the end would have been side to side ☺

Bob Bowen – Senior Adjunct Faculty