How to Deal With a Mentally Ill Person: Setting Boundaries
When someone you love becomes sick with a mental illness and refuses to get help, there are a lot of emotions that you will experience. Some of them will come right away, some of them will come slowly. One of the most surprising is grief.
To someone who has not faced this, it may be hard to understand how you can grieve a living person. The terrible thing about mental illness is that the person themselves change. It's often a gradual change, from healthy to ill, but they do change. As the mental illness holds onto them, like in cases of schizophrenia, dementia, and many other mental illnesses that are gripping those we love, the person gets sicker and sicker. Unlike other illnesses, their personality changes, they may become paranoid or even volatile. One moment you are talking to the person you used to know, the next, you find them screaming at you and you don't recognize the person before you. This can happen from day to day, or even moment to moment. Unfortunately, as a loved one, we need to learn to cope with this new change. We need to grieve the loss we are experiencing and begin setting new boundaries.
Setting boundaries does not mean outright rejection. It means that I am limiting their influence on my life. This is probably the hardest part of this kind of grief, because where the boundaries should be is different for every person. The ill person may deal with certain people better than others. And different people deal with someone with mental illness more easily than others.
One book I strongly recommend is called . It teaches how to set up healthy boundaries. It is not mean or heartless. It is self-preservation, love for yourself, respect for yourself. And often times it is also better and more healthy for the sick person as well. Boundaries
One question to ask yourself when setting up boundaries is does that person take advantage of you. If they take advantage of you, it's important for you to learn to say, "no." Until you learn to say no, they will continue to take advantage of you. You may feel you have a responsibility to that person, the truth is that if they are an adult, even if they are your child, you do not have a responsibility to be at their beck and call. In some cases saying, "no" is actually being more loving to that person, especially in cases of enabling.
Also, when we set up boundaries towards our loved ones, it allows us to better help them, since our emotions are not worn and patience lost.
Are You an Enabler?
Also, you need to be honest with yourself. One of the hardest question, especially as a parent, needs to ask themselves is am I enabling this person. Many parents of mentally ill adult children, feel that they need to care for that person, even though that person is capable of caring for themselves. By setting up boundaries, you are making them take responsibility of themselves and their actions. It also teaches them to become more independent.
Friends, siblings, etc can also do this. Are you allowing them to worsen than illness and preventing them from getting the help they need. This needs to be assessed very carefully since it's easy to make excuses for your reasons for intervening or helping the person out. Often we have good intention with disastrous results.
Is This a Toxic Relationship
Another thing you need to ask yourself; is this a toxic relationship? A toxic relationship means any type of relationship where you are being abused mentally, verbally, or physically. This is the hardest kind of boundary because, for your own protection, you need to distance yourself from the abuser. It's hard to distance ourselves from someone we love. We often want to a martyr in order to help the other person. We cannot do that at the expense of ourselves. This is not a selfish tactic.
When we allow others to abuse us, we are incapable of helping those around us who do need help. You may be allowing yourself to be abused by this person, at the expense of helping other people, such as your own children, or if the person is your child, your other children. You may find yourself focused on your ill child, you neglect the others. You may also neglect your marriage.
When a person is toxic in your life, you may need to decide when they are no longer allowed in your life. Your heart will break, that's normal, but you are not only protecting yourself but those around you. By cutting off toxic relationships it allows your other relationships to blossom.
Allow Yourself To Grieve
Once you have set up boundaries, allow yourself time to cry. The one thing you need to remember is that you are losing someone. Maybe they are physically present in your life, but mentally the person you once loved is gone. Let yourself mourn. Remember the good times, but know that the good times you had were not with this person. It was a healthy version of this person. You can hope you will have them back but be realistic. In most cases, unless that person seeks medical help, they will never be back. They may have moments where they are doing better than other times, but expect that things can change right back quickly.
Mental illness is a terrible set of diseases. There is not enough known about the human brain to cure for such diseases. Although it does not take away life, it takes away the quality of life. It can affect those around the ill person more drastically than any other type of illness. Be honest with yourself, be realistic, set up boundaries, and let yourself grieve.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Why do you mean when you write that mentally ill people are mean to the ones closest to them and nice to the outsiders?
I believe that as the nature of all people, we tend to be the meanest to those we love because we have the protection that they will still love us. We tend to treat those we do not know with respect or at least kind. Somebody who is mentally ill is the same. When they are having a hard day, they are going to allow that frustration to come out more around those they feel safe with. Unfortunately, a mentally ill person tends to have a harder time not sharing these emotions outwardly, and may be more aggressive, meaner than if they were able to control their emotions better. It is for this reason why they sometimes have difficulty even with those they do not know.Helpful 16
What is the name of the book about setting boundaries?
Boundaries by Henry Cloud. It is an excellent book. There is a workbook and video series as well.Helpful 5
What if you are afraid of a mentally ill person, and you cannot get professionals to help?
Unfortunately, you need to think of your safety. If you can get the police involved, that is the first step. Be prepared that false accusations could be brought against yourself. If you successfully get the police involved, you can seek a restraining order.
If you live with the person, you may need to consider moving or evicting the person. If you are married, you may want to seek a women's shelter. These are only small pieces of advice from a non-professional. The best bet is to seek a therapist for yourself who can help advise you and help you heal, and possibly lawyers if you are living with them or married to them. If they are your children, you need to show tough love, possibly change locks, etc.Helpful 8
I am the direct support staff for a 19-year-old male. How can I set boundaries with him?
There are many factors to consider. Without knowing the boundary issues and the nature of your relationship, it is hard to say precisely. I do know that you need to be clear and direct. Avoid noncommittal language such as, "I wish you would...," or "I don't like when you...." This does not give any direction.
Instead, you need to say very firm, direct statements such as, "Do not do...," and "Please do...."
If you are soft natured like me, you may find that you naturally are soft in not only how you say things, but the words you use. You need to make sure your words are very clear. If there is any ambiguity, then someone who has boundary issues will take advantage of that.Helpful 7
How do I cope when both of my parents are mentally ill? I also have the bad luck of being from a country where most people are frustrated with life and abuse others that are better than them.
I wish I could give you an answer that would cure you of your frustrations. Unfortunately, there is not a cure-all answer for this.
Coming from a biblical perspective, I believe that each person goes through trials to help them grow. It is our choice. We can either allow these problems to make us bitter and afraid, or we can use these problems to educate others and help ourselves grow.
Can you fix what is going on with your parents? No.
Can you make others in your country treat people with respect? Not all of them.
What you can do is be the voice of reason, educating people on the goodness of being kind. You can choose to find joy even when it's not obviously present. Look for the good in life and choose joy. Try to be a light for others, who feel they are trapped in darkness, even when you feel you too are in that darkness.
We cannot change others, but we can change ourselves.Helpful 6
© 2010 Angela Michelle Schultz