Responding to Negative Reactions About Healthy Limits


Setting and sticking to healthy limits can be challenging.


You might feel guilty about saying no to some things. The older adult might feel frustrated or anxious, or worry about becoming a burden to others. Others might feel defensive about how they can and can’t help.


If discussions become difficult, encourage everyone to be honest. Speak calmly and clearly, using phrases like, “I am concerned” or “I feel overwhelmed” or “I need more support.”


Listen carefully, especially to what the older adult says. What you’re talking about probably affects the older adult’s life every single day.


Point out that strong support systems don’t rely on just one or two people to do everything. Say that you may need to get other help to meet all of the older adult’s needs.


Focus on what you agree on and how you can work together to support the older adult. For example:

  • “I know you’re concerned about how much an accountant might cost, but the older adult’s taxes are complicated. What if I find out what local accountants charge and you look for free programs that could help?”

  • “I want you to feel safe at night, but can only come over so often. Would it help if we talked by phone? Or I can ask Larry next door to check in with you on weeknights.”

Acknowledge that the need or problem is important, but that doesn’t mean you are able to take it on. Encourage people to explore different options.


Do your best to avoid:

  • Judging others’ ability to help

  • Reacting to other people’s emotions

  • Agreeing to something just to avoid conflict

  • Pushing others to do more

  • Apologizing or making excuses for your needs

  • Putting pressure on yourself to save the day

It can help to simply say how you feel: “I feel bad, but I know that I just can’t take on anything else right now.” Encourage others to share their thoughts. Be prepared to hear negative feelings about the situation. Try to discourage negative remarks about people.


If the discussion becomes too heated, take a break. You can talk about healthy limits again later, after everyone’s had a chance to cool down.


Think about what made the discussion difficult. That can help you find a different way to talk about healthy limits next time.