Effective Limit-setting for
Families of Individuals with Mental Illness
Adapted from Coping Strategies for Relatives of the Mentally
by Joel Kanter, M.S.W., L.C.S.W.
Regain authority over the household. Create an environment
that's comfortable and manageable for you and other family
members. Do not attempt to control your ill relative's life
outside of home.
limit-setting requires a spirit of determined toughness, not
kindly persuasion or angry criticism. Nagging is especially
Focus your efforts on one or two aspects of behavior that
especially trouble you. Ignore other matters until you have
these issues under control. Focus on behavior you can
consistently monitor and influence. Determine consequences for
non-compliance that will inconvenience your ill relative yet
will not be too onerous to administer. Obtain help from friends
or relatives if necessary.
Clearly state expectations for appropriate behavior and
consequences for non-compliance. Expect that these limits will
be tested and you will have to administer consequences.
…Unilaterally inform him or her that you will do A if they do B.
Do not engage in lengthy discussions of the appropriateness of
your expectations. In your home the family member who is ill
needs .to learn to live with your idiosyncrasies.
Byproducts of Effective
Limit-Setting. Besides establishing a
more livable family environment, effective limit-setting greatly
enhances the credibility of family members and can lead to more
productive discussions of other issues. It can also motivate
your ill relative to work toward independence in order to escape
from rules they do not prefer to live under. Learning that one
must conform to the expectations of others in order to enjoy
satisfying social relations, people with mental illness often
behave more appropriately outside of the home.