Providing Sanctuary, Part 3; Support, Perfectionism, Structure and Flexibility


The issue of Sanctuary seems to be an important one.  Almost every time I go into town I meet someone who says, “About that Sanctuary article . . .”  It is a hot topic.  People tell me it is applicable outside of mental health, in situations like foster care, caring for people who are elderly, disabled or infirm, and providing for family members who are having a difficult time.  And I am learning that many, many, many people provide Sanctuary for a time in one way or another and for a number of different reasons.  So I keep thinking about it and asking people about it and then I feel like I want to share more of what I am hearing and learning with all of you.  The topics that seem to be “on top” for me right now with regard to Sanctuary are support, perfectionism, structure and flexibility.


Providing sanctuary, whatever the reason, is an intensive process.  Often, when people ask me how I am doing, I realize I don’t even know how I am doing.  My attention is so deflected away from myself that long periods go by when I don’t even check in with myself to see how I am doing — or think about using my WRAP.  That is when I know it is time to reach out to one or several of the members of the incredible support team that has developed around the person who is staying with us, and get some respite.  It is not fair to me, or my family, or the person we are supporting if I don’t do this.  As I said in a previous message, people work in hospitals and support centers on 8 hour shifts and we are full time.  We, my husband and I, need respite on a regular basis.  And we need people to provide transportation and other kinds of help.  Perhaps most of all we need people to commiserate with and to help us problem solve.

In our situation, an amazing team has evolved around our person — 15 people.  This evolved because he is a remarkable young man in his own right, and as people became aware of the situation they volunteered.  We have meetings about once a month where everyone comes to get updated and to say how they can help.  These meetings are essential.  As a result, the supporters have come to know each other well so there is ease with staying in touch and working together.  I developed a contact list on my computer with phone numbers, e-mail addresses and notes about what kind of help can be provided.  The computer allows me to update this on a regular basis.  Things that other people are doing include:

Taking him to appointments, school, and lessons

Attending events with him

Giving him direct or phone support

Taking him out for meals, shopping and special occasions

Peer counseling and counseling with me and my spouse

Staying overnight with him in our house so we can go away

Taking him into their homes for overnight or even several days

In our situation, we also need to be mindful of the supportive relationships we have with each other and as a family.  I cannot compromise my relationship with my adult children and grandchildren, my friends, and especially my spouse, and still be able to provide the kind of sanctuary situation I want and need to provide.  Instead, I pay close attention to these relationships to make sure they stay strong and solid.  Our relationships with each other are serving as a model that our young man may want to emulate in his life.  And he has been pulled into our circle.  I feel that these relationships, along with the relationships with other supporters, will sustain him over time.


While there are situations in life where perfectionism might be a good thing — like when you are balancing your checkbook or filling out an important document — perfectionism is not something that has a place in providing sanctuary.  We cannot, must not, have an expectation that our young man is going to be perfect in any sense of the word.  Nor are we going to be perfect in our actions and response.  Often we don’t even know what the right actions and response are.  Right now nothing is perfect in our whole house.  Things are a bit “untidy” (that’s mild).  I am learning that being perfect, even if I knew what that was, is not important.

If you are the kind of person that needs perfection all the time in everything, providing sanctuary is not for you because nothing will ever be perfect, you will be constantly frustrated, and the person you are supporting will feel it and not thrive.


Perhaps you are the type of person who likes a lot of structure in your life.  You like to know what is happening ahead of time, you like a schedule, and you like others to be prompt and stick to the schedule.  This doesn’t work when you are providing sanctuary.  The needs of the person you are supporting will be constantly changing, and your needs and actions will be constantly changing in response.  You may wake up in the morning and think things are going to go a certain way and nothing goes that way — a missed bus, a “hard” time, an upsetting call, an unanticipated need — all can throw any kind of schedule into turmoil.

So, if you absolutely must have a schedule and stick to it closely, sanctuary is not for you.


I am realizing that in order to do this, to provide sanctuary, I have become more and more and more flexible.  Before this, I had issues — not too strong — with perfectionism and a need for structure, my spouse calls me “a planner.” And he knows I like to be on time.  I also had expectations of the kinds of things I would do in my retirement.  All of that has flown to the wind.  My retirement has been very different than anything I expected.  I am really having to flow with whatever is going on at the moment.  It is a great learning for me.  I feel more comfortable with myself.


If you have thoughts, ideas, suggestions or stories about this topic, please do let us know.  We all learn so much from each other.  It is so important.  It is the basis of all of my work.  Thank you so much

You can email me at [email protected]


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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