Setting Emotional Boundaries from Work to Life
Anthony R. Quintiliani, Ph.D., LADC
Sometimes setting emotional boundaries from the psychotherapy room to your life outside of work can be a difficult thing to do. Shifting from “experience near empathy” (Kohut), “unconditional positive regard” (Rogers), “hovering attention” (Freud), “the holding environment” in “intersubjective space” (Winnicott), and compassionate awareness to emotional distancing, separation, and dispassion is no easy task. In more in-depth clinical interactions, the process of projective identification between therapist and client may drain your emotional resources; sometimes being “as if” you were the experiencer of your client’s pain and suffering can take a serious toll on your own emotional resources. At time the therapist’s own emotional life lacks the quality of connection experienced in the therapy session. Success in setting emotional boundaries is a very important self-care skill. It may determine your success, failure, joy, or misery in the clinical work you do. It will definitely prevent most case of “burn out.”
Therapists may wish to complete a brief self-care assessment at the end of each emotionally demanding day. Some things to check are as follows:
- Are you taking care of your own physical, psychological, spiritual, and emotional needs?
- Are you using mindfulness, self-compassion, clinical supervision, or journaling to get to know how you are doing?
- Are you valuing yourself enough regarding self-rewards, positive self-talk, cognitive and behavioral restructuring?
- Are you giving yourself time to experience some form of creativity?
- What about your spiritual self?
- Do you spend quality time in nature, among the awe of it all?
- Are you involved in the type of quality relationship you desire?
- Be sure to act on your own behalf if you find problems in the above areas.
Another very powerful process is to develop improving self-compassion for yourself, often blurring the inner boundaries of your own emotional life experience and the clinical work you do. Therapists are, in the end, only people with a set of specific helping skills. We suffer just like other people do. Hopefully, our training and experience have given us a bit of a positive edge here. Here are some things you may wish to consider to improve your own level of self-compassion.
- Using mindful awareness, observe the level and intensity of your self-criticism.
- Let go of personal resistance to being real, being your true self.
- Get out of your head! Get out of the past!
- Do loving kindness meditation often.
- Recognize your own difficult emotions (shame, anger, revenge, trying to control others, etc.), and simply be with them as a sacred part of who you are and be real about it. Use emotion regulation to improve things.
- Practice much more self-appreciation.
- Do not dwell on the pain and suffering of your past. All that stuff probably made you a stronger person.
- Welcome and LOVE all of you, with special attention to the sacred quality of your own life suffering.
- When you experience or re-experience anxiety, depression, addictive behaviors, or trauma – hold an open, soft heart for it. Then make changes to improve your life experience.
- Always get help when you need it, and do your best not to dwell on what you have little control over.
- Be certain too make changes to improve self-compassion regarding any problem areas above.
Fo more information refer to Norcross, J. C. and VandenBos, G. R. (2018). Leaving it at the Office: A Guide to Psychotherapist Self-Care. New York: Guilford. Neff, K. and Germer, C. (2018). The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive. New York: Guilford.
Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont and the Home of The Monkton Sangha
Author of Mindful Happiness
New Edition of Mindful Happiness in Production…Coming soon!