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  • Ashley Peterson, LPC

Guilt Free Boundaries

So much of my job is providing a safe space for understanding without asking for understanding in return, and so it’s easy to forget that it's work, and not applicable to my personal life.


I took two weeks off at the end of the year and it was an interesting experience for me, a first as well. I was able to hear my thoughts, tend to my feelings, and prioritize "myself" for a full two weeks. Within that time, I was reminded how important it is for me to not only have time for self-care, but to prioritize and clear my mental space as well. As a helper, we tend to think that helping/ listening/ affirming others comes naturally and  that it won’t take too much to just turn it on for a second to help this person that I love /care about, but sometimes we just don’t have the mental space or energy to do so. And that’s OK!! I decided that 2020 would be the year of me and to allow my voice to be the loudest. What that means for me is that I will acknowledge the things I can do and the people that I can do things for, but I will also take stock and inventory in myself and determine if I’m then ABLE to do that emotionally, physically and mentally for me. If I’m not, I will validate that feeling to myself and communicate that to others. It’s difficult because I don’t like saying I can't help or I can’t be available, but being in the career field I've chosen, I have to protect myself and my energy to ensure that I can show up for myself and my clients- because if I don’t work for me... I can't work for others and it’s so very important for me to be effective and present. I often feel guilty when I can’t be emotionally available for everyone at all times. When I’m off the clock, I feel like it’s my duty and it’s easy enough, so why not?! I forget that what makes work work is the boundaries that have been established. I hear stories, trauma, etc. all day but I leave it at work so it’s manageable. With friends and family the boundary of “leaving it at the office isn’t an option” and when I can’t separate it, it tends to bleed over and into my work life space. That is always a "whoa" time to run an inventory and see where my anxieties lie and why. When I do this, I am able to identify emotions of sadness, confusion, guilt, shame and sometimes anger/ frustration. Do I feel sadness that I may be letting someone down? I'm  confused about whether I should get to feel anything conflicting when I’m choosing to choose myself.. am I being selfish? Is being selfish even a bad thing?  Should I feel guilt about not being able to provide someone what they are looking for in me?  Should I feel shame and wonder what will this person think  of me and will they tell someone else, and will they then think I’m a bad sister/daughter/friend etc.?  After all of these emotions, I usually end up at anger/frustration because I don’t understand why people aren’t as considerate of my limitations as a therapist... who is also a person!! But then I remember people don’t know unless you tell them, so there’s that! I don’t believe people try to cause me emotional distress. Once I’m done cycling through those emotions, I arrive at communication. How can I effectively communicate my needs, wants, and limitations in a way that is respectful but clear? Boundaries constantly have to be reset and reminded, for others and myself.


As much as I want to do it all, I simply can’t and that’s okay *repeats to self again*. It’s okay for me to prioritize my mental health, my career, and my friendships / relationships. I don’t expect anyone who isn’t a Therapist / Mental Health Clinician to fully feel my message but I hope it helps to provide insight and validation to other helpers who struggle with this as well :).

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