When I get home and close the door to my bedroom at the end of a long workday, I imagine I’m closing the door on the day. The things I’m responsible for and working on I lovingly leave on the other side of the door to be picked up the following day. Tomorrow will take care of itself.
I’ve come to see the act of getting into my car after work, entering the loud kitchen to my talkative kids and quietly closing the door as I enter my bedroom as my way of acting out the internal boundaries I’m practicing with work. Many of us are familiar with the importance of external boundaries—the differentiation between you and someone else, the delineation of what is yours to carry and what is not. What about the whole internal world we all carry around with us all the time? We’re drawing (or not drawing) boundaries in our own minds all the time with where we choose to focus.
We’re drawing (or not drawing) boundaries in our own minds all the time with where we choose to focus.
Work, and our thoughts about work, can feel like water, filling every crack and opening we have in our minds. Water rushes into any open space, and so it is with work. Without realizing it, while our bodies may leave the office, our minds may still be there.
I work as a therapist, and therapy is a job that requires my whole self to be present. It’s critical that I form authentic and genuine connections with my clients. Yet, for therapy to work, I have to leave that part of myself in the office and resume my own life. I’m trained to enter into the sacred places of pain, struggle and hope for each client, and then to exit. And so, I’ve spent lots of time learning how to do that.
I’ve come to think of those limits like internal boundaries. I’m actively building a door in my mind to separate myself from what I do during the day. The reality is, when I’m overthinking something, I’m no longer being productive, and I’m probably starting to conflate my worth with my performance. As much as we all want to do a good job, we can’t link the two. Who you are is different from what you did in a day.
When I’m overthinking something, I’m probably starting to conflate my worth with my performance.
Sometimes, I use my home as a metaphor for creating the internal boundaries between myself and work. I envision the door of my house and the door of my bedroom as places that I do not carry certain things through. I picture internal boundaries that I’ve created in my home and personal life to protect that space. The work I do is important, and I’m not abandoning it. Instead, I’m creating a space to rest until I can return to it later. It’s a huge relief to say to a thought or concern, “I see you, and I will return to you, but not tonight.”
I’ve learned through setting the boundaries that are necessary in my profession that I am not serving my clients by moving outside of the work we are doing together. I realized many years ago that I am no good to anyone if I am not good to myself. If I’m not able to unplug and to accept the limitations of myself, I’ll wipe myself out. Setting internal boundaries means accepting that I’m not as powerful to effect change as I hoped, but I’m not as much of a failure as I feared.
I am no good to anyone if I am not good to myself.
Maintaining internal boundaries is a practice, and like with anything else, that we get better at with more practice. When we regularly practice closing the door on the work we did during the day, we get better at recognizing when our internal boundaries are being crossed. We begin to develop patterns and rituals to help prevent us from overthinking.
When we regularly practice accepting the limitations of our role and work, we’re more free to be human. When we regularly practice setting boundaries between our performance at work and our identities, we create for ourselves—and in ourselves—a place to come home to and recharge when the day is done.