Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. Such an important thing and yet sometimes so hard to enforce. We all need them and we all at some point have to figure out how to navigate them. I have conversations in session on the daily regarding emotional boundaries with my clients, the purpose that they serve, and what healthy ones can look like.
The boundary I want to talk about today though is the work/personal life boundary. Specifically, how we shut off when we get home from work.
Starting my career out as an MFT in the exciting (that was my first boss’s speak for ‘this is going to be one ridiculously intense family and is going to challenge you in every way imaginable’) world of in home family therapy, this idea of work/life boundaries was so difficult for me. It was so hard for me to stop thinking about my clients.
I mean looking back I get it – these families were in some seriously difficult situations and were facing struggles I had only read about in my therapy books. Regardless, I thought of them constantly. I worried if my teens were staying out of trouble, I worried about implementing the type of therapy I was doing correctly (or model adherence for those of us in ‘the biz’ ), I worried about going into people’s homes and the neighborhoods I was in, but most of all I worried if I was doing a good enough job (I will write more in-depth about this particular worry at a later time cause I have a whole lot to say about it).
I would get home and just could not shut down.
This is where the sweatpants come in. When I am at home, I’m in sweatpants, hoodies, and some ratty type of shirt, usually with my glasses on. I hate being dressed at home. It is not unusual, if you are coming to dinner at my house, to get a text from me beforehand stating “bring sweatpants” which is really just me not wanting to feel like a scrub because I don’t really want to get “dressed dressed” in my house. I am talking about the minute I get home, I wave hello to my family and head straight upstairs to change clothes. I can’t really engage until I have changed into “comfies” and come downstairs.
So back to brand new baby therapist Laura who couldn’t figure out her self-care. Back then I still did the whole sweatpants thing but I didn’t think of it as anything more than I like to be comfortable. I think I was in supervision (which for those who don’t know is like therapy for a therapist solely focusing on the therapy that the therapist receiving supervision does – given by another therapist. Got it?) at the time venting about this very issue of not being able to wind down or separate “work Laura” from “home Laura”. My supervisor asked me if there was anything physical I did to almost signify that divide when I got home – she used the example of taking a shower. I thought about it and mentioned the whole sweatpants thing. She highlighted this as something that I was already trying to do for my self-care and really wasn’t seeing it as such.
Hmmmm? Sweatpants?! Self-care to me, until that point meant, massages, hanging with friends, getting my nails done. But sweatpants!?
She was right though.
So I began to do it more intentionally. I would spend my entire car ride home blasting my music and allowing myself to think about my clients all I wanted. I told myself that once I changed my clothes though, it was done. I love me some positive visualization and as I got home and changed my clothes that evening I imagined that each layer I was shedding was some story that I was holding onto from the day – and I let them go. I put my comfy clothes on, took some breaths, and went downstairs.
For me, this was it! It was just the ritual I needed to separate these parts of my life in a healthy way. Of course it’s not perfect and sometimes when I have a really difficult case I still have difficulty separating or being present when I am at home, but at that point I will case consult with a colleague – which I find is much better than mulling over it again and again in my head.
I have now begun to see that my comfy clothes are the truest representation of me. I mean, I get dressed and look nice to go to work and I’m laid back on the weekends if we go out, but at home, it’s all bum chic all the time.
So think about what it is for you that helps you disconnect from the chaos of your workday and be present in your personal life. Is it coming home and washing your face? Is it taking a shower? Is it blasting music on the ride home? Working out? Spending time with your pet? Self care can come in little packages like these and if done intentionally can really go a long way in helping you to unwind – even if it is just sweatpants 🙂