Boundaries, Balance + Burnout

A common problem we deal with at LAPBC is burnout. In this article, I define burnout as long-term exhaustion and diminished interest in the work context. People come to us when they can no longer get their work done. Typically, by the time they get to us their life is out of balance: they are not doing things they like to do, and they are not doing things they know to be healthy for them. Frequently their lives have become limited to time at work, sleep, TV and perhaps time with the family but usually not doing much.

How do boundaries relate to these things? Boundaries are what define us, or more particularly how we define ourselves. In relationships, boundaries are how I define where I and my physical and psychological space ends and where you and yours begin. More generally, they define what is me and what is not me. Boundaries, and how we define ourselves, are present at all levels of our existence-physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual.

  • Physical boundaries require an awareness of our body and our bodily sensations. It is this body awareness and the ability to make changes that enable us to maintain our physical balance and to determine our personal space. It also enables us to determine who can physically touch us, as well as how and for how long they can do it.
  • Emotional boundaries enable us to determine how and when to express emotions, and to whom we will express them. They also enable us to determine the emotional closeness we wish to have with others, with whom, of what type and for how long.
  • Mental boundaries enable us to maintain our train of thought, to focus, to engage in a thought process which we determine and to avoid being overwhelmed by thoughts. They also enable us to "gather" our thoughts and to know when, to whom, in what manner and for how long to express our thoughts.
  • Social boundaries enable us to create supportive networks of friends and colleagues, to engage in social interaction i-n an appropriate, useful and vital way. They enable us to determine how much of the self one is willing to reveal to others at any given time or situation.
  • Spiritual boundaries enable us to determine our values, our purpose, the meaning of our life and what experiences are in keeping with those values and meaning. They enable us to have a sense of connection to something greater than ourselves without getting lost in it.

If we do not have awareness of who we are and what we stand for, we will not be able to maintain balance. Balance comes from within. It is a personal experience that we have, and we have to continually work at making adjustment in order to stay in balance. (Try riding a bike without self-awareness and continual change and adjustment.)

Although there are many reasons for burnout, the most common component is a chronic lack of balance. This lack may be caused or contributed to by poor boundaries in one or more of the physical, emotional, mental, social or spiritual areas. Since all five areas are interrelated, and since defining and maintaining boundaries is a skill, if a person has difficulty with boundaries in one area, he or she probably has challenges in all the areas. To see if you might have some difficulty with defining your boundaries, consider these statements:

  1. I have trouble saying no or have trouble speaking up when I don't like something (I tolerate the intolerable).
  2. I am affected by the negative emotions of others.
  3. I am often late or keep others waiting.
  4. I am over-controlling of others.
  5. I am controlled by others.
  6. I complain to others rather than to the person I am having difficulty with.
  7. My work spills over into my home life.
  8. My home life spills over into my work.
  9. I am embarrassed when someone else acts in a way I think is inappropriate.
  10. I am a victim.
  11. I hurt others.
  12. I have difficulty making decisions.
  13. I feel empty as if something is missing in my life.
  14. I avoid conflict in my personal life.
  15. I have trouble setting limits for myself/my boss/my employees/my spouse/my kids.

This is not meant as an assessment. However, if you have difficulties with one or more of these, it would be useful for you to do some further investigation. The development of healthy boundaries can be learned. It begins with developing self-awareness. The knowledge acquired can be developed into skills with practice. These skills can be strengthened and the self-awareness increased by developing a practice of defining oneself and one's boundaries and of becoming more aware and respectful of the boundaries of others. T

his process will significantly increase your ability to maintain balance in your life and will decrease the likelihood of burnout.At LAPBC we have a great deal of experience helping members who have burned out in one or more ways. We also have a lot of experience helping members to avoid burnout and to maintain balance in their lives.

Please give us a call if you think you may have a problem or if you would like to develop skills to help you avoid problems in the future. We can provide one-on-one assistance, and we have courses and support groups to help provide the type of education and support that you might need and want.