Roles & Boundaries in Higher Education

As an educator, I have to remember that I am not a counselor, even though much of my class is built around soft-skills and information that I would explore and work on in a counseling relationship. But, I am an instructor, and it is imporant for me to know the difference, as well as to create and stick with an educational boundary that isn’t quite like the boundary I’d set with a group therapy session.

Of course I knew that my counseling informed my instruction, but it wasn’t until I was processing a student-student conflict that happened last week in class (of which I had felt I handled it badly and was in triage mode the rest of the class period, as well as ruminating all weekend) that as an educator I actually handled myself very well. But, as a counselor, I was holding myself to this supremely high expectation that is not reasonable given my circumstances.

And, in my role of adviser, I am noticing my boundaries loosening quite substantially in the year that I’ve been there. I’m beginning to feel ‘invested’ in these student’s lives, so when one is crying in my office because of crippling anxiety, or proudly sharing their name change to their biological family heritage, I’m finding myself caring, which isn’t to say that I didn’t care before, but I had built a strong mental boundary to eliminate lying in bed at 3am wondering how they are doing or what might help them be more successful. I know the student relationships are what feeds me, but there is the phrase ‘death by chocolate’ for a reason. And the crippling sadness and despair found in many of my student’s is having an effect.

So how do I find the balance? Less counseling in the classroom, in terms of what I expect of myself emotionally, and more counseling in the advising office, in terms of how I deal with boundary issues. But I’m not entirely sure how to do that…

Thoughts? How do you navigate boundaries and self-care and the various roles you have in your life?

It started as self-care…

As part of my decision to buck up my self-care regimin, I have begun to re-read one of my favorite books: Trauma Stewardship. Reading this in not just a backup justincaseidon’tgetthejobthatireallywant anxiety push, but because it’s good and important to take care of myself ESPECIALLY since I have a young one and still want to work with at-risk youth (even if it means I don’t want to do CRISIS work anymore).

I saw the author, Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, in a workshop a few years ago, and found the material to be AMAZING, like aloe vera to a nasty sunburn. So I picked it up, and one of the first things that stood out to me was:

There is a Native American teaching that babies come into the world knowing all that they will need for the rest of their lifetimes-but the challenges of living in our strained, cofnusing world make them forget their innate wisdom. They spend their entire lives trying to remember what they once knew.

This quote stopped me in my tracks. While I had read it before, and even read up and believe in past lives and lives between lives (aka, the soul realm), it really hit me in a different way this time…because of Potamus. He is such a kind and sweet and loving soul. Yesterday I yelled at Boof on the phone, not because I was angry, but because his phone wasn’t working right and he couldn’t hear me. Potamus started crying, like a hurt crying, but like a combination hurt/scared cry and he looked at me like, “what is that noise coming out of your mouth?!”

In a flash I flew back in time to all those conversations my mother would have about my using that tone of voice and how I just couldn’t understand what she meant (or I didn’t want to understand).

But in another instance, today, when trying to get my mother-in-law’s attention in the other room, I yelled again and BAM we had the same crying uncontrollably episode as the day before.

Hmm.

So here he is, sweet Potamus, born with everything he needs to know to navigate the world. All the trust and sweetness and love and innocence. And the world is going to try and take that away from him, and it will be hard and beautiful all the same. But I am learning something…my child is affected by moods…very much so. I’m trying to get ahead of this burnout so that I can learn to deal, in whatever situation I’m in, so that I can calmly, peaceably deal with my baby’s needs.