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Monday, November 27, 2017

When You Are the Giving Tree

It's been close to two months since I felt the urge to sit down and write a blog post. Being between school counseling jobs has been difficult for me. I know that school counseling is my passion. To me, it's what I was born to do. All of my life experiences have been leading me to this point. Not having a school counseling job makes it feel like all the color has been drained from life.

In addition to missing being a school counselor, I've been spending a lot time on helping a particular friend who is going through a tough time. As a counselor, my first instinct was to immediately extend my hand and say "I'm here for you. No questions asked." I recognized immediately that this friend was hurting and needed help. He needed someone to listen. He needed compassion. He needed all the Carl Rogers stuff-- empathy, genuineness, and someone to care unconditionally. He needed someone who wasn't putting demands on him and trying to change him, someone who accepted him as he was. That's what I do for my students all the time. I don't care if they write the letter 'R' or the number '2' backwards. I think it's adorable and am proud of them for trying so hard. I try to live my school counseling life by Maya Angelou's quote, "People forget what you say, people forget what you do, but they will never forget how you made them feel." What I hope my students feel is loved. They may or may not get it at home, but I want them to know and feel that I care about them.

So when I realized this friend needed these things, I jumped right in, doing what I would for anyone else. I made myself available at all times. I checked on him if I didn't hear from him. I tried to share my positivity with him. I let him borrow money when he needed it, telling myself that I would do it for anyone and that this was the kind thing to do. But I realized that I would not have let anyone borrow money from me, not even my closest friends, and they wouldn't ask either. When I first lent him the money, a colleague said to me, "You need to take care of yourself before you start helping others. You can't save everyone." He was absolutely right. I know this, but this is a person I wanted to be able to save. Because I'm between jobs, there's plenty of things I could have used that money for, yet I still would have felt guilty if I didn't help him out. I know I will probably never get the money back and I will not let anyone borrow money from me again.

When I offer love and support to students, I am treating them as if they are my own children. What I get in return their love. They give me hugs, draw me pictures, and some even say "I love you" or "thank you." That's good enough for me. I do my job as a school counselor because I love doing it and I love helping people. I am giving part of myself to each student, staff member, parent, etc. when I help them. But it all feels worth it. When I offer love and support to family, it's at least sometimes returned. But by offering support, being so available, and giving part of myself to this friend, I was giving too much. When I started doing things I wouldn't do for anyone else, I crossed the line from kindness to something else I can't identify. Using my counseling skills in my personal life led me to care about a person much more than they care about me, which led me to doing things I wouldn't do for anyone else. Lines were blurred, boundaries were crossed. I started feeling emotionally drained. I became the Giving Tree. I continued to give myself until I felt like there was nothing left of myself, just like in the story.

I realized that I'm not turning off being a counselor. I'm a counselor 24/7. Even if I engage in self-care a little, I always put others before me because I want to help the people I care about. If I don't help someone, I feel guilty about it. But in the process of helping others, I'm giving a part of myself to these people. If I don't get burnt out from being a counselor, I'll get burnt out from helping everyone in my life. I'm torn between continuing to give myself to the people I care about and determining what my line in the sand is. In this profession we talk about kindness. Kindness is doing something nice for another person without expecting anything in return. That's what I've been doing, but where do you draw the line? At what point do you say enough is enough? At what point do you put yourself first and take care of yourself? As school counselors, we're taught to practice self-care and to establish boundaries with clients. Maybe sometimes our personal lives require us to do the same thing. Maybe for our own sanity, we need to say "No." Maybe sometimes we need to say "I have nothing left to give." Or maybe I can't turn off being a counselor.

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