Spiritual Leader Burnout reason number 7:
Enmeshment versus clear boundaries
As a spiritual leader it is seductive to become enmeshed with your role and let it “become everything”. Some spiritual leaders become workaholics. They have become enmeshed with their work itself. They often seize to pay much attention to their personal life outside of work. Other spiritual leaders become enmeshed with the people they serve. They confuse their parishioners to be personal friends or family members. They often seize to take time away from their parishioners for vacation or mental recovery. And then again others become enmeshed with the spiritual aspect of their life and work. They usually become rather serious, heady and pious, often losing the ability to fully enjoy life in the here and now.
Remaining differentiated from one’s role as spiritual leader is an important step in developing clear boundaries. When spiritual leaders become aware that they hold a role, but are not their role, they can remain in a “third person perspective”. They can hold their role lightly and not make it the sole meaning of their life. Clear boundaries between a private life and a work life are being established. Parishioners are not confused to be friends or family members and are not “used” as such. Spiritual leaders who remain differentiated from their role are also able to laugh about themselves and their spiritual leader role. The spiritual dimension of life is distinguished from and yet balanced with the “wordly” dimension of life. The ability to enjoy life is seen as a spiritual gift.
The art of setting healthy and clear boundaries is something all spiritual leaders will work on for the rest of their lives. Accountability partners like therapists or spiritual directors can help with pointing out areas of enmeshment and serve as consultants in how to set clearer and healthier boundaries in one’s work and personal life.