Boundaries and Guilt, part two (Episode 50)

In this episode, Kay Coughlin gets right to heart of one of the most important reasons we don’t like to set boundaries: guilt. Is it possible to stop the cycle of guilt so that it doesn’t control your life and hold you back any more? Yes, it is. Listen to part one on boundaries and guilt (episode 49) to learn about the critical difference between guilt and shame, and to learn why it actually IS polite to tell people about your boundaries.

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Transcript of episode is below.

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Transcript: Boundaries and Guilt, part two (Episode 50)

Hi there. I’m your host Kay Coughlin. And you’re listening to From One Caregiver to Another. I am a sandwich family caregiver. That means I have kids at home and I am the primary caregiver for my mother too. And I don’t believe the old stories and old traditions about being a caregiver have to be true for us. I believe we can have dreams. Even when we have caregiver responsibilities, we have value as individuals. We deserve to say no and to have our own lives. Nobody can do it all of course, but we can decide what’s okay with us, what’s not okay with us, and we can dare to be ourselves. This is episode 50.

Before I talk about handling the guilt that comes along with setting boundaries, which is the topic of today’s podcast, I want to remind you that my four week workshop on boundaries and the holidays will be starting on Tuesday, October 19th. This will be a great workshop for you if your typical holidays get even a little bit unhappy for you because of guilt, shame or resentment. Or if you’ve been told that you don’t get to choose not to participate in traditions like family dinners. Registration for that workshop is open now. And you can find the link at facilitator on more. And I’ll put a link for that in the show notes.

Last week in episode 49, which was part one on boundaries and guilt, I talked about the difference between guilt and shame, and it’s a really important difference to understand, especially in the context of boundaries. So if you don’t already know what the difference is, and if you haven’t listened to that episode yet, I recommend you hit pause on this one and go listen to episode 49.

Also in that episode, I talked about why we worry about how setting boundaries and communicating them to people will mean we are not being polite. This is a big problem because being polite is actually a two way street. Both people in a relationship are responsible for being polite. So again, go listen to that episode, to learn about politeness and boundaries.

So picking up where we left off in the last episode. How do you handle the guilt that comes along with boundaries? First, remember boundaries are about you and your life and your decisions. You have a right to set boundaries.

Now there are some cultures and communities that don’t encourage individual boundaries, but that does not mean that you can’t have them or should not have them. So it might be painful and difficult and a lot of work to set them and enforce them. But it doesn’t mean you’re wrong to want to have boundaries and to do that work.

Just like I talked about with shame last week, I think it’s really important to first believe, just believe that you deserve to have boundaries. And I mean you, specifically, podcast listener.

Remember that the simplest definition of a boundary is a decision about what’s okay and what’s not okay with you. It can be pretty easy to believe that the people around you deserve to have boundaries, because that really seems obvious, right? That seems like a human right. But for whatever reason, it’s hard for us to believe that we as individuals are allowed to have them and deserve to have them too.

So let me be clear. You deserve boundaries, whoever you are. Maybe even people have told you that you aren’t allowed to have boundaries. And unfortunately we do this to children all the time when they’re small and it looks like this. So we like to tell kids that they have to let, you know, Aunt Bertha kiss them, even if they don’t want to, for any reason. But let me be very clear here that it is wrong to tell someone they don’t get to have boundaries. It’s not a true thing to say, and it’s not a helpful thing to say to someone else.


So that might be a good starting place for you. This idea of believing that you even have a right to have boundaries. Okay so whether or not you can believe yet that you have a right to have boundaries, it’s important to understand guilt and the feeling of guilt that often goes along with setting those boundaries.

So this guilt can come up when you first make the decision to set a boundary. But I know for sure that it comes up a lot when you actually tell someone about your decision. Just think for a second about the guilt that you might feel when you say no to even a small request, like to bake cookies for a bake sale, much less saying no to a bigger request, like changing shifts with a colleague when it would be really inconvenient for you.

As I said last week, feeling guilt is just a normal part of enforcing your boundaries and it might become less intense for you over time, but it might not. And both of those would be totally normal and totally okay. I do a lot of work on boundaries for myself. And I still find sometimes that I feel a lot of guilt about them.

So I know here that the real problem is thinking guilt is a problem instead of seeing guilt as nothing more and nothing less than an emotional reaction that you have. Guilt is after all simply an emotion. And what I mean by that is this: an emotion is just a vibration or an energy that you’ll feel in your body when your mind thinks a certain thought. That is literally all any emotion is.

Emotions are completely normal. All of them, even really challenging ones that we like to label as negative or bad.  

So what if the ultimate goal here is not to try to stop feeling guilt because it’s simply a normal emotion, but instead to learn to manage it when it does come up so that it doesn’t control your life?

I truly believe it is not healthy to try to force yourself to stop feeling any emotion, including guilt. Because we are humans and emotions just don’t work that way. The more you try to push them away, the more power that emotion will have over you.

And also there’s a kind of violence in that idea of forcing yourself to do something. And I really don’t like the idea of self violence in any form.

But you can learn instead to notice emotions and feel them, even the challenging ones, and make it so that they just aren’t a problem that holds you back or controls your life. You can learn to notice the guilt and say to yourself, “oh, okay. I’m feeling guilt now. Of course, this is normal for me, this thing, whatever it is happened. And I know that’s a situation where I normally feel guilt, nothing has gone wrong here. This guilt doesn’t have to mean there’s a problem.”

So that’s looking at guilt out of curiosity, with true curiosity in your heart. And there’s a real feeling of peace that comes along with being able to accept your true self in this way.

I have to tell you that I lived most of my life before this without knowing this piece. But now that I have it, I do everything I can to help it grow and protect it because there is nothing as amazing as this peace of knowing that I’m okay just how I am. Even when I feel these challenging emotions.

Okay. So how can you get to a place where guilt just isn’t controlling you anymore, where you can notice it and feel it and not make it into a big issue that gets in your way? You’re also going to hear me refer to the weight of these challenging emotions, and in this case we’re talking about guilt, as the emotional grind.

In fact, I wrote a book about it. I use a three step process to handle these difficult emotions. And I want you to know that I do this with myself and also with my clients. The first step is simply noticing or observing that you are feeling any emotions. And in this case, we’re talking about guilt. So this first step is about awareness, not action, but awareness.

The second step is to process the feelings. Or another way of saying that is just to sit with the feeling, to stop judging yourself for it and stop trying to deny it or push it away. So step two is about actually truly feeling any emotion. And then the third step is to decide what you really want and create that for yourself.

So, action doesn’t really begin to happen until step three. If you don’t know how to even notice your emotions and thoughts, that’s okay. You’re not wrong and you’re not broken because it’s not an easy thing to do, especially not in the beginning. If you do want relief from the emotional grind though, noticing is a practice you really shouldn’t wait to start.

I’ve got a few suggestions for you. You can download what I call my Thought Download guide and that’s free. And there’s a link for that in the show notes. My Thought Download guide will really help you get started on this.

Now, if you want to start working specifically on boundaries right away, you can reach out to me to see if I’m taking new clients or you can go to my website to see what workshops or webinars I’m doing in the near future.

As always, and I feel like I just can’t say this enough, consider getting professional help from a therapist or a life coach – I’m a life coach – or in a real time support group. If you are suffering because you need to set boundaries, but you’re just totally stuck and can’t seem to get started or if you really just want to make progress as quickly as you can, there is a lot of help available to you and you can reach out for that.

Learning to set and enforce boundaries is some of the most lasting, gosh, most impactful self care you will ever do for yourself. I know this from personal experience because it’s the best self-care practice I have in my own life. And I see it in my clients too.

I really hope it helps to know that guilt is normal and guilt is not something you can avoid. And I would argue that it’s not even healthy to try to avoid it, but you can learn to manage your feelings of guilt so that they don’t have any control over your life.

You can start setting boundaries right away if you want to. And if you’re having trouble for any reason, that’s normal, please get the help you need so you can take better care of yourself than you probably ever thought was possible. And set boundaries to free yourself to live the life you really want to live.

Thank you so much for listening today, you can learn more about me and about all of this work at and that’s facilitator on And there’s a lot of really good stuff there, including links to my book and to learn more about human giver syndrome. And if you want almost daily doses of straight talk for family caregivers and sandwich family caregivers like you and me who want to dare to live their own lives, please follow me on Instagram. And there’s a link for that in the show notes.

If you liked this episode, please leave a review and think of two people you can tell about it. If they’re new to podcasts, you can show them how to subscribe. Word of mouth is the very best way to help podcasts grow, which will help more caregivers find their way here so they can get the help they need to.

I can’t wait to be here with you again in the next episode, From One Caregiver to Another.

your guide

Kay Coughlin, CEO of Facilitator On Fire, is a business coach for the non-profit sector and social justice businesses. She is also well-known for being an advocate for family caregivers.

In every forum she can find, she shouts that it's OK for every human to earn a living, set and enforce boundaries around their bodies, thoughts, feelings and actions. You can join Kay's free, private online community to talk about boundaries here.

Kay also teaches about emotional labor, how to rest, and Human Giver Syndrome, and is the host of the "From One Caregiver to Another" podcast and author of "From One Caregiver to Another - Overcoming Your Emotional Grind."

Kay is well-known for her public speaking on boundaries and self-care. 

Facilitator on Fire is a subsidiary of Donor Relations Mindset LLC, which Kay founded in 2015. She lives with her husband and children in central Ohio, and is the primary caregiver for her own mother, who lives right next door. Kay can be found on LinkedIn and Instagram.

Copyright 2022. All rights reserved, Julia Kay Coughlin and Facilitator On Fire.

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