child abuse PTSD trauma recovery

Boundaries

It can often be difficult from adult survivors to set healthy boundaries.

I never heard anything about personal boundaries growing up. There was an understanding that my well being was not something that mattered. I began to realize that I felt a need to self-preserve around the age of 13. I began to fight back and at least try and find my voice. I recall one day my mom, who was shorter than I told me to lie down to get beat by the belt. I laid down at first and then stood up and let her know that that part of my life was over.

After a life of abuse, how do you establish healthy boundaries for yourself and respect the boundaries of others without feeling slighted?

This would take me years, many failed attempts and end up being the most difficult part of my recovery. People who have been abused often land on one side of the fence or the other. They either build a fortress around themselves and do not let anyone close to them or they let everyone walk all over them or are victimized over and over. The goal is to be somewhere in the middle.  Healthy boundaries allow a person to be able to walk away from people and places that don’t help you. Healthy boundaries also help you to have the emotional flexibility to risk letting someone get close. You can get close to people and there is a good chance that they might hurt you at some point. With healthy boundaries established you know that you can walk away if you need to and have the tools to repair any damage done.

Boundaries are essential in intimate relationships, friendships, family relationships, and work relationships.  Boundaries are personal to everyone, the key is to figure out what you need to maintain your own emotional health.

Some examples of healthy boundaries include:

  1. Saying no to things that you don’t want to do or don’t have the resources to do. We all end up doing things we didn’t really want to do. But is this a situation you find yourself in so often that it has choked the joy out of your life and you’re exhausted? Examine your motives, are you volunteering for things because you are passionate about the cause or are you to try and win approval? As a mom, I often get asked to bake cupcakes or help with this or that. If I have the time I do it, I do. If I don’t have the time then I don’t.
  2. Speak up if you feel mistreated. Also, be ready for when some jerk tells you that how you feel is wrong. That is always an easy walk away situation for me. I have this person who has to be in my life on a limited basis. Whenever I tell them that they have crossed a line they always respond with either, ” I’m sorry you feel that way” or “I’m sorry for arguing back even though you started it”. I also see this with people who are like ” OK I said sorry, now can we move on without me actually addressing your pain and my role in it.”#narcissists
  3. Don’t work harder on other peoples problems than do on your own problems. I have people in my life who do not accept that their choices have landed them where they are. We all screw up sometimes, it’s ok to get help and support when you need it. Stay away from people who make you feel like they are still in a bad place because you didn’t sacrifice enough of yourself.
  4. Know what you are responsible for and what you are not responsible for. I know this might be unpopular for some but, I don’t feel like I am responsible for anyone’s happiness. Likewise, I feel like it is up to me to keep myself happy and healthy. I often use the acronym ” HALT”. I try not to let myself get too Hungary, Angry, Tired or Lonely ( or make sure I am getting adequate time to myself). its totally on me if I am not meeting my own basic needs for nutrition, rest and addressing my own mental health.
  5. People can disagree, there can still be love there. It’s OK to disagree and move on. If someone disagrees with you often and are nasty about it, it might be time to move on.
  6. It’s not your job to anticipate the needs of others. I find it super annoying when people expect me to just ” know”. I realize that sometimes individuals can be in such a bad place that they can’t articulate or find the words for what they need. I’m talking about good old fashioned passive aggressive who get mad at you when you don’t anticipate their needs. I don’t spend time with people who get mad at me for not being able to read their minds or know what they want from me.
  7. Over-Sharing. I cringe when I hear parents in the waiting room of my office telling the rest of the waiting room why their child is being seen by a therapist. My mom does this to me. She would tell EVERYONE all my shameful secrets. She would detail the accounts of my abuse, trauma, struggle, and brokenness. As an adult, I know that I don’t owe anyone my story if I do not want to tell it. I have had my share of people who have judged and assumed things about me. I  could have, on many occasions have been like ” this happened to me and this is why I am like this”. I don’t feel like I owe anyone an explanation about my past. I also operate on the belief that ” its none of my business what people think of me”. I tell my own story, not my siblings, not my children.. only mine and on my terms. This is the main reason I don’t speak to my mother any more than I have too. She will always bring up some past trauma and then often attempt to invalidate my experience. I have talked with her about this, I have asked her to stop. It continues and she says ” oops I forgot.” Bull shit. It’s up to me to end the conversation when it moves in that direction. Arguing with her, calling her out and forcing her to see things my way will just result in the sacrifice of my peace and well being.
  8. Physical touch and personal space. It took me years to feel comfortable greeting friends and loved ones with a hug. I would at best, do a lame ” side hug”. Today I feel blessed that I have so many close friends and family that greet me with a warm embrace. Occasionally I will receive an unwelcomed touch and I have been able to ask them to not touch me. I had a coworker who would rub other employees shoulders. They learned real fast to not include me in their frequent caresses. For years when I was upset my husband’s response was to embrace me. That didn’t work for me for a long time. For the last few years if I have had a difficult day I make it a priority to get him to his arms as soon as I can. Physical touch can be a difficult boundary and your needs can change. If you have given someone the OK to touch you and something has changed you can revoke that! The bottom line is don’t let someone touch you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable. At the least speak up and remove yourself. No one has a right to your body. Also please talk to your children about this and don’t make them hug people they don’t want to.

I refer to myself as a survivor because I have survived and thrived. I feel empowered, at peace and excited for what’s next. I still have my boundaries violated occasionally and sometimes have set reevaluate and set new ones. Ultimately I keep moving forward in power, love, and joy.

Xo Xo- Gen

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