The ongoing learning curve: Boundaries

When a victim makes the wonderful transition to ‘survivor’, it’s a great day indeed! That day holds different meanings, events and revelations for every person. Every person heals differently, and cannot be placed in a pre-defined mold. We are individuals, entirely. What might work for one particular survivor, will not work for every survivor. That includes: steps taken to rid ourselves of the abuser, overcoming the effects of the abuse (which will most likely take years), deciding whether to enlist the assistance of a counselor, or just strong-arm your way through the process and so-on. The fact remains, however, that we ALL go through the SAME stages and phases, over the course of many years. Some might not take as long to heal as others. I have been going through the process of healing for over 2 years, now, yet I’m still working through some difficult things. I know of women who are 28 years into the process, and are still working through the effects. Don’t be disheartened, though! There comes a time that the healing process isn’t so invasive or cruel-seeming. Once you break through the first signs of severe PTSD and start to become more like yourself, the rest of the process isn’t so bad. Just remember to breathe through those hard days, and keep moving your feet. 

Part of the process of healing is, boundary setting. We all believed, throughout our lives, that our boundaries were firmly placed. Too often, however, it becomes apparent that those boundaries were weak, only after we have lived through an abusive relationship. The abuser does break down our initial boundaries but, in order to have enabled the abuse, those same boundaries were weak to begin with. No, I’m not blaming anyone for the abuse that was suffered at the hands of another. 

I was one who, as a child, was never taught how to set firm personal boundaries. In fact, in some ways I was taught to have shaky ones. My needs, both physical and emotional, were always second to others’. I had my wants. I wanted to be treated nicely and decently but, in the face of hurting someone’s feelings or by being the “lesser sex”, I was taught to let those same wants and needs go, for the benefit of another. Does that make any sense? That left me to have to define for myself, what my personal boundaries needed to be. I had to learn how to enforce those same boundaries. Age-old lessons, intended to be firmly taught as children, had fallen by the way-side. Intentionally or not. 

Just the fact that I had suffered severe emotional and psychological abuse at the hands of another, alerted me that I definitely had to do some SERIOUS deep-down introspecting. Soul searching. I have been through other abusive relationships and experiences, throughout my life. It was only after my dealings with a Psychopath, that I was alerted to that necessity. I thought I was fine, in all ways. Exemplary in others. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The lessons I learned as a child, taught me how to enable and survive abuse. Not to avoid it. Lesson #1. Not a fun lesson, but necessary. 

So, what are some boundaries that are needed in order to avoid abuse? This was my first, personal question. One that I had to decide for myself. You need to make this decision, as well. 

I wanted to be treated nicely. Period. Something that I realized I had not been, repeatedly. I needed to take a step back and remember those particular times. What was I feeling when someone was mean or rude to me? How did I respond? What did my inaction or lack of response, create? This is the root cause of ALL ABUSE I ever suffered. The inability to respond and stand up for myself, enabled more mistreatment. I was silent about mistreatment done to me, or those times that someone spoke rudely to me. I didn’t let that person know my needs or any sort of boundaries, which enabled further mistreatment. Does that mean the abuse was my fault? NO! But, it does mean I enabled it to continue. Making sure my boundaries aren’t crossed is my own, personal responsibility and no-one else’s. Making sure your boundaries are respected and recognized, is YOUR responsibility as well, but first, you need to decide which boundaries are the most substantial and important to implement. 

Our first responsibility to ourselves, as well as those people we associate with is, to express our personal boundary when that line has been crossed. How can a person respect our boundaries if they don’t know about them? The level of mistreatment should decide the level of expression. By that, I mean whether we nicely let the person know, or are more forceful about it. If you grew up without this skill, putting it into place in later years, can be quite challenging. First, however, you need to learn how to SPEAK UP! This includes things that make you unhappy or uncomfortable.

If someone assumes you like flavored coffee creamer and puts it in your coffee for you, for instance, when you prefer black coffee. It’s not that important, right? Will you hurt that person’s feelings, if you let them know? Believe it or not, my inability to speak up throughout the years, was just this ridiculous. It’s a no-brainer. You would express to that person that you don’t like coffee creamer. It’s that simple. But, for me, I would be petrified of hurting that person’s feelings and would, in turn, choke down the flavored coffee to save potentially hurt feelings. Is it that person’s fault for making me unhappy? No. They were just doing something nice. It was my OWN fault by not letting them know my preference. 

Another example: If someone is bossy toward you, telling you what to do and how (I am talking about a friend here, and not an employer); it results in your feelings being hurt, offended etc. What happens when you are silent, just “taking it” to avoid making waves? Yep, that person continues to boss you around, and you become more and more offended. Eventually a blow-up could result when you have had enough. Or, that person will continue and you will be miserable. What could happen if you express your discontent, letting that person know how you would rather be treated? Chances are, that person will take steps to avoid treating you like that, in the future. That is, if they are a decent, empathetic person. Others just won’t care. The thing is, once you let them know, you have done your part by letting that person know your boundary and it then becomes THEIR responsibility to respect it. If you don’t speak up, they can’t possibly know. Most people aren’t so empathetic, that they can read emotions or thoughts. If that same person doesn’t care about your boundaries, and continuously violates them, you need to re-evaluate that friendship and leave it. If you don’t enforce that same boundary, once you have alerted that person to it, that also enables mistreatment and can turn into a severely abusive situation. 

Our boundaries are meant to protect us. When misused or invalidated by another, we need to re-evaluate the situation. If you deem a particular boundary as ESSENTIAL to your well-being, you need to learn to stand your ground or leave the situation completely. If abuse is present, that is a blatant violation and should be seen as such. 

This new knowledge left me with also learning how to speak up, nicely, about my wants, needs, discontent and so-on. When, in my case, you have never learned how to speak-up for yourself, but instead, learned to go silent, the implementation of this lesson does prove to be challenging. It doesn’t mean the old fear of hurting feelings, embarrassment, etc. doesn’t just ‘go away’. I still have to deal with the fear of speaking up. Yet, I need to do just that. What does that create? If a subject is difficult, but needs to be talked about or mentioned, I just blurt it out. That means I come across as sharp, or rude as a result. Not what I want. I have to learn how to communicate my needs, wants and boundaries, without hurting another’s feelings. Another thing I need to learn. 

I am aware of others who make this seem effortless. I compare myself to them, and am aware of the skill they have. I try to learn from them, as well. 




Trusting yourself

My road to healing…becoming more self confident in every area…has been a real challenge. I still struggle with trusting myself. I know I’m not the only person who struggles in this area. When a decision will directly affect someone else, causing notable anger and potential harm as a result, I REALLY struggle. The situation I am facing, requires me to stand up against a family member in defense of a little girl, legally. I filed the initial papers, over 2 months ago. This person has not been served her copies of the papers due to the fear, guilt and uncertainty I have as to whether or not this is the right thing to do at all.

In the past, it’s exactly this same problem I have, which has enabled great atrocities as a result. This time, I see very clearly that my indecision and fear could be the detriment of that little girl. But what if I’m wrong? What if my action against this family member causes THAT person’s undoing? Even harm? There is no easy route or ending. There are several days that I feel trapped in my own life.

The only person who can fix any of this is myself..