Survivors of trauma usually have poorly developed boundaries because their boundaries were often disregarded as children. People with poor boundaries say “yes” when they mean “no”, “no” when they mean “yes”, cannot hear the needs of others and do not respect the boundaries set out by others. Helping survivors understand what boundaries are and how to develop them is important so that they are able to own their own bodies, thoughts, feelings and beliefs. With good boundaries they can make good, safe and informed choices and can control what flows in and out of their lives. Survivors need to be taught how to set limits, how to honour their own feelings and to make choices that are in line with their own beliefs.
Setting a boundary is not making a threat – it is communicating clearly what the consequences will be if the other person continues to treat us in an unacceptable manner. Setting a boundary is also not an attempt to control another person. It is part of the process of defending ourselves and stating what is acceptable to us. It is a major step in taking what control we can of how we allow others to treat us. It is a vital step in taking responsibility for ourselves and our lives.
The important thing to remember when setting a boundary is, when we set a boundary we let go of the outcome. Yes, we want the other person to change their behaviour and we hope they will. But by trying to control the outcome we are manipulating rather than stating our boundary and our consequences if that boundary is not respected. In other words, if we set a boundary stating that if a person treats us in a certain way we will leave the house, firstly we must be prepared to leave the house if that person continues to treat us in that way and secondly we must let go of the outcome. We cannot try to manipulate the person in any way in order to orchestrate the outcome.
We, as survivors, need to own all of our choices in order to empower ourselves to take responsibility for our lives and leave the outcome of other peoples choices for them to deal with. If we do not own that we have a choice to leave an abusive relationship, then we are not actually making a choice to either leave or stay in the relationship and we will blame the other person or ourselves. We will see ourselves as a victim rather than a co-creator of our own lives living our lives by the choices we have made. We always have a choice. Even with life events that occur in a way that we seemingly don’t have a choice over, we still have a choice about how we will respond to these events.
In order to become empowered, to become the co-creator of our lives and to stop giving power to the belief that we are a victim, it is absolutely necessary to own that we have choices. Until we own that we have a choice, we haven’t made one. In other words, if we do not believe that we have a choice to leave our job, or relationship, then we have not made a choice to stay in it. A single mother has the choice of giving up their child for adoption, abandoning it or raising it themselves. That is a choice. If a single mother believes they have no choice, then they will feel trapped and resentful and will end up taking it out on the child. We always have a choice. The choices may seem awful, but in reality allowing ourselves to buy into the illusion that we are trapped will have worse consequences in the long run. By owning our choices, no matter how outrageous, it is a step in owning responsibility for being co-creators of our lives.
When we set boundaries, we are making choices. We are defining our territory to protect our space and ourselves. By setting boundaries we are communicating with another person. We are telling them who we are and what we need. It is more effective to do that directly and honestly than to expect them to read our minds and then punish them when they cannot. Learning to set boundaries is a vital part of learning to communicate and is a necessary step in learning to be a friend to ourselves. It is our responsibility to take care of ourselves and to protect ourselves.
An excellent book for more help on setting positive boundaries is:
Boundaries: When to say yes, when to say no, to take control of your life. By Cloud & Townsend, Strand Publishing, Sydney, 1996
Source: Co-dependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls by Robert Burney and www.joy2meu.com