Advice: Healthy Boundaries

The Basics:

Let’s start with the basic aspects you can frame healthy boundaries around. 

  • Your Space
    • You have the right to personal space, the basics of not having people touching you but also your room. You can have a personal bubble and have places in your home that are only yours. 
    • Space is important and hard for CSA survivors who’ve had our physical selves violated
  • Your Time
    • Let yourself have time to yourself and know that no one should be forcing you to burn your energy out by never resting. You decide how your time is allotted and who you give it to. 
    • This is hard in general with our culture of work but even harder if we feel we have to give 110% to others to be worth it.
  • Your emotional investment 
    • Investing all our emotions in supporting others is unhealthy. We owe other people respect, yes, but that doesn’t mean we put our feelings on the back burner.
    • Kindness and empathy are taken advantage of by abusers. They make us feel like our feelings don’t matter and theirs are paramount. Learning we can choose what of our emotions to others is hard but important.
  • Your choices
    • Here I’m referring to what we want to do with our life in the long term goals, but also what clothes we wear, eat or read.
    • Child abuse often entails others making all of our choices in a controlling manner or leaving us without guidance. Both screw with our ability to make them and this can give other control over us even after the original abuse stops.
  • Your sense of safety
    • We can’t always control rather we are safe in life or not, natural disasters, robberies, fires and other things will happen.  But we do have a right to not be around people who consistently make us feel unsafe. 
    • In this case, im referring to you don’t have to stay with people or in places you don’t like. We don’t have to engage in a dangerous activity because others are doing it or be friends with people who violate our other boundaries.  
    • With trauma our barometer of healthy relationships and ability to gauge threat becomes unbalanced. Learning how to see things more balanced is hard but important. 
  • Your sense of self
    • Identity is something you have the right to control yourself. This is something that recovery is necessary to do as trauma can shatter this.
    • But boundaries are important here. If anyone is trying to control what you can like, how you ought to dress, what you can feel, and completely alter your sense of self that is something that is unhealthy.

Working To Say No:

The first step in being able to say no and assert the boundaries is to practice doing it. Also, note that boundaries have both affirmative negative parts. So along with “no” there is also an important ability to say “that is what I want”

It’s all about practising, starting with saying “yes” or “no” when the situation might not be triggering or connected to trauma-related feelings. Working on being assertive in small situations can work to start them up. 

Some examples of ways to start saying no and to be more assertive. (These are of varying difficulty hopefully allowing you to find ways to work up to the situations you find the hardest) 

  • If someone offers to grab you a drink when they get one to say yes or no (whichever you want) even if you think it’s rude
  • Choose the music in the car
  • Let’s say your ordering lunch as a group. Stating what you want clearly is something small but can help
  • In a respectful manner assert your opinions in conversations with friends or coworkers. Including simple things like, “I didn’t like that class”
  • Let people know if you don’t want to watch a movie or tv show they have on
  • Finish your sentences when cut off.
  • With small things, if someone asks you to go out of your ways, say no I can’t do that. Like if a person is trying to get you to go back out of the house to get more coffee
  • If someone is in your personal space asking “can you move over” incredibly connected to CSA but starting with things like being to close in a line will allow it to be easier in a more intimate situation. 
  • Allow yourself to take up space. As it’s respectable but you don’t have to give up physical space that’s already allotted to you. 

All of this works to be able to say no to things in romantic and sexual contexts. It helps build self-esteem and have the confidence to let people know they make you uncomfortable in ways around trauma. It also leads to not burning yourself out because it’s how you’ve learned to be. 

Practicing Asserting Control:

Working on asserting control in a healthy way over your life can be really good. And can also give some healthy coping skills.

  • Cut your hair in a way you like
  • Colouring your hair a fun colour
  • Wear clothes that make you happy
  • Getting into a hobby where you can make things. 
  • Learn self-defence skills
  • Try learning a sport
  • Join clubs to engage with others who like things you do
  • Join support groups that can offer support in these issues. 

As courage starts to form you can try share with friends/loved ones that you are working hard on this. Finding people who will help you take a step back and make sure you want to engage in thing with them is super important. There is power in having people who can listen to your struggle and check in with your. With partners this is even more important.

Boundaries are incredibly hard for us to learn to form after abusers broken down our boundaries in our childhood. We might not ever have learned to form boundaries. Attachment issues and C-PTSD both have aspects of effecting the ability to relate to others, to understand ourselves and to have respect for ourselves. But we can learn to form them through practice and recovery as we heal.

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