I am currently reading the book, “what happened to you? Conversations on trauma, resilience, and healing” by Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey. It’s an amazing book that through deeply personal conversations explores what happens to us in early childhood, influences the people we become. It challenges us to move away from “what’s wrong with us” to “what happened to us”.
I mention this because setting boundaries involves saying “no”, to others and to ourselves.
However, “when you’ve been groomed to be compliant confrontation in any form is uncomfortable”. When the trauma you’ve suffered results in feelings of shame and guilt you may also feel undeserving of having your needs met. Worse, when you’ve been taught that your needs don’t matter it becomes the norm to abandon ourselves, to please and meet the needs of or rescue those around us, rather than think about or do what’s best for us. It becomes hard to set our own boundaries, the situation or others end up doing that.
In my life this phenomenon shows up as saying ‘yes’ to too much, becoming overwhelmed because I take on too much, then getting resentful that I’m being used and discarded. It also shows up as self-sabotage, doing and saying things that cause others to say no for me – resulting a variety of negative outcomes, fractured, or ended relationships, rejection in a number of settings or contexts when a simple “no” would have sufficed.
In recovery, developing and maintaining healthy boundaries is an important aspect of our journey. Boundaries are a way to define and protect our physical, emotional, and mental space, and they can help us maintain healthy relationships and self-respect. Here are some strategies for building healthy boundaries in recovery:
1. The first step in building healthy boundaries is to identify your own limits. This can involve reflecting on your values, needs, and preferences, as well as considering what behaviours or situations make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
2. Once you have identified your limits, it is important to communicate them clearly and assertively. This can involve saying “no” when you are asked to do something that goes against your boundaries, or speaking up when someone crosses a line.
3. Self-care is an important aspect of building healthy boundaries, as it allows you to prioritise your own needs and well-being. This can involve taking time for yourself, engaging in activities that you enjoy, and setting aside time for rest and relaxation – I’ve heard it called a healthy selfishness or me-time.
4. Building healthy boundaries can be challenging, especially if you have a history of unhealthy relationships or co-dependency. Seeking support from a therapist, support group, or trusted friend can help you develop the skills and confidence you need to set and maintain healthy boundaries.
5. Consistency is key when it comes to building healthy boundaries. This means setting clear boundaries and sticking to them, even if it feels uncomfortable or difficult at first. Over time, consistency can help you establish new habits and strengthen your sense of self-worth and self-respect.
I heard a story about some young people that were put in an open field. They huddled together in the field not sure where to go or what to do. When the same field was boundaried the young people wandered all over it, testing the boundaries and in effect their world within the boundary was much ‘free-er’ that when no boundaries existed.
With regard to the ‘field’ analogy, setting and keeping boundaries in our lives helps us to explore the whole field, (the whole of lives), not huddling in the middle at the mercy of other people, situations and things.
So I invite you, (and really, I’m talking to myself here too) to take time to look at the state of repair of your life-boundary-fences and, to take an intentional look at areas where self-sabotage may be occurring.