For many people, strong social support fosters recovery, and toxic relationships usher in relapse. To manage the latter, we need to talk about boundaries.
Boundaries protect you. They let the people around you know how you define what is acceptable or unacceptable. For people who have been through traumatic experiences, however, this task is a tough one. Experiencing trauma makes you feel unsafe, and can challenge your sense of self-worth, leading trauma survivors to lean back on their placating or maladaptive tendencies to avoid conflict.
Healthy boundaries are the ultimate form of self-respect. They say to us and the world, “I deserve to be honored, respected, and valued.” Boundaries denote confidence. Since confidence is often one of the casualties of PTSD, we have to relearn (or maybe learn for the first time) how to make a healthy, reasonable boundary, how to maintain it, and what to do if someone chooses to ignore it.
Making healthy boundaries seems like it should be easy and intuitive, but it’s not. Let’s start here:
1. Healthy boundaries make healthy relationships.
There is no such thing as a healthy relationship without boundaries, whether it is a marriage relationship, a friend, colleagues, or the relationship you have with your children. Healthy boundaries say, “I deserve to be honored, respected, and valued” and this is important for any healthy interpersonal relationship.
2. People do not know our boundaries unless we state them clearly and succinctly.
Yes, in a perfect world, people “should” know how to act, but suffice it to say that not everyone is great at adulting. Some people do not know that racist comments are not okay. Some people do not understand that unsolicited touching is creepy. Let’s not waste time getting mad about what “should be.” Instead, let’s remember that half the people we meet are below average and common sense is not common. Boundaries are not intuitive. We must state our boundaries clearly and concisely—out loud—to other people.
3. Reasonable people respect reasonable boundaries.
The inherent problem with this is that not all people are reasonable. Sad news of the day: the world is full of psychopaths and assholes. When people choose to ignore reasonable boundaries, they are sometimes the former and usually the latter. The problem is not our boundary, it is their choice.
4. Our boundaries, their choice.
We create healthy boundaries, and we have absolutely no control over other people or how they act. When we state our healthy boundaries—out loud—clearly and concisely, other people then choose whether they want to respect our boundaries or not.
“If you believe change is possible, you want to change, and you are willing to do the work, you absolutely CAN get your life back.”
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