This week, I had the pleasure of talking about boundaries with a very special group of emotional abuse survivors. All of them have come a long, LONG way on their healing journey. Yet, just like every other survivor, they still sometimes feel that they are on shaky ground when it comes to boundaries.
As one of them put it, “I find myself wondering whether I really need to set a boundary or whether I am just overreacting. How do I know whether or not I am justified?”
How do you know where to set boundaries after abuse?
The question is actually quite subtle.
It put me in mind of that definitive article about what NOT to wear after age 50. You can read it here:
The short answer is that you can set a boundary wherever the hell you want. You don’t have to justify yourself to anyone. Not to mention the fact that if you feel like you are “overreacting” you are most probably still suffering from the effects of learned self-doubt – which comes about as a result of constant the constant verbal assault and battery that you have been subjected to.
Still, the problem with the “wherever the hell you want” kind of answer is this: for it to work, it requires a person to be in the confident, assertive mind-set that they clearly are not in. Because if they were, they would have no need to ask.
So, instead, we need to fall back on first principles.
If the question you ask yourself does not stimulate your thinking to come up with a good answer, then you have to deconstruct it to come up with a better one.
Underpinning the original question was another one:
“How do I know that my own feelings and judgement are valid?”
That was not terribly helpful either. You know your own feelings and judgements are valid because… won’t get you far when they actually don’t feel valid.
Turn things on their head
In Annie’s little universe of curiosity, that means you have to turn things on their head. When you do that, you get to:
“So, how do you know that your own feelings and judgement are not valid?”
That is when you hit pay dirt.
You know that your feelings and judgement are not valid because that is what you have been made to feel by the abusive people in your life.
Gaslighting has pretty much made you a certainty-free zone.
Abuse is all about power and control.
The biggest obstacle to an abuser’s power and control
The biggest obstacle to an abuser’s power and control over you is your sense of your own rights and worth. If you experience your own rights and worth, you will spontaneously express them through an unequivocal statement of your boundaries.
When you do not have the confidence to settle on – let alone express – a boundary. that is because you have been gaslighted and cowed into submission so often that you do not feel justified in feeling your own feelings.
That is a “normal” consequence of abuse.
That being the case, you might as well accept that for the time being your feelings might be a tad off kilter when it comes to boundaries. Your initial response “This does not feel right to me” will be quickly followed by “Yes, but how can I feel sure of my own feelings?”
So, let’s just worst-case-scenario the issue, for a moment. Right now, you cannot be 100% sure that your feelings are correct. However, the odds on them being correct are pretty high.
What does it prove if your boundaries offend someone?
If the other person gets offended by your boundaries what does that prove?
Most likely that, in their eyes, you are behaving outrageously by objecting to them violating your feelings and your space.
But just suppose that you do “get it wrong”.
What does that mean?
It means that you were choosing to put a boundary in a place that might not entirely make sense to another person – maybe not even to you on another day.
And so what?
Nobody dies. The course of world history doesn’t change. Civilizations are not lost. At worst, you could have done something that peeved another person.
For all of 5 minutes.
Then, if they are adults, they will get on with their day and let it go.
If, on the other hand, they are demanding, controlling children, then they were going to take offence anyway – if not today, then tomorrow or the next day. So, the very worst you have done is to move the inevitable slightly further up the agenda than it otherwise might have been.
Mistakes are just learning experiences
Mistakes are just learning experiences. Nobody learns anything much without making mistakes. That applies to you, too. If you did make a mistake by setting a boundary where you thought it probably should go, then you have a learning experience.
Next time, you will set a boundary even more effectively. And Life will go on.
If this article has been helpful to you in the way that you think about boundaries, I urge you to check out my new program The Boundaries Warrior Toolkit where I give you all the tools, tips and understanding to get yourself into the right headspace to set boundaries successfully. Without agonising over how other people will judge you.
Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.
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