Boundaries. You name them, I have never had them. I didn’t really even know what boundaries were until my therapist broke it down for me. When I say boundaries I mean sense of self and protecting that self. What do I want. What do I not want. Where is my actual spacial boundary. What do I consider my space and who do I want in it our out of it and why. Am I able to tell someone who is in my space to get out of my space. Am I able to establish a boundary where I feel safe in any environment. Am I able to say no. Am I able to explain what my boundary is and why. Am I able to speak my wishes and my hesitations about my own personal space.
These are questions I have been asking myself. Reflecting on these questions I have been accutely aware that I never say no. Whether it is a hug or someone sitting next to me or just telling someone they cannot come over right now to my house. I have not thought about myself or my needs or my boundaries or when someone violates my space… because no one taught me how. My space was violated most of my life with abuse. So my ability to establish my own space and how close I want someone in my own personal space has not been established. It couldn’t be. My space was invaded with molestation and rape. I HAD NO SPACE. This has left me open for many triggers and PTSD episodes. I have often felt like I cannot say no because every time I ever have, I was not respected. If I know a man is coming towards me and wants to hug me, but has cologne on, I will allow him to hug me. Every part of my being is saying no. But up until this point my ability to set a boundary has been non existent. Then I would spend the next few hours in a dissociative state until I could wash my clothes and scrub my skin raw in the shower. All because I could not just put my hand up and say no.
Establishing boundaries is imperative in the healing of sexual abuse. It is crucial. Just last week I was able to tell someone that I was sexually abused and his cologne would be very triggering for me and THAT is why I could not hug him. It is THE very first boundary I have ever set. It was very empowering to not cower and not be submissive of the boundaries my body so desperately needed. And he responded with complete understanding and compassion. It was a very positively reinforcing moment for using my voice and protecting my body’s needs. Not everyone will respond to my boundaries with understanding. I know this. Not everyone will listen or respect my boundaries. I have recently been shown this. It was a simply boundary that I set this past week. Someone wanted to come over and spend the night. I said no. I said that she could come over for a few hours but spending the night is something I can not do right now. It was a very clear boundary- I am not okay with what you are suggesting because of (bland) but we can do this instead- I cannot have an overnight guest. She did not accept this boundary. She pushed and she pushed to get what she wanted with no regard for my boundary. The consequences of her actions resulted in not being able to see us at all and infact me putting up a larger boundary that said I personally did not want her in my home period. Putting up this boundary and having someone so blatantly disregard it created my need for a larger boundary. Something I also have never done. She had no respect for my boundaries and I was not okay with that. Setting up boundaries will not always end feeling victorious. Yay! I set up a boundary and told someone what was not okay for me. But they didn’t care. They didn’t listen. This is hard. When you finally set up your boundary and the other person just doesn’t care. That was very triggering for me because when my “no” doesn’t mean no to someone else it is incredibly upsetting. It actually resulted in me having a seizure. My point in sharing this experience is: setting up and implementing boundaries is not easy. I did not back down though. Once my boundary was set, it was set. That boundary was me listening to my own body and what it could handle and not handle and stating very clearly my expectations of another person. It is victorious though, even if it doesn’t feel that way, even if they don’t listen, because you have chosen to speak. Speaking in the face of a manipulator or a bully or a selfish person will always be victorious to a person who has been beaten down by similar abusive individuals. I will always consider my voice to be a victory, even if in that moment it may not feel that way.
It is not your fault or responsibility if someone chooses to not respect your boundaries. That is on them. We have the right to FINALLY after living for years of having our space violated, establishing a protective space that has a voice. I can say no. You can say no. No to a friend stopping by. No to being hugged if you don’t want to be. Even no to something so simple as your child wanting you to lay in bed with them before they sleep. If tonight is a night you need to be alone, then they will be okay. You can lay in bed with your child another night and they will be okay. It may be as simple as someone offering you food that you don’t want or hand me down clothes you don’t want and actually saying no. I cannot tell you how many times I have taken someone’s hand-me-downs just to donate them to goodwill because I could not say no. I cannot tell you the amount of times I have done things I did not want to do, accepted things I did not want, because I did not know how to say no. I couldn’t say no. I had no boundaries.
Boundaries are about listening. Listening to the parts of yourself that have been violated. Listening to the parts of yourself that want protection, security, and safety, and putting a voice to those needs. It is a process that will be ongoing or me. Part of setting up my boundaries is learning how to tell people no. Learning what is best for me and my healing and implementing that. Setting up boundaries is giving my body the nurturing and protection that it never received. Those boundaries have to begin with me. I have to figure them out. I have to then voice them. I have to then understand that if they are not respected, that does not fall back onto me. I will not be guilted or burdened with someone elses inability to respect my boundaries. No has to mean no. I will stand firm. My body deserves it. It is time to give my body the boundaries it has needed since the day those boundaries were violated. I have said before and I will say again, I am a work in progress. Healing from trauma is a continuous work in progress. Boundaries are a big part of that healing work. This is only the beginning.