As survivors of childhood trauma, each of us has suffered boundary violations in our childhood that will have impacted our ability to develop and maintain good boundaries in our adult lives.
If you were emotionally abused, you are likely to have poor emotional boundaries because you were not allowed to have your own feelings, and you probably found it safest to be told what to feel. If you were sexually or physically abused, you are likely to have poor physical boundaries as these boundaries were crossed.
For each of us, learning boundaries is a critical part of our healing. We all have to learn how to set limits, how to honour our own feelings, and how to make choices that are in line with our own beliefs or wishes.
Understanding the difference between good boundaries and poor boundaries
Having good boundaries keeps us safe and helps us to know who is responsible for what, especially when there is conflict. Generally speaking, developing good boundaries is particularly hard (and therefore very important) if the trauma started very early in life.
When you develop good boundaries, you recognise that only you are responsible for meeting your needs and wants. It also makes it easier to ask for help from others when you want it.
In contrast, people with poor boundaries often say yes when they mean no, and no when they mean yes. Often, they cannot recognise the needs of others or themselves. They also may not respect or understand other people’s boundaries. This can lead to all sorts of problems, including relationship breakdowns.
Why you shouldn’t overlook psychological boundaries
Some boundaries are more obvious than others.
Physical boundaries of inanimate objects and geographical borderlines are easy to recognise. Most people immediately know when someone intrudes on these boundaries. For example, when a thief breaks into their home or steals their car.
However, as survivors, it is not always easy for us to recognise that we also have the right to our own thoughts, feelings and beliefs.
These psychological boundaries are not as apparent as physical boundaries, yet they are just as real and certainly just as important. Healthy psychological boundaries help us feel safe and comfortable in relationships, ensuring at all times that we care about our self, and our own needs and wants.
A guide to healthy boundary development
Developing healthy boundaries can be very difficult when we have not had good examples of boundaries in our childhood.
Perhaps we have had our boundaries broken so often that identifying safe boundaries is a new world for us. As a result, our brain will try to tell us that we don’t have the right to do what we want.
We develop healthy boundaries by recognising that we matter, that we have a right to how we are feeling, and that we have a right to choose what we want to do and when we want to do it.
As we learn boundaries, we can also recognise that sometimes it is okay to do what we don’t want to do, because it matters to someone we love. We realise it is all a choice.
A starting point for developing boundaries is to ask yourself:
- What do I want?
- What do I need?
- Am I doing this because I want to or because I feel I have to?
- Do I want to do this? (If the answer is no, ask yourself: Will I do it anyway because it matters to someone I love?)
Healthy boundaries lead to a happier life
Healthy boundaries make life so much simpler and so much more enjoyable because we do what we want to do and not what we should do.
We’re more likely to have better relationships because we don’t look to other people to meet our needs, nor do we become disappointed if relationships fail because we have not been clear about our needs.
Ultimately, life is wonderful when healthy boundaries are in place.
To learn more about healthy boundary development, along with other tools and techniques for survivors of childhood trauma, Heal For Life is a step by step guide to help you heal and regain control of your emotions, behaviours, and your life.
Learn more about healing and trauma recovery...
Heal For Life, by Liz Mullinar
How to Heal Yourself from the Pain of Childhood Trauma and Abuse
This practical guidebook for survivors of childhood trauma or abuse, presents the Heal For Life model of trauma-informed self healing that has already empowered thousands of survivors to find inner peace and hope for a brighter future. This book is highly recommended by survivors and mental health professionals alike.