If boundaries are new to you, or new again (because if you live with PTSD you’ve had your boundaries obliterated and may need to reestablish them), here’s where to start.
I had no idea what “boundaries” meant, at least not in the terms I was hearing them used. I had been called a people pleaser, and really good at customer service, and really helpful and the person who would be there if you needed anything. I would do whatever I could at whatever inconvenience to me for other people. I had no idea that wasn’t a good thing. And I had no idea that it was stacking up the consequences of a dangerous habit. And that I would end up being really, really resentful and trapped without knowing how to set myself free.
It takes practice, and it starts small, and it starts with the people furthest away from you.
If you have found yourself without healthy boundaries post-trauma, and my experience resonates with you, maybe what I did to get free will resonate too.
If you are post-trauma and you had the experience of being trapped or not able to get away from the person or event or thing that traumatized you and changed your brain, you may have a path in your brain that says that you can’t say no, because you tried that and it didn’t work and you experienced trauma anyway. That path is powerful, and every time you aren’t able to say no, it gets stronger. You have to build a new path. You also have to be really kind to yourself when you do, because it is hard, and it will take time and practice. But you can do this.
I started with saying “no” to the people furthest away from me, the people I had the least to gain or lose from. I turned down requests for help or involvement (while feeling like I was a bad person for doing so), I stopped replying to people who only contacted me when they wanted something from me (ex-friends, exes, etc.) and – perhaps most importantly I started getting clear with myself about what was important to me to spend my time and energy on. I wasn’t spending my time and energy on me, I was spending it on everyone else, and I had none left for me. So I wasn’t healing. And how could I when all of my energy was being constantly sucked away?
When I started getting clear with myself about what I could tolerate and what I couldn’t, what I could do and what I couldn’t, what I needed for me to heal me and what I had available after that, I could start setting boundaries with people closer to me – friends and family.
Let me reiterate: this is hard, and it takes practice. You are re-programming your brain.
Not everyone will like your boundaries. Not everyone will respect your new boundaries. So it’s important for you to know what you will do if your boundaries are crossed. And sometimes that means letting go of relationships.
Boundaries are not mean or selfish, they are necessary and healthy. Clear boundaries and clearly stated boundaries are kind. They don’t leave room for interpretation, they establish the rules of engagement. They protect you so that you have what you need to live the life you choose for yourself. It’s good to practice clear communication of your boundaries, and it’s good to respect your own boundaries, and to require that other people respect them too. However, you owe an explanation to no one.
The people who respect your new boundaries, who understand and can give you that space, are the ones to keep with you. Those who will not can fall aside as you move forward. But first, look in the mirror, tell yourself that you are enough and that you are worthy of boundaries, and begin the process of getting clear with yourself on what those boundaries need to be.