Has anyone ever told you that boundaries are selfish? Self-centered?
When I began to confront the abuse in my family of origin and the abuse and infidelity in my marriage, I was personally told by family, that the boundaries I was FINALLY beginning to follow-thru with were: unloving, unkind, ungodly, unforgiving, and unrepentant. According to them, I was disrespectful, dishonoring and ungrateful. Suddenly this “sweet little compliant person” they knew and conveniently kept in- line – was no longer. You see, I was beginning to believe I had VALUE – and as soon as I started to become ‘woke’ to my own value – the game changed! If I had not started to see the light and truth of what God designed for my freedom – I never would have been able to use my voice by establishing a boundary to protect HER.
In fact, I was not being ungodly, unforgiving, unrepentant… actually I was following in God’s footprints! I was behaving the way Immanuel behaves… He is a God of boundaries. Why is that? Because boundaries are in essence the most loving thing we can do for ourselves and our relationships. Why? Because it gives us choice and freedom. True love is choice and freedom. You are free to be who you are and I am free to be who I am. I operate inside my property line from the VALUE God created me in. Dr. Cloud states, “Love only exists where there is freedom…We are not being unloving. Separating ourselves protects love, because we are taking a stand against things that destroy love.”
Here are three reasons we must lay a boundary in order to protect love. Love and care for the person God designed us to be:
- I lay a boundary to protect myself from the impact of harm
- I lay a boundary to take responsibility for HER; her finances, her time, her energy, her emotions, her intellect, her resources, her health, her body
- I lay a boundary to SELF NOURISH and take a break from the pain
- I Lay a boundary to protect myself from the impact of harm
When I am working so hard to untangle myself from the distorted beliefs that have twisted me up inside. It is prudent to use boundaries in order to protect myself from the behavior of others which would validate the lies rather than the truth. Specifically, when I am dealing with an enmeshed family system or I am continuing to be emotionally and verbally abused by my sexually addicted spouse, I can and should protect myself from that impact. In her book Healing from Hidden Abuse Shannon Thomas writes about the benefits of detached and/or going ‘no contact’ with those who would psychologically abuse. This includes people in your life who are manipulating, gas lighting, chronically deceiving, sexually acting out, manipulating you financially and/or spiritually. When we spend time with those who would continue to abuse, and who have not heard our cries for peace and justice; we must STOP the madness.
We stop the madness by limiting contact or going ‘no contact’, as painful as this step is the ultimate empowering goal for you is to REWIRE the repetitious lies that their abuse spills into your mind. When we protect ourselves from the impact of their harm we are avoiding the destruction that would take place days, weeks, months and even YEARS after a single interaction with them. A boundary of limited or no contact allows us the time to DECONSTRUCT all the lies the abuse has fed us. We need TIME, QUIET and SAFE relationships to replace those lies with truth.
As a survivor, I must protect myself from harm, if that harm continues to validate the lies I’m so desperately trying to get rid of.
Patrick Doyle states it in this way: “If you are in a relationship where someone is hurting you, the most loving thing you can do is to stop them.”
Another example of protecting ourselves from the impact of harm is when we need to ask our sexually addicted spouse if he will be willing to stop a certain behavior, which causes us to be triggered further delaying our healing. When we are triggered from his behavior we immediately feel unsafe. We feel a heightened sense of anxiety, agitation, insecurity or a wave of abandonment washes over us like we’re experiencing that first betrayal ALL. OVER. AGAIN.
I remember my husband used to stay up really late at night, after I had gone to bed. He claimed he was watching TV or paying “bills” on the computer. He even bought expensive headphones so I couldn’t hear the TV (looking back at that I cringe, thinking about the things he may have been listening to). Meanwhile, I was laying in bed having panic attacks, unable to fall asleep, but knowing I had to go to sleep because I’m a teacher and I have to get up early for school. I also knew, that I wasn’t his mom and I couldn’t babysit or control what he was watching. Total conundrum and very unsafe for me. This was such a trigger because I intuitively knew and could feel that he was acting out, I just couldn’t prove it. This late night behavior spelled disaster.
I had to ask him if he would be willing to stop staying up late at night, and if we could go to bed at the same time.
By asking for this boundary, I was letting my partner know: “hey, this behavior hurts me and scares me and makes me feel unsafe”. I was asking if my partner was willing to work with me to protect me from the impact of harm. (the anxiety, flashbacks, and unsafe feelings)
Here’s a practical way to frame a boundary when asking your partner to work with you to protect you from the impact of harm. This formula is an adaptation from Marsha Means’ in her book Journey to Healing and Joy.
“When you stay up late and watch TV or work on the computer after I have gone to bed, I get nervous and believe you’re acting out again, and that makes me feel really unsafe and fearful. Would you be willing to come to bed at the same time as me so that I can feel some security and see that you are complying with all parts of your recovery plan?”
Sometimes our triggers can cause us to believe a false narrative about our world, but because sexual addiction is cloaked in chronic deception and gas lighting – we have to work overtime to figure out what is real or not real. Vicki Tidwell Palmer states, “When you have an intuition or a gut feeling about anything, whether it concerns the sex addict or not, trust that your intuition is correct until you receive information that contradicts the intuitive hunch, or something else happens that warrants changing your mind… honor YOUR reality…” Therefore, when stating a boundary – only include the facts, and make your request specific. Then, ask for what you need and wait to see if the person is willing to respond with behavior that says they care about your well-being and participating in healthy relationship. If you don’t know what you NEED, you will not be able to protect yourself from the impact of harm. For example, I knew I NEEDED a good night’s sleep for school the next day and I needed to feel safe. That is what I asked for by crafting it into my boundary.
Boundaries are about YOU. They are not about controlling the other person’s behavior. If the other person is unwilling to participate in a healthy way which would protect you from the harm – the boundary is STILL ABOUT YOU. You will then need to decide the next step to ensure you are protected from the harm of their behavior. That next step might look like walking away and meeting your own needs in a healthy way. The quickest way to see if you have safety and freedom in a relationship is to watch how someone responds when you say NO and/or make a request. If they attack and accuse, then there’s no safety.
Another way that I had to protect myself from the impact of harm was when I came up against my husband’s explosive anger. There were a few times in our marriage where his anger was physically violent and aggressive towards me. At that time, I knew nothing of boundaries and unfortunately was very harmed in those interactions. In the last two years of our marriage I began using boundaries and as soon as I saw his fists clench up in anger, his body get stiff, or a cereal bowl fly across the table – I knew I could protect myself from the impact of harm.
My dear sister, if there is any level of PHYSICAL AGGRESSION taking place for you right now, SAFETY is your number one concern. Your boundary is to LEAVE THE ROOM. Don’t speak, don’t engage, don’t say anything. Just quickly get up from the room and leave. If he follows, get to a room with an exit (like a window at near-ground level) and lock the door. (make sure to take your cell phone with you) If he bangs on the door and won’t respect your space, call the police. If he follows you from room to room – get in the car and drive away.
Protecting myself from anger explosions looked and sounded like this:
“I can see you clenching your fists and your body language is very abrasive, and your raising your voice, I feel scared and unsafe, let’s talk about this later.” And then I left the room.
A final way that we could protect ourselves from the impact of harm is learning our own triggers! Things that we may interact with that effect us (not what our partner does). This is related to knowing your own sensitivities to flashbacks, nightmares, or unresolved traumatic memories. Any stimulus that makes you feel unsafe, you may need to protect yourself from the impact of it’s harm, especially if this recovery work is very new and the betrayal trauma wound is fresh, or has been repetitiously re-opened.
Triggers are like a strobe light. The strobe light is activated and it starts illuminating a belief system that has been hiding in the dark. When we do bump up against harm and that strobe light turns on, we can ask this question: “What is the belief I have about myself that this experience is triggering?” Your boundary will provide you enough safety in order to explore that statement and get to the root belief that is still lingering inside of you.
Here is an example of protecting myself from the impact of my own triggers. One night I was streaming a movie on Netflix, and a scene came on in which the topic was infidelity. I immediately had to turn the movie off because it reminded me too much of the pain I was currently sitting in. After that “learn the hard way” moment – I know that from now on I must check all movies before I actually watch them. This means I take the time to carefully research and look up movie reviews before just clicking on something ‘willy nilly’ because it looks “good”. Due to painful childhood memories, I know I cannot watch anything that contains spousal physical abuse or childhood physical abuse. Even though I’ve done a LOT of work resolving traumatic memories – it still hits too close to home, and I’d rather maintain my peace.
One of my favorite verses on protecting yourself from the impact of harm says this;
“Turn away from evil and do good.
Search for peace, and work to maintain it” -Psalm 34:14
My dear sister, when we protect ourselves from the impact of harm, we do this DELICATE work of recovery, by unbecoming the lies that traumatic experiences have created. If that means PROTECTING your peace as you do the work of untangling the noose of destruction around your neck – DO. IT. Stand behind your property line and DO YOUR WORK. Healing will move faster if you avoid the noose that seeks to destroy.
“He led me to a place of safety;
he rescued me because he delights in me.” -Psalm 18:19
You are not alone.
Resources for today’s empowerment: Healing from Hidden Abuse, Shannon Thomas and Moving Beyond Betrayal, Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW, CSAT