I was victimized as a child by my stepfather, a person I trusted, looked up to, and loved. Yes, I did love him. That’s why it was hard to understand why he would sexually abuse me, or why he would do something that left me confused, ashamed, and in pain.
As an adult, I continued his cycle of abuse by turning it inward on myself. The anger and fear I experienced as an abused child became self-loathing and self-hatred. I used alcohol, smoking, and sex to numb the pain. I also tried to play the role of "miss perfect" to hide my truth. I tried to make everyone happy so they would not see the truth about how I was really feeling. Even worse, I put myself in high-risk situations and bad relationships where I would be abused again and again.
It was a vicious cycle.
But that’s not all. I turned the anger, pain, and shame outward toward others as well. I manipulated people to get what I wanted. When the shame overwhelmed me, I withheld love or affection to punish and blame others for my circumstances.
I was a mess, and it just kept getting worse. I struggled with my feelings, asking for what I needed, and setting boundaries.
Finally, I felt so horrible about my life and my rotten choices that I knew something had to change. I had to change. I needed help, badly. I had to find a way to plant the seeds of healing in me. But I didn’t realize I’d have to fight as hard for my healing as I had fought to repress my pain.
But with support and coaching, I did it. Slowly, when I understood why I was acting the way I had, why I struggled so much, I began to feel better about myself, my life, and where I was headed.
For me, the toughest habits to break were the anger and self-hatred I had turned inward on myself. A lot of the pain was because I did not have a safe place to process it, so I numbed and repressed it all to the point I did not know where I ended and others began. Not wanting to feel my pain, I focused outside of myself for attention and validation and was deeply hurt when I did not get it. It fed my painful belief about being bad and unlovable. I was confused about how to ask for what I needed and how to speak up when someone would hurt me or overstep my boundaries.
Learning about boundaries took time. I had to learn the true reason and benefit of boundaries. I initially thought I had to know my boundaries to make sure others would not hurt me. But the better way to look at it, and the most important reason for knowing my boundaries was because now I cared for and respected myself and realized I had to risk upsetting people to be true to myself. To find the courage to speak up when they were disrespectful or hurtful when they treated me in ways that I no longer treated myself.
Now that I know the truth about who I am and have learned to set boundaries, it has gotten much easier. Yes, it can still feel risky at times, but it always creates an opportunity to deepen a connection or friendship with people who truly want the best for us. Most people don't overstep our boundaries on purpose, and when we have the courage to let them know, they respond with care and concern. But sometimes when we start to speak up around people from our past, it does not always work that way.
The issue of boundaries has come up over the last few weeks in my group and with my private clients. It is very confusing when we did not get healthy models of boundaries growing up and the people meant to teach us to trust ourselves and set boundaries were the people hurting us.
So what are boundaries? I shared some examples of boundaries in a recent YouTube video that you can check out here.
Here is a quote from Dr. Margaret Paul of what boundaries are and are not:
When we don't set good boundaries and then speak up when others don't respect our boundaries, we end up being hurt over and over again. So what can you do about it?
Most survivors of childhood trauma do whatever they can to avoid conflict and struggle with asking for what they need. It never worked in the past or if they tried, they likely got punished for it or love was withheld from them. So why trust it now? Can you relate?
Learning to set boundaries takes practice and it will feel risky in the beginning. Find a safe person or a group to help you practice. You are not alone with this challenge.
"A boundary is about telling your truth and then taking action on it."
Here is a short script that you can use to help you get started:
I am no longer willing to __________________ because ____________________.
Next time ___________________, I will __________________________________.
Keep your intention to set this boundary because of your loving care of yourself. This is not about blame. This is you taking responsibility for yourself. Remember, we can not control other people. We can only control how we respond to how other people treat us.
Dr. Margaret Paul (who said the quote above) is the creator of the Inner Bonding Method.
When you learn to connect with your inner child, (the hurt part of you that is still holding onto some old pain and beliefs), you can become the parent and the protector you needed. Part of developing this relationship with your inner child is learning to set boundaries, communicate our needs, and learn to love ourselves first.
The inner bonding healing method is a powerful way we can learn to love ourselves, no matter how old you are now. This is how we can take responsibility for our lives today, and all of our feelings. When you honor your inner child with loving-kindness, there is less spillover from the past into your life now. You are the adult now. Not a wounded child. No one can do this work for you. Only you, the adult can. And that is good news. Because you can!
Have you turned the abuse you suffered into self-abuse or do you struggle with setting boundaries? If so, I want you to know you can stop at any time. You just have to take that first step toward healing. And then another step. And then another. Baby steps, one day at a time. We all have to start somewhere. You can do this, too. If I can do it, so can you!
I believe in you!
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