Friday, February 11, 2011

Setting Healthy Boundaries

I was reading one of my favorite online blogs today and the topic was
“Setting boundaries with abusive family.” This was my comment:

“My parents are dead. 
They are buried about one and a half hours west of where I live. 
My aunt is angry with me for not tending to the grave. 
This is just about the only boundary left for me to set. 
My father stole my innocence, my sexuality and very nearly, my soul. 
My mother did nothing while it was happening. She refused to help or believe me when I did disclose to her. I can think of NO good reason why I should drive an hour and a half to a town that I hate to pick weeds and plant flowers for them. 
I will NEVER get on my knees for him again! 
PS-I think I'm starting to get in touch with my anger.”
I started thinking about the way that my idea of boundaries has changed over the years. As I was growing up, I thought people who were clear with their boundaries were mean, scary or selfish. I had absolutely no idea that it was OK to say, “No!”  The notion that I didn’t have the right to set limits also extended to the emotional. I didn’t even have the right to FEEL what I was feeling! 
I had to say, “Yes” and I had to LIKE it too. Well, I didn’t like it. As a matter of fact, I hated it! I hated that I wasn't allowed to get mad. I hated that I had no right to privacy, individuality, safety or my own feelings.
Even the air I breathed was contaminated. I was subjected to all manner of pain and humiliation and I was subjected to a house and car filled with cigarette smoke. I couldn’t protest my abuse, (in fact, I couldn’t even THINK about it.) However, I did do my very best to protest the stinging, suffocating air I had to breathe.
What happened when I did speak up? I was ignored at first, and then belittled and called “a pest.” When I was in the fourth grade, I presented my mother with materials I got from school that talked about the dangers of smoking, but I was laughed at. I begged for an open window in the car and sometimes they would crack it open about half an inch or so, hoping to shut me up. Eventually, I would be punished for continuing to complain about the smoke.
Smoking remains a big issue for me to this day. For me, it symbolizes the years of abuse and rejection I endured and how helpless I was. I didn't even have air! My buttons are pushed and I recognize how I am triggered right back into the role of that helpless child when I’m near a smoker. I absolutely hate it! I remain militant about not allowing anyone to smoke near me or my children.
As an adult, I have gone overboard in setting this boundary.
Never learning healthy boundaries can be very confusing when it comes to setting or keeping them today. Like so many things in my life, I have been very “black and white” with boundaries. I have often found myself vulnerable with no limits whatsoever, or locked into an unbending ideal with no room for compromise. I was angry, but didn't know that I was allowed to feel that way. This has led to depression that comes when you are not allowed to feel your feelings. Rage that has been buried, now needs to come out.
Several years ago, I took a class at the Baptist church called “Boundaries.” It was good for me and I learned a lot; but one thing really stayed with me. Healthy boundaries are loving and necessary. It is loving and kind to say, “No?” Wow! Now there’s an idea! Children need healthy boundaries to feel safe and secure. They need loving limits to know who they are and where they fit into the world. I never got that growing up. I’m learning how to be real with people and speak up about how I feel and what I think. I am finding that the clearer I am with my boundaries and the sooner I set them, the easier it is to navigate through the twists and turns of life. I'm starting to get in touch with some of that repressed anger. I can see now that I have a right to be angry. It feels good to be real and I like myself better this way.


  1. Hello anonymous... is this my sister by any chance? I guess technically, she's a cousin from another generation, but she lives in Peru.

  2. Good and clear thoughts, conclusions, and resolutions. Helpful insights!

  3. Thank you Sheryl... I'm a work in progress!