Setting healthy boundaries is an integral part of living a healthy life. Boundaries protect you. They also help you form your own identity. Only you get to decide what your beliefs, values, thoughts, and choices are. The people around you must know how you define “acceptable” and “unacceptable.” By setting healthy boundaries, you are broadcasting your needs and what feels important to you.
For people who have been through traumatic experiences, this fundamental task becomes more complicated. Trauma makes you feel unsafe. It also challenges your sense of self-worth. This combination often leads trauma survivors to not put their own needs first.
What Trauma Does to Your Ability to Set Healthy Boundaries
1. Survival Mode
In the midst of a traumatic experience (or series of such experiences), your mind and body are focused on survival. The last thing you want to do is be any more vulnerable than you are. Therefore, you train yourself to never expose your feelings or your needs. Even after the trauma has passed, this defense mechanism can feel impossible to let go of.
2. Can’t Say “No”
When something important and essential is taken from you, it may stop dawning on you that you have every right to say “no.” When someone pushes or crosses your boundaries, you are allowed to put a stop to it. Trauma obscures this basic right and replaces it with guilt.
3. People Pleasing
You go along to get along. You’ve been through a nightmare and see no need to provoke anything else. At least, that’s how it feels when you don’t put the needs of others first. Left unchecked, this trend can get to the point where you have trouble even identifying your own needs.
4. Lack of Trust
Often, trauma happens to you as a child. Also often, the perpetrator is someone close to you — a person you trusted. A person upon whom you relied for safety and protection betrayed you. It’s quite common for this to result in a loss of trust. From there, why bother with setting boundaries? You can’t trust anyone to respect them anyway.
How to Get Comfortable Setting Healthy Boundaries After Trauma
1. Work on Your Communication Skills
You have plenty of good thoughts in your head. Healthy communication is what empowers you to share them. Like any skill, communication can be learned, practiced, and refined. View it as your entry point in this struggle to put yourself first.
2. Pick One Thing
You don’t have to take on every issue at the same time. Why not start with one area in which you feel strongly that a boundary is needed? Give yourself a chance to prepare and practice and then succeed. The moment right after you have said “no” for the first time in a while can be one of the most liberating moments of your life.
3. Recognize That Boundaries Are Hard For Everyone
Trauma or no trauma, you are not alone. Between social conditioning and personal influences on your life, you may feel uncomfortable going against the tide. Also, a form of perfectionism might be at play, e.g. to say “no,” under any circumstances, is to admit some kind of weakness. Take some solace that this is a challenging and ongoing process for everyone.
Talk to a Mental Health Professional
Anyone who has undergone trauma needs some professional guidance. Anyone who finds setting boundaries to feel like a minefield could benefit from a safe space to talk about it. Therapy is a useful vehicle to address all things boundary-related and trauma-related. I invite you to read more about trauma therapy. Then, let’s connect soon for a free and confidential consultation.