Christians often applaud self-sacrifice and unselfish behaviour but this can lead to an unhealthy lack of self care and self respect. When we have lived with an abuser, we have typically learnt to put the needs and desires of others first and struggle to re-assert ourselves without guilt or shame. We need to re-learn the importance of developing our own personal boundaries, the healthy pursuit of fulfilling our wants and needs and understanding our own limits.
Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that we create to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards us and how we will respond when someone passes those limits. Boundaries are non-negotiable lines we set to feel comfortable in a friendship or relationship. If we think in advance about how we might respond when these lines are crossed, it will enable us to uphold our boundaries. Thinking about and setting boundaries can protect us from further harm and ensure healthy relationships. Boundaries keep what is important to us and our values at the forefront of any relationship and keep our self-respect intact. Setting boundaries is an important element of self care.
Cloud and Townsend (2017, 2000) have written many good books on boundaries which can be broken down into discrete categories:
Physical - no one should touch you in a way that hurts you or makes you uncomfortable.
Emotional - your feelings are valid and you are responsible for them and not for someone else's feelings. No one can tell you how to feel.
Material - sharing material belongings is up to you.
Spiritual - your beliefs are yours and sharing them is up to you. Neither do you need to feel pressured by others to believe a certain way.
Mental - you thoughts and opinions are valid and should be respected.
Examples of Boundaries
So what exactly does a boundary look like? Boundaries are simple concepts and phrases that describe our limits, tolerances and expectations, they communicate who we are and what we want or require from a partner, friend or church or family member. Eg:
- Expect respect from others and not constant criticism even made in jest.
- Expect others not to pressure you into agreeing to things you don’t want to do or say.
- Expect reliability and kindness from others and not accept inconsistent treatment.
Expressing our boundaries to others - Finding our Voice
Having an assertive attitude rather than a passive or aggressive stance is the best way to communicate boundaries. Using appropriate body language, eye contact, facial expression and voice level can all help in expressing one's own boundaries well.
Domesticshelter.org1 has written about the need to rediscover your voice and re-learn how to express yourself so that you can thrive and engage in a healthy relationship. They suggest a few ways to do this.
- List your favourites - start listing what your favourites are in all areas: movies, songs, meals - understand that your preferences are valid.
- Consider your vision - what do you want your life to look like? What do you want a relationship to look like?
- Take up more space - carry your head high, look people in the eye, practise confident body language.
- Start using more 'I' statements - 'I would like . . .' - your needs and desires are valid.
- Practise speaking up - your thoughts and opinions are important.
Find what makes you happy - what gives you joy - pursue that!
This blog is taken from the Survivors handbook
Survivors Handbook - This outstanding resource is aimed at supporting survivors on their journey to recovery. It has been written with a particular emphasis for Christian women who can sometimes feel like they need to choose between their faith and their freedom because we believe it's possible to have both.
Survivor Handbook is free if you are a survivor
Essential & practical resource