Thursday Thought — Abuse is a Boundary Problem
When I use the word “boundary”, I am referring to the limits we have around our bodies and our minds to protect our safety, our integrity, and our privacy. Our boundaries can be thought of as fences with gates in them. At certain times we decide to open the gates and allow chosen people to pass through; at other moments the way is blocked, and we have a right to have the limits respected. Certain people we prefer never to let in, and places exists within us that may be open to no one.
Some boundaries we can reasonably consider inherent, in that they are accepted by most cultures as natural and unassailable; they are just there, without us having to erect them. The outside of our bodies, our skin, is one such limit; no one should touch us without our consent or against our wishes. Another inherent boundary is the right . . . not to be looked at in ways that feel invasive; for example, no one should sit and stare at you while you attempt to think, work, or rest because the power of their gaze will take over your mental space and you will be unable to focus on the activity you wanted to engage in. In other words, eyes can intrude upon minds as well as bodies.
Other boundaries are less universal, and are chosen by an individual based on what he or she finds necessary for physical or emotional well-being. You might find that you hate being tickled — many people do — or that you don’t care for tight hugs because they make you feel suffocated. You may become enraged when someone tells you what you are feeling, so you proclaim firmly that you are the only one who gets to define what is happening in your heart. These kinds of physical and emotional boundaries may be specific to you, but you nonetheless have every right to expect and demand that they be respected.
When a person’s inherent boundaries, or their individually specific ones, are violated, any or all of the following effects can appear:
- Feeling invaded and unsafe.
- Feeling degraded or dirty.
- Feeling confused, including having trouble distinguishing what is voluntary from what isn’t (e.g. “Did I like that, or didn’t I? Did I want to be doing that, or was I pressured into it?”)
- Feeling lonely, abandoned, not seen, or not understood.
- Having trouble trusting people (which may intensify over time).
- Feeling angry or enraged, becoming extremely defiant.
When children or adults experience severe or repeated violations of their boundaries, the above effects can become deep and chronic. In addition, the violations can cause them to lose part of their ability to handle the gates in their fences well. They may find, for example, that they sometimes let people in who turn out not to be trustworthy, or whom they didn’t really want to allow to pass through in the first place. At the same time, they may shut good people out, only to regret later the missed opportunities for emotional or physical closeness. Or the gates may stop working at all, so they simply shut everybody out, leading to an isolated existence of mistrust, or let everybody in, leading to an existence of being exploited, with intimacy coming to feel like an unpleasant obligation.
These insights lead us back to a central point:
Abuse by a husband or boyfriend almost always includes some aspects of disrespecting the woman’s boundaries.
(excerpt from When Dad Hurts Mom [affiliate link*] by Lundy Bancroft, p93-95)
*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link