Trauma survivors on the road to healing must create strong boundaries—limits that you put in place when interacting with other people. Boundaries are the key to healthy relationships and strong self-respect. But how do you create strong boundaries when it’s difficult just to say no? Below are a few tips on how to set boundaries as you recover from trauma:
- Know your values and limits. It’s important to understand that since everyone has different values, they will also have different limits. For example, for one person it may be okay to accept telephone calls after 10:00pm while another may refuse calls after 9:00pm. There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to setting limits, only what feels right for you. Know what you value and what you will not tolerate.
- Listen to your feelings. Feelings of anger, resentment, and anxiety are often signs that your boundaries are being violated. By listening to your feelings, you can begin to rediscover what your limits are. This is critical to recovering from trauma, because traumatic events are major violations of our boundaries. By reestablishing those boundaries and/or creating new boundaries, you can regain power over your life.
- Communicate your boundaries. No one can read your mind, so you will need to communicate to others what your limits are. For example, if you don’t like to be touched and someone touches you, it’s up to you to tell them to stop. They won’t know that you have a “no touch” boundary if you don’t tell them. You don’t have to explain why you have this boundary. Simply saying “Please don’t touch me” is enough.
- Create consequences. You don’t have power over other people, but you do have the power to enforce your boundaries. Decide in advance what you will do if someone violates your boundaries. For example, if someone insists on touching you without your permission, you might decide to leave the room and cease contact with that person. Remember, enforcing your boundaries isn’t about controlling another person, it’s about controlling what you do in response to their boundary violation.
- Practice self-care. At the center of trauma recovery is self-care, there’s no healing without it. Setting and enforcing your boundaries means that you must put yourself first, not other people. That’s not selfish or mean, it’s healthy. For example, learning to say no to social engagements when you’re tired is a part of self-care. Also, saying no to demands on your resources such as requests for money or time is also an important part of self-care. Without self-care and boundaries your trauma recovery will become delayed.
Trauma survivors who develop boundaries will build a strong foundation of self-respect and healthy relationships, and pave the road to healing.