Boundaries which have been taken away at an early age do not allow you to be able to define your own space. This manifests in not being able to say ‘no’ when you want to and feeling that you have to do conform to another’s needs and desires and becomes reflected in our inability to set our own physical, emotional and sexual limits.
Tips to help you test your boundaries
How close do you like to be when you are speaking to someone you do not know?
How close can you physically be to someone you know well?
Is this affected by the age, gender or sexual preference of the person?
When you do not want to do something is it easy for you to express this?
How difficult is it for you to tell someone, verbally or nonverbally, where on your body or how you like to be touched?
Can you discuss your needs, desires and the sort of relationship you want with another?
Can you clearly express your interest in someone in a healthy way?
Can you communicate clearly, verbally and nonverbally, what you do and do not want?
There is no right or wrong answer to any of the above questions, they are simply a guide to help you be clear with your sexual boundaries. As you explore the exercises, tips and techniques in this book note if the answers to these questions change. Often change can be subtle. To expand your security around your physical and emotional boundaries it is essential to build up trust in yourself.
Exercise: Setting boundaries (1.2)
Time: One day
Setting: In a work or social setting with others
Music: Not applicable
Partner or friend: Not required
People who simple say ‘yes’ to situations they find themselves in often feel they have little control over their life and wonder why. Being conscious of these patterns will help you set new boundaries that will work for you.
This exercise will help you to notice in your normal work and social environments how you are able to say “yes” or “no” clearly and whether your behaviour manifest this. Before you say “yes” or “no” to someone else you need to connect with yourself and find out where your limits are. At the end of the day take time for reflection and see if there is anything different you would have done and why. Be aware of whether you said “yes” to things you did not want to do and the reason behind it. e.g. Did you allow someone to stand close to you in a way which made you feel uncomfortable? If so, think about why you did this and how you would like to assert yourself.
Creating Healthy Boundaries – Interview
Fleur Bishop of the Bush Sanctuary Healing and Counselling Centre, has trained in social work and counselling and specialises in sexual trauma and spiritual healing.
“The model I use to help adult survivors of child sexual assault, which affects them emotionally, physiologically and physically, first covers the issue of safety. I look at external safety and how it manifests in their life, with a partner, children, family, friends and in their living environment. Many women with histories of childhood abuse end up in relationships with a partner who is violent or has substance abuse problems.
“Safety covers practical ways to help yourself e.g. locks on doors, personal alarms, mobile phones, as well as assessing the areas they travel to at night. Building up networks are important, especially for women who are single or vulnerable. For example, when a single parent is attending a parent and teacher night at school, it would help them feel more secure if they feel they can go with a friend. When a woman is in a violent relationship, but not prepared to leave it, I work on how she can feel safer within the relationship. Can she start to predict when the violence is going to come? If so, during this time she could consider staying with family or friends.
“Teaching people to set boundaries is a large part of my work, helping my clients to explore where their boundaries lie, exploring this and learning to say ‘no’. Children who suck their thumb use it as a soothing behaviour, but children who come from abuse background often learn soothing activities which are not nurturing. As adults these can manifest in self-mutilation, such as cutting or burning themselves or developing substance abuse or eating disorders.
“Many people are great at nurturing others, but cannot nurture or look after themselves, yet developing good nurturing behaviour is essential. Something as simple as going for a walk when you feel distressed, having a hot bath, going to the beach, buying yourself something affordable – flowers, books or clothes, can all help. Many people do not know how to look after themselves when they feel low.
“Another part of my work is to explore a person’s belief system. I do this by getting them to imagine a circle, which I call the belief system, which contains your thoughts, behaviours and feelings. Surrounding this is the physical body. These interrelate because if the belief system is negative then the person is going to have predominantly negative feelings, thoughts and unhealthy behaviours. The physical body reflects this in headaches, gastro-intestinal problems, joint aches, eye strain, high blood pressure, heart problems and even cancer. I work with the belief system, which is driving them, and move them from feeling ‘I am not OK’ to a place of feeling ‘I am OK’.
“Your belief system can also be effected on a spiritual realm. If you were sexually assaulted as a child a set of beliefs can arise that ‘God is punishing me because I don’t deserve to be alive, I am not a good person’ which effects your own spiritual quest. For the person to sexually heal we have to be aware of how the energy of another person has effected them and they need to take back their physical and spiritual power.”