All of us want to protect ourselves from emotional harm. As children we do this by unconsciously creating psychological defenses.  Photo (75)When we are adults we call these psychological defenses boundaries.  Boundaries unlike our childhood psychological defenses are conscience and healthy ways to protect ourselves from emotional harm. However abused children have a more difficult time as an adult understanding how to set boundaries.  Let me explain:


We all know that abuse can come in many forms, from subtle emotional manipulation to severe sexual and physical abuse, but to the unconscious mind any form of abuse is an insult to personal dignity.  Abused children learn at a very young age that not having boundaries (not resisting) is the best way of protection. They know intuitively that if they resist, it will cause more pain.  It is this same unconscious protection that can lead to unhealthy boundaries in adulthood.


This explains why I have had such a hard time all of my life with setting boundaries, both for myself and my children. To stand up to your abuser meant risking more hurt and pain no matter what kind of abuse it was, it left me feeling helpless and afraid and belittled and… worthless. And that was what I was left with to carry on into my adult life and worse of all to my children life.


It has taken courage and persistence to step out of the false protection I have unconsciously put around me all my life and see how it has never protected me at all.

Let me continue with what I have learned.

My first step was to overcome the belief that I was worthless.

Like any abused child I developed this belief to tolerate my lack of resistance to abuse. If I could convince myself that I was worthless, then I could easily justify not resisting anything that degrades my value. What I know now is that this belief is a negative belief which I created myself, so I can just as easily create another positive one to replace it.

The next step was to understand that healthy boundaries are made out of love, not fear. This is how I understand this concept.

There are “nice” people, who always appear to sacrifice themselves for others. They give the impression that giving in to others promotes peace and that boundaries are selfish—but many of these persons are motivated by an a need to keep the “peace” because of a fear of getting hurt. Such persons usually come from dysfunctional families homes and they themselves may have played the unconscious “family role” of peace-keeper. They’re angry at their parents, they feel guilty for being angry, and they fear any conflict that might reveal the truth about their anger. The real motive for their “nice” behavior, then, is fear, not real love.

On the other hand, there are persons who, knowing full well that they are being hurt will sometimes set aside their boundaries as an act of charity for others. And example would be getting pushed rudely by someone getting on a bus. You could say something about their rude behavior but you know the response would be hostile so you set aside your boundaries and tolerate the rudeness, hoping they might learn someday and be charitable to others. But these same persons who can willingly set aside their boundaries can just as well defend them. For insist if someone in is using foul language in your place of work and you tell them you don’t like it when you hear it and they don’t stop you can get up and leave.

There is a big difference between someone who has clear boundaries and is willing to protect them—and who can willingly set the boundaries aside for the good of others, if necessary—and someone who, because of fear, tolerates anything.

Therefore, acting out of fear only leads to a wasted life because it unconsciously supports rudeness and disorder. Acting from love, however, can bring genuine good into the world, through personal example. But only with healthy boundaries can you act from love.

Boundaries have a fundamental place in life itself. Every living creature has its own territory in which it lives and that it defends against intrusion. Boundaries are so fundamental that even criminals who thrive on violating the integrity of others have their own internal code of ethics, their own “boundaries.”

So, considering that boundaries have a purpose in civilization, someone who lacks boundaries isn’t really lacking them—at least not in the philosophical sense of something “missing.” Instead, this apparent lack is really a refusal to defend one’s own dignity, and it’s a refusal based on hatred. This hatred, though, is double-edged: it’s a hatred for others and it’s a hatred for the self.

It’s a hatred for the self that results from living always in fear because of having been mistreated or abused as a child. Unable to make sense of senseless hurt, a child, using imperfect childhood logic, arrives at the only “logical” conclusion: “It’s all my fault. I’m just a worthless person. I deserve condemnation for being worthless, and I deserve condemnation for always being so afraid.” When I understood this, a light went off… Self-hatred caused by fear that is caused by abuse.

If I didn’t hate myself, I would be able to take proper care of myself—and that includes having healthy boundaries to protect my dignity. Moreover, if I had healthy boundaries to protect my dignity, I could take proper care of others. Thus it should be apparent that not taking proper care of me and not taking proper care of others is a refusal based on self-hatred.

All of this self-hatred, however, derives from a hatred of others. When a child is mistreated by a parent, for example, the child will be angry with the parent, but, because it will feel dangerous to be angry with someone the child depends on for food and shelter, the child will hide the anger—and hate—by turning it against itself.

That hidden hatred, though, hurts others as well as yourself. When others mistreat you, your dignity is insulted, yes, but by keeping quiet and allowing the mistreatment, you deprive them of what would essentially be a spiritual warning about their sin; that is, if you were to defend your boundaries and speak up about the mistreatment, you would at least give the offender the opportunity to recognize and repent the hurtful behavior.

To establish my healthy boundaries, I needed to stop refusing to defend my boundaries. I needed to refuse to hate—and that includes refusing to hate myself.

I understand now why I did not have boundaries and tomorrow I will share what I know now to be the 6 core principles of setting better boundaries.


Tiana Lynn