Something that I learned while I was recovering and healing from birth trauma was the need to set boundaries for myself that kept me emotionally healthy.
This was a struggled because my nature has a deep need to be perfect, at everything, including being a mother. So setting boundaries was hard. I often put myself last on a long list of people and things. For a long time boundaries didn’t exist. I would try to do everything. I would seek to please everyone. I would accept things that I knew were detrimental to me and this only sort to cause me more emotional harm.
I remember a defining moment when sat in my counsellors room, tears streaming down my face she said one sentence that to this day has stayed with me and was a turning point for me. Those words were, ‘I was not responsible for everyone else’s happiness.’ This was like someone had released me from a invisible weight. You see for a long time I believed I was responsible for everyone else and their happiness and thus that believe led me down a slippery slope to low self esteem and putting myself last. With birth trauma my daily companion I already viewed myself in a very negative way. I believed that my trauma was the reason that everyone was unhappy, be it my parents, my partner, my children, in fact anyone. After all it had caused me to believe that I was weak, unable to cope like everyone else, defective as a mother, wife, daughter, friend. That I was failing to ‘get over’ it and that I was ‘allowing’ my experience to impact others. So I over compensated. I sought to make sure that I did as much as I could to keep everyone happy and doing what everyone else thought I should do. I didn’t count. The blame and guilt of birth trauma led me to having no boundaries that protected me.
Yes I had no healthy boundaries.
When I heard those words, the words that I wasn’t responsible for the happiness of others, I began to think about what I needed. What did I need to be well emotionally? What did I need to support my healing? It also allowed me to start taking responsibility for how others treated me and not define my sense of worth based on the thoughts of those around me. I then began to set clear and healthy boundaries, then sought ways to do whatever it took to enforce them.
However setting healthy boundaries can be hard. Why? Because it means putting our needs first.
What can show you need to set healthy boundaries?
- Going against your personal values in order to please others
- Giving as much as you can without thought to yourself
- Letting others define you
- Feeling bad or guilty when you say No
- Not speaking out when you are treated badly
- Saying Yes to things you know are detrimental to you
If you read that list and thought yes this is me then it means you need to look at boundaries that keep you emotionally well and protected. What are some healthy boundaries that you can put in place to support you?
- Surround yourself with those who nurture you. The people that we chose to be with can have a profound effect on us. We do not have to be with anyone that is damaging to us emotionally, regardless of who they may be. This can be challenging especially if friends or family members are the ones causing us emotional pain. However those that you give your time to, that you allow to share your life, should be nurturing to you. They should build you up, encourage you and support your journey of healing. Setting healthy boundaries means protecting yourself from those who do not nurture you. This may mean distancing yourself from anyone who when you are around cause you to feel negative about who you are, your journey to healing or are dismissive or unsupportive of your experience.
- Realistic expectations. Do you expect too much of yourself? You can feel like you have to save the world, well your little world anyway. You can believe that everything and everyone depends on you. You can take on too much, keep going when you know you are exhausted and allow others expectations of you, to become your expectations of you. Its important that instead you are realistic and are able to set boundaries that are healthy. This can mean saying NO. Sometimes the washing up will not get done. Sometimes the beds will lay unmade or you will need to say no to the demands of others. Boundaries that support your healing provides you with the strength to say NO when something is to much. Your new boundaries will be based on what you can realistically offer, not what is expected of you by others who may not understand your journey.
- Build your self esteem. Birth Trauma can damage self esteem. Healthy boundaries helps you to see your value again. It stops you from allowing anything to cause you doubt your ability to heal. Having good self esteem allows you to think positively about yourself and your future. It also supports you to cope when trauma seeks to bring you down. When self esteem is low it can re-enforce our doubts and fears. However building self esteem by healthy boundaries helps you to challenge negative beliefs about yourself. Part of this is being assertive about your needs and what matters to you. Building self esteem after trauma can take time, but healthy boundaries are important to support this. You matter.
- Take control. Often trauma from birth can leave you with a sense of loss of control. This can then continue into life after trauma. It is good to ask, what do you want and need to support your healing? It may take time to know this and also admit what your needs are. This is the start to taking back control. Healthy boundaries mean that our needs take the focus and allow us to stop thinking that we don’t matter. How can you do this? Set goals for yourself that are realistic and attainable. It may be small things that only you know about. Then see your successes, celebrate even the smallest achievements. Next, do what is right for you and let go of what others think. Taking back control by setting healthy boundaries can be empowering. It can make you feel stronger and more able to help yourself while you heal.
- Care for you. Self care is vital to healing. Enough sleep, eating a balanced diet and having good relationships are all basics that we often neglect. Life is busy and hectic but it is important that you make time for you. How? Healthy boundaries mean that you do what is needed to make sure you care cared for. This can be saying No to things, letting things go that are not important, scheduling time for things that support your wellbeing. Setting healthy Boundaries also includes seeking help and the support you need to heal. It also means letting others in, asking and accepting help, realising that you deserve to be cared for too and that your wellbeing matters.
So think of ways to set healthy boundaries and even write them down. It may look a little like this;
I want to set healthy boundaries around my health by ___________
I want to set healthy boundaries around my relationships by ___________.
I will set healthy boundaries that support my emotional wellbeing by___________.
Last of all;
- Give yourself permission. You matter. Trauma and the fear, guilt and self-doubt that accompany it will make you question if you can set healthy boundaries. You may fear other people’s responses if you set and enforce your boundaries. You may feel guilty by speaking up when treated unkindly, feel taken advantage of, or say no to something. You may believe that you should be able to cope with any and all situations thrown at you, or say yes because you want to be seen as a good mother, wife. You may even wonder if you deserve to have boundaries in the first place. Healthy boundaries are a sign of self-respect, that you know you matter and that you deserve to be cared for too. So give yourself permission to set healthy boundaries and to maintain them.
Setting healthy boundaries can be hard, but on the long journey of healing they matter. The protect us, support us, build our self esteem and allow us the space to seek the help we need. They help us build nurturing relationships and stop us getting overwhelmed.
So try it. Start small. Let yourself be surprised at how setting healthy boundaries can help you on your journey beyond birth trauma.