Learning to stand up for yourself by setting healthy boundaries is one of the hardest parts of healing from a dysfunctional childhood.
Part of the problem is that we live in a world where it's assumed you have good parents.
A side effect of this assumption is the notion that "family is the most important thing" and we should perform our obligations by going to all the important holiday events, weddings, and so on. Inevitably, this so-called "family" refers to your family of origin, and if you have been abused, this is the last place you need to go to as you proceed with your healing.
Obviously, this cultural expectation adds a certain amount of guilt on top of any you are currently dealing with.
To set clear and healthy boundaries necessary for your own healing, you have to adopt a set of beliefs of called your Emotional Bill of Rights (or EBR for short).
Emotional Right #1: You have the right not to forgive.
You may have heard the saying "forgive and forget." If you've been a victim of child abuse of any kind - be it physical, sexual, or emotional - one of the best things you can do is forgive yourself. If you want to forgive your abusers, that's your choice. But because of the monstrosity of their crimes against you, you have the right to never forgive them. Resolve not to let anyone use emotional guilt as a weapon to manipulate you into spending time with or having a relationship with an abusive family member if it is not right for you. This is a part of setting healthy boundaries with others.
Emotional Right #2: You are a human being worthy of consideration and respect, just like everyone else.
When you hear an abused wife say "It's my fault he hit me because I didn't cook the food the right way," you can hear the scars of child abuse in a very real way.
Even if your parents never laid a hand on you but growing up you constantly heard things like "You'll never be the success your sister was" or "You're fat", you experienced a very real form of abuse and it's called emotional abuse. You have to shift into the belief that you don't deserve to be put-down, humiliated, or treated discourteously. The best way to get into this mode besides constantly telling yourself that "I am worthy of respect", is to take action by standing up for yourself.
Are you currently in an abusive relationship? One of the best ways of standing up for yourself is to get out. If you can't afford to move out on your own, think of someone you might be able to crash with for a few days while you sort things out. But don't keep exposing yourself to an unhealthy situation. It's one of the ways you can commit to your own emotional health and begin setting healthy boundaries.
Do you allow others to talk to you in a negative or insulting manner? Politely ask them to stop and back up your statement with positive action.
Emotional Right #3: You have the right to redefine what family means to you.
If you weren't blessed with unconditionally loving parents when you were growing up, you have no obligation to spend time with them now. If you need to put some distance between yourself and your family for a few years (or forever), go ahead. You've earned the right. Make up your own idea of family. Maybe it's just you and your dog. Maybe it's you and your best friend. Maybe you'll just be on your own for a while as you begin to move on with your life. The point is, you deserve to surround yourself with loving and supportive people, and if that's not your family, it's time to move on and start setting healthy boundaries.
Emotional Right #4: You have the right to stop feeling guilty and ashamed.
If you were abused, it wasn't your fault. You don't have to feel guilty anymore. Nor do you have to let anyone shame you. If you can hear the voices of your abusers saying things like "You're ungrateful. You don't realize how good you had it," don't believe it for a moment. Adopt your own standards of what is "good" with Emotional Right #2 being the absolute minimum.
Emotional Right #5: You have the right to be yourself and be happy with your life.
You have the right to grow into the person you want to be. You have the right to live your life so that you're functioning with optimum emotional wellness and feel a sense of joy at the wonder of being alive. You have the right to explore interests you were never allowed to or take time for the things that matter to you.
Emotional Bill of Rights
Now, brainstorm 2-3 ways you can stand up for yourself and begin setting healthy boundaries in your life. Implement them one at a time. Over the course of the next 30 days, see if you can notice any improvements in your life as a result of this.
Do you feel better? Was it worth setting healthy boundaries?
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