The soul cannot forgive until it
is restored to wholeness and health.
In the absence of love - how can one forgive?

With an abundance of love, starting with one's self,
forgiveness becomes a viable opportunity.
-Nancy Richards

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Setting Clear, Respectful, Boundaries

Boundary issues are common in dysfunctional family systems. I have wrestled with boundaries most of my life. As some of my prior posts suggest, I wasn’t able to set and maintain clear, respectful boundaries until I learned to love myself.

I needed to recognize that not only did I have a right to my feelings – it was my duty to take responsibility for my own well-being. After a lifetime of treating myself the same way my mother treated me, I experienced a fundamental shift. I finally realized that I truly deserved the dignity I had always only desired. At that point, I began caring for myself with love, compassion and self-respect.

It was easy to set boundaries when a relationship wasn’t very important to me. However, when a relationship was central to my life – I had a hard time. The anxiety I experienced when setting personal boundaries came from my fear of losing relationships. In order to overcome this worry, I had to understand that I have no control over the behavior of others, and that I needed to become more invested in my own worth than I was in the outcome.

Before exercising appropriate boundaries, I had to clearly state my own needs. In order to do this, I must A.) Identify the behavior that feels inappropriate or injurious to me. B.) Express my feelings. And, C.) Clearly state my needs.

For example: A.) When you shout at me…

B.) I feel scared…

C.) I need for you to lower your voice.

When I began stating my needs clearly (the less said the better), others usually honored the space I created for myself. As I became clearer about respectfully stating my needs in relationships, I found that quite often, the relationship became stronger.

Other times, people have responded negatively to my needs. At that point, it is necessary to actually set a boundary. That is where I used to get into trouble. If the other person argued, I usually engaged in the argument and let them trample my boundaries. I have learned to set my boundaries by saying: “If you continue to shout, I will ask you to leave” (or – “I will leave” – depending on the circumstances).

The next step is to maintain the boundary by actually leaving (or asking them to leave), and maintaining this boundary in the future.

Sometimes, setting and maintaining appropriate boundaries can result in loss. Yet, for me, the pain of loss eventually gives way to the power of living a life of integrity.


Anonymous said...

I didn't know where else to leave this comment so it ended up here:

I wanted to say about forgiveness that when it comes to forgiving myself for what I had to do to survive my mother I can honestly say I'm working on it. But when it comes to forgiving her there is no reason to offer it.

I have never, in all my years been given a clear cut definition of forgiveness as it relates to abuse.

What I see forgiveness as is a courtesy to the abuser. Forgiveness in this context seems to be all about the abuser. If I give forgiveness to the abuser I'll feel better. What? No, I don't believe that. I think honestly if I give forgiveness to the abuser OTHERS will feel better about ME. Forgiveness seem to make others feel better and says to others that I'm on a healing path. Saying I selectively forgive makes me sound bitter and stuck. It seems forgiving my abuser is more about what others think about my healing. It also feels like I'm giving something else to the abuser when truthfully she's taken enough.

Lastly, it seems to me that when offering forgiveness it should be given only when it's warranted. In some situations forgiveness is warranted, in others its even unjust to give it. That's my view. There are certain things that I can forgive my mother for and other things that would be an injustice to myself to offer it.

I apologize if this comment seems harsh. I don't mean it to be.
Austin of Sundrip Journals

AbuseAndForgiveness said...

Dear Austin,

Thank you for stopping by!

Your comments do not at all seem harsh to me. As a matter of fact I could have written them myself.

For many years, I felt very damaged by pressure from others to forgive my mother for her abusive treatment of me. Yet, I knew that forgiveness was premature and I stood resolute that forgiveness was not healthy for me – at least not at that time. My greatest period of emotional growth occurred during the many years that I did not forgive my mother.

My mother didn't apologized or aske for forgiveness. My question was: "How can you forgive someone who never asks for forgiveness; someone who never acknowledged the abuse and someone who continues to abuse?"

Obviously, under those circumstances, I couldn't. My mother didn't participate in my healing process. Yet, during our 14 year estrangement, the love extended to me in my community of support began to out-weigh the negativity of the past and I began to "feel" forgiving. Feeling forgiving was one thing - trust was another. I still didn't feel safe enough to have a relationship with her until the day came (14 years later) that she did acknowledge and apologize for my abuse.

Please see my post titled “Forgiveness: The Last Step in Recovery” under the February Archives. It sums up how I define forgiveness today. I’d be interested in your feedback.

Again, Thank You!

Anonymous said...

I really struggle with boundaries. In fact, I either don't set healthy boundaries or I come across to harsh. Just the other day I jumped all over a friend and really hurt her because I waited to long to tell her I was upset about some things. Now our friendship is over and she hates me. I was hoping to distance myself from her but I did not want it to end up this way, especially her hating me and having her family all write me really nasty things. I want to learn healthy boundaries but it is so hard. Oh Nancy you have been an inspiration for me and others, God bless you and yours.

AbuseAndForgiveness said...

Dear Anonymous,

My condolences on the loss of your friend.

Boundaries are a huge issue for survivors and, unfortunately, growth is often precipitated by loss.

Stay strong!