Sunday, March 16, 2014

What Are Healthy Emotional Boundaries?

Part 1 of "10 things I Needed To Learn In Order To Heal"

Many families do not have healthy emotional boundaries, or even a basic understanding of what they are.

I first encountered the idea of healthy emotional boundaries, as a young adult, in the classroom of a trauma disorders program. 

 Ideally, we learn healthy physical and emotional boundaries as babies and children through interactions with parents and caregivers.  I learned them as an adult, written on a blackboard in a classroom.
I copied them down in my journal:

I can say no, if something feels wrong or disrespectful to me.

I can ask for what I need and want, without guilt or shame.

I can have and express my own individual feelings and opinions.

I can express my individual likes and dislikes.

I may not experience something exactly the way you do, and that's OK;  It doesn't mean I am bad or that something is wrong with me.

I can take responsibility for my own actions.

I am allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.

I can express strong negative feelings in respectful and appropriate ways.

I am allowed to accept and express healthy love and affection without feelings of shame or guilt.

Incest is not likely to happen in families with healthy emotional boundaries. 

I was taught from a very young age, that I was not allowed to say no to a parent or any adult in authority.   I was not allowed to have needs.  My needs were only what my parents decided I needed.   I was not allowed to feel angry or sad.  Strong negative feelings were not acceptable, nor considered relevant to my life.   I was taught to view the world the way my parents did.  I was not allowed my own thoughts and opinions.  My parents always knew best and they told me how to think and feel.  Expressing and accepting normal love and affection was suspect and confusing.

Healthy boundaries are one thing to learn about cognitively, and completely another to apply and integrate emotionally.  Certainly as a child, and even as an adult, I was not allowed to express my feelings or thoughts about being sexually abused as a child.
 I was not permitted to know that it happened.

I learned at a very young age that my role was to submit to the desires of another, more powerful, person.

In my family, the boundaries and rules around sexuality, and contact with the opposite gender were unnecessarily rigid in some areas.  While in others, where they should have been present, were non-existent.  

As a young child, I remember my grandfather's anger when my ten month old cousin toddled into the Bais Medrish in a diaper and underwear.  Modesty had been breached! 
 Yet, I often saw him in his underwear, which were white boxers.

Boys and girls in my family were not allowed to play together with unrelated children of the opposite sex from the age of nine.  We had a "boys side" and a "girls side" of the table for Shabbos meals.

We had a strange family custom that started when I was young and continued until I left home.  My siblings and I bathed in our underwear because of "modesty."  As an older teen I bathed my two year old brother in his underwear.

It took years of practice, of trial and error, of sometimes overly rigid, or overly fluid boundaries, until I slowly began learning the delicate balance within myself.  It took a lot of listening to myself and validating my own experiences. 

Art therapy and journaling helped me a lot. 

 And I am always still learning.

1 comment:

  1. If it's ok with you, I'm going to print out those rules and put them up in my home. Such basic guidelines but great to have a reminder from time to time.