Couple on a Beach

As survivors of trauma, we may have a conscious or unconscious tendency to have really rigid boundaries, and push everyone around us away, or we may simply lack good boundaries out of fear we may be disliked or rejected.

If our boundaries are too rigid, this can creates separation in our relationships. If we have a hard time setting boundaries, we may eventually feel taken advantage of. Either route is a pendulum swing that can lead to resentment and dismantling of our relationships. Healthy boundaries fall somewhere in the middle.

Part of setting healthy boundaries is practicing self-compassion along the way.  If we have experienced trauma, neglect, violence, among others saying “no” or risking it all and saying “yes” can be difficult. It is a learned behavior. The benefits of boundary setting may outweigh the risks (e.g, reduced burnout; enhanced identity and mental health).

First, what are personal boundaries? This list from Therapist Aid defined common traits of rigid, poor, and healthy boundaries.

Setting Healthy Personal Boundaries takes self-exploration. This worksheet from positive psychology and recovery education network defines what healthy boundaries are, and how to begin setting them.

A gentle reminder that each time we practice boundary setting, we move towards aligning our wants and needs with how we navigate our lives. Healthy people will honor our boundaries. 

  1. Journal or track how we are setting firm or loose boundaries (“I said no to a party that sounded fun” or “I said yes to dinner knowing I would feel too exhausted to enjoy it”).

  2. Journal next to this what our thoughts and feeling are surrounding why we set (or did not set) this boundary (“I did not say no to working on the project alone out of fear of being rejected”).

  3. Begin practicing self-compassion for both our decision making, and emotional responses.

  4. Begin thinking of alternative ways we could have handled these scenarios.

  5. Start practicing new boundary setting and beliefs. Be willing to feel uncomfortable and to make mistakes. Practice kindness along the way.

Trauma Care: Healthy Boundaries