One of the most important things we can do as survivors, is to advocate for ourselves by putting up and enforcing healthy boundaries. By putting ourselves first, no matter how difficult it may be, we are reinforcing the truth that we are worth fighting for and we matter.
Boundaries are so key, because they help us stay out of invalidating situations, avoid toxic people, and help instill a sense a self-worth that no matter how traumatic our past was, we know that we deserve better. That’s a concept that can feel so foreign, especially early on in a healing journey. We’re so used to people telling us what we need, how we should feel, and what we should or should not do, that we often wonder if we even have a mind of our own.
Grooming has a tendency to do that; it’s really just brainwashing when it comes right down to it. Especially for adult survivors of childhood abuse, that brainwashing took hold without us even knowing it. It’s all we’ve ever known, and as a result we grew up thinking that all of these invalidating feelings were normal: low self-esteem, no self-confidence, and an inability to think for ourselves or make good decisions, just to name a few.
In addition, establishing boundaries also builds resiliency. Once we learn that it’s a good thing to put ourselves first, and we start to see the benefits of staying away from toxic people, it has a ripple effect. The more you self-advocate, the more confidence you gain in yourself and more your self-worth increases.
What happens when a circumstance comes up where those boundaries have to be temporarily tossed out the window? Sometimes it just happens and we end up putting ourselves in a precarious situation, and that can cause quite a dilemma and feel very triggering.
Some examples that I can recall in my life where I’ve had to put boundaries aside temporarily:
- Family gatherings on certain holidays, or birthdays.
- Spending time with my dad, knowing that my mother will also have to be there.
- Family visiting from out-of-town, some of whom (but not all) are toxic.
- Work party or event, or perhaps a business trip with a colleague who isn’t the best influence on you or others.
I would imagine you can think of some examples in your own life where a situation could be potentially triggering but there’s little you can do to avoid it; unfortunately most of us run into these from time to time.
What do we do when we can’t get out of it? It can feel like we are betraying ourselves, causing a great deal of anxiety and worry. Fortunately, there are some things we can do though on our own behalf, both before and after the situation has taken place.
- Remember how far you’ve come. Write down or think back to all of the successes and wins that you’ve experienced. This helps build confidence that you will make it through and not undo all the hard work so far on your own behalf.
- Talk with your spouse/partner and children ahead of time; those who are in that trusted safe circle. Let them know your concerns both for yourself and for them. This way they can help you and be aware of your feelings the entire time. It’s like building up your own little support system or security team, where you all watch out for each other.
- Try and focus on spending time with the safe people and avoid the toxic ones. Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in a conversation or be alone with someone who is triggering.
- Allow yourself to set a time limit if it all possible. If it’s not a mandatory situation that you need to stay for a long period of time, give yourself permission to leave after an hour or two and not feel guilty about it.
- Have a getaway plan in place. Don’t get yourself parked in and end up having to ask people to move cars so you can leave. Understand that you may need to take some breaks and go outside to regain your composure.
- Do self-care before. Whatever that is for you, do things that make you feel good, relaxed, and at peace. Things that you enjoy because they are just for you. This will help you stay as calm as possible and reinforces that your needs are important.
- The biggest thing here is again, Self Care. You made it through that tough situation, now reward yourself. Go for a walk, take a hot bath, go for ice cream, work on a hobby, whatever…just take care of yourself for as long as you need too.
- Journal about your experience and how well you did! Write down your wins; how you stuck to your plan and communicated your needs to those you trust. Even there was only one win, find one and celebrate it. Heck, the fact that you went at all and made it through is a big win!
It’s nearly impossible to avoid every potentially toxic or unhealthy situation. Things just come up in life or our families lives that we have to just deal with. This doesn’t mean that we are backsliding in healing or failing ourselves, it just means that life can throw a curve ball and we have to adjust temporarily before getting back on track.
That’s the key right there, getting back on track. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you, and when you realize that you can survive these precarious circumstances when they arise, that’s a big confidence boost. Confidence leads to resiliency, and resiliency yields even more confidence.