Establishing Boundaries During PTSD Recovery


Setting and maintaining clear boundaries is an essential part of healing the scars of PTSD. When you’re going through the process of recovery, boundaries help you face your fears at a pace that’s realistic for you. Boundaries also help you take good care of yourself and maintain healthy relationships with others. Help yourself heal from your trauma by setting boundaries in therapy, with yourself, and with other people in your life.

 Communicate with your therapist. Throughout your recovery, make sure you and your therapist are on the same page about your expectations and goals. Check in regularly to discuss your progress. Bring up any issues you want to focus on in upcoming sessions, and make it clear if you don’t feel ready to work on certain issues yet.

  • For instance, you might say, “I’m not yet ready to talk about some parts of my trauma. Can you be patient with me while I build up my nerve? I’d really appreciate it.”
  • Your therapist should respond positively to any hesitation you have about certain issues. Don’t let a fear of how your therapist might react prevent you from speaking up.

Speak up if you’re uncomfortable with an aspect of therapy. Let your therapist know if something isn’t working for you. Don’t feel obligated to go along with a type of treatment that makes you feel threatened or scared.

  • For instance, if exposure therapy is going too quickly for you, tell your therapist you need to slow down. Say, “This is a bit too much for me right now. It’s bringing up an of upsetting memories that I’m not ready to deal with. Can we slow it down?”

Establish healthy boundaries in your relationship with your therapist. Keep your relationship with your therapist friendly, yet professional. It’s okay to like your therapist, but don’t try to initiate a personal friendship outside of therapy sessions. Respect your therapist’s boundaries as well as your own.

  • It’s important for both you and your therapist to uphold your agreements. For instance, you should be able to count on when and where your sessions will be held.
  • Mutual respect and trust are the keys to a healthy therapeutic relationship.
  • Try not to get upset if your therapist asks you to change something about their interactions with you. They keep the same professional standards for all of their clients.

Setting Boundaries for Yourself – Be gentle with yourself. Avoid blaming yourself for your PTSD. Be patient with yourself as you heal, and don’t try to rush yourself through the recovery process. Prioritise your own well-being, even if that means avoiding certain places and situations for a while.

  • For example, if a certain date or season aggravates your PTSD symptoms, give yourself plenty of downtime and avoid scheduling demanding events during that time.
  • Make sure to work with your therapist on a plan for how to handle self-loathing. This may include acknowledging and honouring your thoughts, and then redirecting them to be kinder to yourself.

Get into the habit of fact-checking your thoughts. Anxious or irrational thoughts can feel very real, even if they’re not true. Instead of letting your fears run away with you, focus on facts. When you start to worry or engage in negative self-talk, ask yourself, “Is that really true?”

  • For instance, if you’re worried you’ll never be able to recover from PTSD, take a mental step back and remind yourself that many people do make a full recovery with enough time and therapy.
  • You can also check in with a friend or family member to help you determine if your thoughts are realistic.

Establish healthy routines. Commit to caring for yourself as well as you can, even if you don’t always feel like it. Eat well, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and make some time to relax every day. Keep track of these activities in a personal calendar to ensure that you make time for them.

  • Rhythmic cardiovascular exercise, like running or biking, is an effective way to ease PTSD symptoms.
  • Meditation is a good way to relax when you’re feeling stressed. Other healthy relaxation strategies include writing in a journal and doing visualization exercises.
  • Don’t let yourself self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. These substances can cut you off from your feelings, making it much more difficult to heal from PTSD. They also carry a high risk of addiction.

Educate your family and friends. If they don’t know much about PTSD, look for some articles or pamphlets you can give them to read. They can even accompany you to a therapy appointment or two if you are comfortable with it. This will give them an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about your condition. The better they understand your condition, the more they will be able to support you and uphold your boundaries.

Talk to your loved ones about how PTSD affects you. Let them know how they can help you feel comfortable and safe as you work towards recovery. If certain behaviours bother you, or if you can’t do some of the things you used to, make sure your loved ones understand why.

  • Let the people close to you know what your triggers are. You may also want to tell them how they can help you if you have a flashback.

Be polite but assertive about your needs. Practice speaking up for yourself when you feel uncomfortable or anxious. State your needs directly and concisely. Be courteous when you make your request, but don’t apologize or feel guilty for looking out for yourself.

  • For instance, if someone is standing uncomfortably close to you, say something like, “Excuse me, would you mind stepping back a little?”
  • If someone challenges you, remember that you don’t have to defend yourself or answer any questions that you don’t want to answer. Just say something like, “That’s private and I’d prefer not to go into it.”

Avoid situations and activities that are too uncomfortable for you. If someone repeatedly ignores your boundaries, you may want to stay away from them for a while. If you know that a certain place is a trigger for you, don’t go there until you’re ready to confront your fear directly.

  • If you’re having a hard time dealing with a situation, don’t feel bad about leaving.
  • You can say something like, “I’m going to step away for a bit and get some fresh air.” If you’re with somebody else, come up with a signal ahead of time to let them know you’re feeling overwhelmed.
  • If you are having a hard time identifying your triggers, then try journaling. Write down times that you feel uncomfortable and describe your surroundings, such as the people, location, sounds, time of day, and any other notable factors. Look over your journal after a few weeks to identify people, places, or other factors that may be triggers for you.

Setting Boundaries With Others – Spend time with people who support your recovery. Seek out friends and family members who respect your boundaries and want to help you get better. Consider spending less time with people who don’t understand PTSD or who make you feel bad about yourself.

  • Social support is a key element of PTSD recovery, so don’t isolate yourself.
  • Consider joining a support group for people with PTSD. This can be especially helpful if your friends and family members aren’t supportive of you.
  • Keep in mind that becoming romantically involved with someone you meet in recover can be detrimental to your recovery. Talk with your therapist before becoming involved with anyone you meet in recovery.

Reinforce boundaries that aren’t upheld. Setting boundaries is merely the beginning. To protect your own well-being and have enjoyable relationships, you must be willing to enforce your boundaries when others cross them. Come up with some feasible consequences, and don’t be afraid to voice them when you feel violated.

  • For instance, you might say to a family member, “I told you it freaks me out when you sneak up on me. I don’t want to accidentally hurt you with my reaction. I will have to limit my time around you if this keeps happening.”
  • Keep in mind that you might have to repeat yourself many times before the person gets it. It can take a long time for people to change their behaviour, even if they are supportive of you.


  1. I apologise for the length of this comment but I’m desperate and hope that maybe you might have a suggestion or two for me. I also accept that you may want to delete my comment. It does have triggered in it for some maybe. I am in the private group on Facebook too. I find all your blogs and posts very informative and helpful. Much of what you say to do/say with a therapist in this post is impossible for me simply because I cannot find a therapist. I don’t have any friends. I have 4 adult children that don’t really take my mental health situation seriously and although they do acknowledge and make concessions for my physical disabilities they don’t really understand them either no matter how hard I’ve tried. They are all busy and all except the youngest one barely contact me unless they want something.

    In the past I’ve resorted to the free Lifeline counselling but that is no longer available. I’ve used the 10 apts per year that you can get on Medicare but mostly that ends up stirring stuff up ang often the therapists don’t understand the depth of my issues. I am SO TIRED of having to tell my story over and over and over every time I’m referred to a new psychologist.

    The problems for me started in my childhood with neglect, physical, emotional, psychological, abandonment abuse etc but luckily no sexual abuse that I can remember (although my sister said she was). Then my parents (my mother in particular) took me out of school before I graduated (end of year 11) and put me into the Chuch of Scientology. I managed to get away from there when I was about 18. Then I was made to married a man (again, my mother because I fell pregnant and she didn’t want an illegitimate grandchild) who turned out to be abusive in almost every way. I took me 20+ years to get away from him and then the court system abused me and encouraged my ex to continue to abuse me etc etc etc. then followed a work accident then a car accident. I became disabled enough that I could no longer work and now live on a disability person.

    There are so many more factors in there but that is my very basic story. I can’t find a therapist. I’ve been to quite a few but because I cannot afford to pay them there going rate on a regular basis I depend on the government subsidised ones. It’s also hard to find a psychologist that understands the stuff that’s happened to me. I saw a psychiatrist because my doctor wanted to get a medical diagnosis of PTSD or CPTSD. He asked me if everyone someone walked into a room I was in if I jumped up and “hit the roof” I said no, not really. Then he said well, then you don’t have PTSD”. I tried to tell him all the other ways I reacted to things but he simply didn’t listen, he’d made up his mind and that was that… he was a specialist in drug and alcohol recovery but, since I was seeing a psychiatrist on Medicare he was the only one available in the system. I live in Brisbane so if anybody knows a good therapist who will bulk bill our only charge a small amount that would be really helpful. I wouldn’t mind a psychiatrist as they can easily bulk bill but 99.9% of them don’t. I found a very rare one who did but in a handful of seasons he made things so much worse I stopped seeing him even though he was “free”.

I would love to hear from you so please leave a comment. All feedback is much appreciated. Thank you. Erin

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