Setting Boundaries With Yourself



Setting boundaries is seen as a fundamental element of heathy relationships. There are countless articles freely available that instruct us on setting boundaries with co-workers, bosses, neighbours, intimate partners, children, and others.

In my work with Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers, survivors of child sexual abuse, and with parents, it’s something that comes up time and time again. Victims and survivors can find it difficult to set healthy boundaries, and to maintain them, once they have been set.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how setting boundaries with others is definitely necessary – but it’s also necessary to set boundaries with ourselves. It’s an element of self-care that is worth highlighting. Self-care is something that a lot of my clients tussle with. It seems indulgent, wasteful, and something we’re not worthy of; especially those of us who have been brought up to believe that we are worthless.

Once people can be convinced that they are worth caring for, and once they can be helped to identify ways, and means, and techniques, that are examples of self-care for them, it’s hard to then place limits on those self-care practices. I feel like I’m saying to people ‘You deserve self-care, but not that much self-care.’

Being aware that addiction stems from trauma, and that traumatised people often battle addiction (even, sometimes, ‘acceptable’ addictions, like work, and exercise) led to my awareness that it’s necessary to establish, and maintain, boundaries with ourselves.

A self-boundary is recognising that a slice of cake might be good self-care, but an entire cake might not be. It is recognising that a walk in nature might be good self-care, but pushing yourself to walk 10kms a day might not be. It is recognising that healthy food might be good self-care, but four servings of healthy food in one sitting might not be. It is recognising that an early night might be good self-care, but that staying in bed for twelve hours a day might not be.

How do we know, then, when self-care becomes self-abuse? I think we can identify that by paying attention to our emotions, and how we feel about our self-care practices. Is your self-care practice something you look forward to, or something you are desperate to indulge? Is your self-care practice something that feels like you’re being kind to yourself, or something that you’re punishing yourself with? Do you feel better after your self-care, or guilty/ashamed? If it’s the latter, then you might want to look at establishing better boundaries with yourself. It’s a line we need to establish, and maintain, with ourselves exactly the same way we would with others.

Because, after all, the person you want to have the healthiest relationship with, is yourself.

Safety Device

(Content Warning: References to Child Sexual Abuse, link to graphic piece on the effects of Child Sexual Abuse)

It’s been an interesting few weeks. As some of you may know, there is a Fear Nua* in my life and I’m enjoying all sorts of things that, for many people are ‘normal’ but for me are beyond any experiences I’ve had to date. It’s all good, though. It’s all good.

I’m not about to gush about him, because he is a far more private person than I am – and I respect that – but also because so much of what’s going on is private and personal to us and to the third entity that is our relationship.

I will, however, say this much: I’ve been learning an awful lot from him. One of the biggest lessons I’m learning is my own value, my own right to be, and my own right to be who I am. I’ve also been crying a lot more than usual, but they have been happy, and / or healing tears. Like last week, when I suddenly had a thought that had my eyes leaking; I’d resigned myself, years ago, to the thought that I would die without ever knowing the love of a good man, without ever knowing what it would it be like to be in a relationship with a man that wasn’t abusive. I really believed that I would die without being in a relationship where I was valued for who I am – or that I would ever be with a man who enjoyed being with me, rather than one who merely wanted to possess me, and crush me. Now, I know that’s not true. And, oh! The joy of that. The absolute fascination with being with someone who values my ideas, my opinions, my thoughts, my mere presence is something I know I can’t adequately explain.

A few days after we met, he mentioned, in the course of conversation, that he had been researching how to be with a woman who had trauma as a result of child sexual abuse. He wanted to know how best to react, how best to treat me, taking my history into account. Reader, you could have knocked me down with a feather. Never, ever, ever, has a man I’ve been with, or even a man I’ve been married to, shown the slightest bit of interest in finding out how they could make being in a relationship easier for me. I knew, then and there, that he was A Keeper.

Then, yesterday, he presented me with the bracelet you see pictured above. It’s a safety device, and I’ll explain why.  Having already read this piece, he was anxious to work with me to ameliorate the effects any way he could. We were making progress, but then he had an idea. He reminds me that I have chosen him. That I choose him, repeatedly, every day, every hour, every moment that we are together. That I could choose to walk away, but I am choosing to stay because I am choosing him. As he is, likewise, choosing me. He needs me to feel safe. To know that I am safe with him, everywhere, all the time, no matter what. He would prefer if I stayed present when we’re together, because he is no threat to me, and I need to know that, and be able to remember that, and remind myself of that any time I feel I need to.

This bracelet serves that purpose: by simply seeing it, I am reminded of him, reminded that I am always safe with him. Touching it has the same effect, and – if I move my wrist slightly – the tags you can see chime gently, providing an aural reminder.  As my friend Jane Mulcahy noted, tweeted to me ‘It’s v lovely & delicate, H. Like affection, intimacy & trust.’  I think she put it perfectly. This piece of jewellery has the added bonus of being beautiful. A bit like himself, really.


*In Irish,
Fear Nua (pronounced Farr Nooa) means ‘New Man’.