Archive for the ‘Setting Boundaries’ Category

My sister recently had a birthday. Our mother/abuser called her to wish her a happy birthday and then spent most of the conversation b@#$&ing about why I won’t talk to her. That really rubbed me the wrong way and motivated me to write the following draft letter to my mother/abuser, which I have not sent and don’t know if I will:


I got your letter about coming to [my state] in May. I will not be in town that weekend.

You keep asking why I don’t want a relationship with you. Fine – I will tell you, although you should know already. I have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to the severe child abuse I suffered throughout my childhood, and being around you triggers my symptoms. S&L [my most sadistic abusers and her best friends] were monsters, as were their “friends,” and I will forever bear the emotional scars of all of the hell they put me through as a child.

My childhood was filled with a lack of boundaries, and the fact that you have repeatedly refused to respect my boundaries tells me that you have not changed. I have told you repeated that we could communicate by letter monthly but that I don’t want visits or phone calls. Despite me being very clear about these boundaries, you have repeatedly tried to push past them. This triggers my PTSD symptoms, making me even less interested in maintaining a relationship with you.

I have been through thousands of dollars worth of therapy, and I have worked very hard to overcome all of the pain from my childhood. I just want to live my life as best I can, despite the nightmares, panic attacks, and triggers that are a part of my everyday life. Although I have worked hard to manage my symptoms, PTSD will always be a part of my life, and you are responsible for much of this. I do not hate you and wish you no ill, but I also do not need to have you in my life always pushing me to move my boundaries to accommodate what you want.

I don’t want to hurt you, which is why I haven’t gotten into this before, but this has gone on long enough. If you can respect my boundaries, then we can write letters monthly. If you cannot, then I am not interested in maintaining a relationship with you. I am not saying this to hurt you. I am saying this because my own sanity depends upon me being able to have people in my life who respect the boundaries I set. You have not been very respectful of the boundaries that I have set, so it is what it is.


(While I was posting this, Motley Crue’s song came on — “Girl, don’t go away mad. Girl, just go away.” Too funny!!)

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled Got Another Letter from my Mother/Abuser, a reader posted the following question:

How do u guys deal with the fear and powerlessness unwanted contacts evoke? ~ Sameena

I lean on my friends a lot. I have learned from experience not to take any action in the moment because I might regret it later. Instead, I let a friend know that my mother/abuser has contacted me again. I let a friend (or more than one friend) read the letter or listen to the message on the answering machine because my friends can be more objective than I can. I then listen to their advice but don’t act on it in the moment.

As I shared here, I just received another unwanted letter from my mother/abuser telling me of her plans to come to my state over Mother’s Day weekend (oh, the irony!). I did nothing that night except tell friends about it and blog about it. The next day, I bought plane tickets to visit a friend in another state with my son.

I deal with the fear by taking action. My mother/abuser might choose to come to the state, but I can choose to leave the state. This helps alleviate my fear and feelings of powerlessness because I feel empowered to protect myself. She cannot make me stay in the state and wait for her visit.

I guess I no longer feel powerless. Instead, I feel angry – like I am dealing with a stalker boyfriend who takes any tiny shred of kindness and turns it into an invitation for reconciliation. I need to tell my mother/abuser that I will not be in the state, so don’t bother, but I have done nothing yet. Hub has told me that I better get her that message because he sure doesn’t want to see her.

What p#$$es me off is that my mother/abuser is forcing me to go against my own nature to deal with her. My first choice would be to address the truth, but that is likely to cause her to have a psychotic episode, and I don’t want to be responsible for her hurting anyone in that state. My second choice would be to send her the occasional picture and letter to spare her the embarrassment of having to tell people that she is not in contact with her daughter. This is a kindness that she does not deserve but is in keeping with my own character. Clearly she cannot handle that.

So, that leaves me with one more option – telling her to go to h@#$, which goes against my character but might be the only option I have. It makes me angry that she puts me in this position. I don’t want to do that, so right now I am simply doing nothing. I know I will need to address it at some point, but I am choosing not to in this moment.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Just to recap for newer readers – my mother sexually abused me as a child and provided access for most of my abusers, so I really don’t have any desire to keep this woman in my life. I also have a nine-year-old son who I don’t want anywhere near her. Meanwhile, my sister has chosen to continue a relationship with her and allows her to visit with her grandchildren (14 and 10).

I cut off all personal contact (only letters) with my mother/abuser in 2003 under the advice of my therapist. I set boundaries about what could be in those letters – no talking about the past, reunions, etc. Despite this, my mother/abuser repeated disregards the boundaries, apologizing for stupid things that have nothing to do with the abuse. Until she takes responsibility for the hell she put me through as a child (which will never happen), we have nothing to talk about.

Last year, I chose not to send her a birthday card, and that is when all hell broke loose. She saw that she had nothing to lose, so she started calling and threatened to visit. I sent her a note saying, “Back the f@#$ off!!,” and she left me alone until we saw each other for the first time at my sister’s college graduation in December 2009. Since then, the letters have started again because she thinks that seeing each other in December (where I was looking for places to vomit and was pumped up on Xanax) means that we now have a fresh start.

Now that you are caught up … She had another birthday recently, and I (stupidly) sent her a nondescript card with a couple of recent pictures of my son. I thought this was staving off round two, but apparently it sent her the wrong message in light of the letter I just received:

I was wondering. May 8th [Mother’s Day Weekend!!!!] I’ll be up in [a nearby city] to visit [relatives]. Is there a way that on May 9th [Mother’s Day] I could see you? Then we can sit down and talk out our differences. The maybe we can become friends once more. Or I could see you on May 8, before I get to [city] and have a short stop on my journey up there. I’ll pay for your lunch. Let me know if this will work for you?

Talk out our differences!?!! Become friends one more!?!! When were we ever friends?? It didn’t feel real friendly when my body was offered up to all of her “friends” sexually on and off camera!! These are not “differences.” We are not arguing about paint color or the best sports team. She RAPED me, and she allowed her friends to RAPE me. How do you talk that out?? “I didn’t like it when you let your friends bury me alive or lock me in a box for hours. I wasn’t crazy about the gang rapes or having my first orgasm at your hand when I was a toddler.” No, sorry, don’t see it happening.

I called my sister, and we are going to visit my grandmother [father’s mother] out of state that weekend. I haven’t been to see her in a couple of years because returning to my hometown wigged me out too much. I think seeing my grandmother once more before she dies is a much better use of my time, and maybe I won’t wig out so much knowing that my mother/abuser is in another state.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled Staying Married While Healing from DID, a reader posted the following comment:

Can I ask how we can bring up the topic of wanting and needing our own bedroom? Whenever we’ve made comments about it, he doesn’t take me seriously. I did convince him that we had to have a king size bed though and that helps some, as we have a huge barrier between us of stuffies and our fuzzy blanket that he doesn’t like to get too close to. But how do I convince him that I’m not trying to be mean, I just need a sex free zone and a space to call our own? ~ Annelisa

Let me share how I got my own bedroom. When I started the healing process, I got sick … a lot. I would move into the guest bedroom so I wouldn’t get hub sick. I noticed that I slept better when I wasn’t sharing a bed with another person. Once I realized this, I stopped dissociating/switching at night and was aware of how frequently I was awakened by hub’s presence (frequently by his snoring). I used his snoring as an excuse to move to the guest bedroom halfway through the night. This went on for several months … I would go to sleep in our bed, move in the middle of the night, and awaken in the guest bedroom.

I told my therapist that I really wished I had my own room, and he asked why I didn’t. Like you, I didn’t want to hurt hub’s feelings. However, I reached a point that I really needed my own room, and the weight of that need was greater than my fear of upsetting hub.

I finally told hub that I decided to move into the guest bedroom because of his snoring. He objected at first, saying that married people are supposed to sleep together. I pointed out that the operative word was “sleep,” and this half of the married couple was not getting much sleep. I told him that I was not making a statement about our marriage and that this would not interfere with our sex life. (I had a longstanding rule of no sex after 9:00 p.m., and we always go to bed later than that.) Even though I wasn’t in the best place emotionally for sex, I pushed through to have sex a little more frequently for the first few weeks to drive home the point that my relocation was not a sign of wanting a marital separation.

We have had our own bedrooms for years now, and hub is long over caring about having separate bedrooms. He can keep his bedroom as messy as he wants, and mine is always clean. I have a “no sex” rule in my bedroom – that only happens in his room. He is just fine with it. Child abuse survivors don’t typically know how to set boundaries. This is a good opportunity for practice.

Related Topic:

Setting Boundaries in the Bedroom after Child Abuse

Photo credit: Faith Allen

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I am celebrating a minor victory in my life. An ongoing annoyance of mine is how hub believes that his right to the TV trumps mine, especially if his favorite sports team is playing. We have always had two TVs in the house – one in the family room, and the other in the master bedroom. I moved out of the master bedroom a few years ago because I cannot sleep with another person in the room (plus hub snores). I did not realize how physically exhausted I had been for over a decade because of my inability to sleep with hub lying in the bed next to me.

Anyhow, the net result is that, for several years, there has been a family TV and then hub’s TV in his room. This worked out okay for the most part, with hub occasionally “bumping” me off the family TV to watch his sports, leaving me to do something else or use his TV in his room (which he keeps in a junky condition – I refuse to clean his room for him). However, as our son has grown older, we have added a third personality into the mix.

Our son has ADHD and is on stimulant medication, which makes it difficult for him to sleep, even on a prescription sleep aid. So, he watches TV in hub’s room until he drops off to sleep. Our usual routine is that I only watch the family TV one hour a day, after my son goes upstairs to watch TV/fall asleep and before hub gets back from the gym. However, now that college basketball season is upon us, hub is starting to bump me from my one hour so he can watch his game while our son is using the other TV.

It happened again the other night, and I got really annoyed. I had been waiting two weeks to watch a particular TV show, and I got “bumped” halfway through it. (It was recorded, but it was still annoying not to be able to watch it all in one sitting.) So, the next day, I went to Target and bought myself a new TV for my room. I used my own money from my part-time job to pay for it. I also scheduled the cable company to install a DVR in my room, and I will be using my part-time job money to pay for the increase in cost as well.

Hub was not happy about this turn of events, even though I pointed out that this did not cost him a dime. My therapist, on the other hand, was so proud of me. A friend is currently in therapy with him, and she told him about me buying myself a TV. He smiled and said that my friend had no idea how far I have come.

I know that there are bigger issues in the world than getting to watch an hour of TV, but this is about more than just a television. This was a gift to myself and an acknowledgement that I don’t have to be the third class member of this family.

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Learning how to set boundaries can be a real challenge for anyone who suffered from child abuse. We learned that we had no boundaries, and we did not have the first idea about how to set any, much less enforce them. When you enter into therapy, a good therapist is going to encourage you to start setting boundaries in your life. Expect to have some growing pains as you learn to develop this skill.

I used to believe that being called (or even thought of as) a b@#$% would be the worst thing in the world. I now understand that there is a time and a place when this is actually a good thing, such as when I am coming to the defense of my child. Finding the right balance between doormat and b@#$% can be a challenge. My therapist told me that, if I **think** that I being a little b@#$%y, I am probably only nearing the appropriate level of setting boundaries.

However, I have seen people go from one extreme to the other before they find a happy medium. One day, they are the world’s biggest doormat. The next, they appear to be trying to eviscerate anyone who comes into their path. This is not the same thing as setting healthy boundaries. Rather than assume that everyone on the planet is trying to take advantage of you, you need to learn how to assess each situation on a case-by-case basis. Here is what works for me…

I decide ahead of time what I want my boundary to be. Let’s say my boundary is that I want to spend two hours on Sundays doing something for myself. If someone asks if I can babysit her child on Sunday, I don’t go off on her and call her every name in the book for trying to take my time away. Instead, I say that I am really sorry, but I am unavailable on Sunday afternoon. If I wouldn’t mind watching the child another time, I might offer an alternative time.

However, let’s say that I say no, and the person tells me that I am a self-centered b@#$% for not changing my plans to accommodate her. I can go one of two directions – I can tell her not to talk to me that way (with or without colorful language), or I can choose not to invest in that relationship any longer. I do not invest in friendships where the other person is not grateful when I do her a favor.

If you are in that place where you are trying to make changes but seem not to know how to get setting boundaries right, don’t despair. This is a skill that comes with practice. I haven’t gotten it all figured out yet, but I am leaps and bounds ahead of where I used to be.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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A recurring theme I see among child abuse survivors is been taken advantage of by others. This is an issue that I have wrestled with throughout my life, although I have made marked progress in the last few years. I used to think that, if I was kind to others, then they would be kind to me. I treated others as I wanted to be treated, but I did not get the same treatment in return. It took me a long time to understand why not.

It was all an issue with my  inability to set boundaries in relationships. Because I was so willing to give of myself in relationships, I was easy prey for those who were looking to take advantage of me. I would be a rich woman if I had a dollar for each time someone spent time with me just to use me and then kicked me to the curb when I finally built up the courage to say, “Enough!” More often than not, I did this by separating myself from the other person rather than having a confrontation.

My therapist told me that my homework every single week was working on setting boundaries. I have come a long way. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, hub asked me to go get him a refill at Wendy’s. I looked at him like he was nuts and said, “No!” I used to get him refills all the time. I didn’t know it was okay to say no to him, so I would routinely go wait in line to get him a refill while my French fries got cold. The other day, I simply said no because I didn’t want to do it – How freeing is that??

Now, don’t get me wrong – I do plenty of nice things for hub. In fact, I am writing this blog entry on a Sunday afternoon at a local “bounce place” while my kid and his two friends are bouncing on a bunch of inflatables. I took all three for the entire afternoon (four hours), and hub is lounging around the house right now and probably even taking a long nap. So, I do nice things for him. However, I don’t have to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, to be in this relationship. That would make me his servant or slave, not his wife.

Any relationship that does not give you the freedom to say, “No,” is a dysfunctional one. In any relationship, you will sometimes be the giver, but there also needs to be room for you to be the receiver as well. If you are always giving, that means that the other person is always taking. That is not okay. You deserve to be in a reciprocal relationship where you are valued for who you are, not for what you do.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Hub and I had an argument over the weekend, and it got ugly. It needed to get ugly because he was being completely unreasonable. He also pushed after I told him to back off, so he got what he deserved. It’s about d@#$ time that he learn to respect my boundaries.

Let me back up … I used to be the world’s biggest doormat. I never stood up for myself; I just did what other people told me to do. My motto was “peace at all costs,” and I believed that conflict would lead to abandonment. So, I had no boundaries in place, and people constantly took advantage of me.

Hub had it really good back then because I was a “Stepford” wife. We did what he wanted to do whenever he wanted to do it. I asked for nothing. Until we had trouble conceiving a baby about five years into our marriage, everything was about him. He didn’t even see it coming when I started fighting back because I wanted a baby so badly and he did not want to go through infertility treatments.

Even though I had no boundaries, about once a year I would blow up and stand my ground. I thought I had the world’s longest fuse. What was really happening was that an alter part would finally have enough and would come out swinging. I would suddenly have this amazing strength that would protect me. I would hear the words coming out of my mouth and be just as shocked as the person who got the tongue lashing.

Now that I have integrated my anger parts, I have access to this strength, and I use it whenever I need it. That is what hub learned the hard way during this argument. He stepped over the line verbally. I told him to back off, but he kept pushing, so I unleashed. I could feel the fury from the very depths of my soul that I had been holding at bay. However, once he refused to respect my boundaries, he got what he got, which was a verbal tongue-lashing complete with expletives that he didn’t see coming.

When he would corner me like this in the past, it would trigger my head-banging alter part. Hub is an attorney, and a litigator at that, so he has professional training for backing people into a corner verbally. Feeling backed into a corner would trigger the part of myself that was forced to make a “Sophie’s Choice”. I would run out of the room screaming and then bang my head. That did not happen during this argument. Instead, I got really p@$$ed off that he did not back off when I asked him to, so I removed my filters and let my anger have its say. It was ugly. I spoke (yelled) what was deep in my heart with no filter to cushion the blow. That was when the tide turned in the argument.

Hub and I talked things out and made up, but I hope he will eventually learn that he can no longer treat me like the Stepford wife he once had. It is a shame that I have to get to a place where the anger must come out unfiltered, but clearly that is the only way to get some people to back off when they cross my boundaries. I am grateful that I finally have a way to protect my boundaries.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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If you are new to my blog, you can catch up on this saga by reading these blog entries:

I received another letter from my mother/abuser last week. I arrived right as I was heading out of town, so I threw it on the counter and did not think about it again until I returned home from our Memorial Day Weekend getaway (which really SUCKED because both my son and I were very sick … so sick that I never even laid eyes on the beach … but I digress …)

I asked a friend to open and read the letter and let me know if there was anything in it that I should know. My friend said it was safe to read. My mother wrote it right after visiting my sister and having the conversation about overstepping her boundaries with me. Here is the letter:

Dear Faith,

How is everything going? I drove down to see [sister’s kids] get their awards. It was fun being part of their lives.

Faith, if I offended you by writing letters and phoning you, I am so sorry, if I overstepped my bounds. So now I will let you make the next move, that is, if you want to. If will not pressure you anymore. I do have an email address that you can write to, that is, if you want to.

Have a wonderful day, and I hope you will be able to come to [sister’s] graduation. I’ll be there but we don’t have to talk to each other. Let’s just be there for [sister]. She has tried so hard and she needs our support.

Lots of love,


So, what do you think of this letter? I am relieved that she is backing down on her own. That means that I don’t need to send the letter that I had planned about not wanting her in my life due to the child abuse. That being said, I still see manipulations about how nice it is being a part of my nephews’ lives and how I need to be there for my sister. I have a hard time gauging my own reaction to anything that she writes, though.

I can’t remember if I already shared this, but my sister dropped out of school after ninth grade and got her GED. After her divorce, she enrolled in college in her mid-thirties as a single mother. She has worked her tail off and will be graduating in December with honors with a double-major in biology and philosophy. I have been along for the entire ride, from encouraging her when she doubted herself to reviewing each paper for grammatical errors. Of course I am going to her graduation! I am also taking her on an all-expense paid trip to Disney World to celebrate afterward. So, that comment rubbed me the wrong way.

Any thoughts on her letter? I am not sure what to do about it, so for now, I will do nothing.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Those of you who read my blog regularly are aware that my mother-abuser has been contacting me over the last few months and trying to force a reconciliation between us. That is not going to happen. You can catch up by reading these blog entries:

I ultimately wound up paying a visit to my therapist (I ended therapy a few years ago) for advice. He suggested that I write her a short note telling her that, due to the abuse I suffered as a child, it is not safe for me or my family to be in a relationship with her. Do not contact me again. My sister asked me to wait to send this note until after she finished with her finals (she is a senior in college).

My mother happened to call right before I left for the therapy session and has not called or written since. I thought it was odd that she was calling and/or writing at least weekly for months and then abruptly stopped. I have not sent the note since there has not been a need to do it.

I finally got my answers … My mother visited with my sister recently, and my mother raised the subject. (I had asked my sister not to put herself in the middle, so she had not raised the topic herself.) She told my sister that she had been trying to contact me on the advice of her Christian counselor (I knew it!!) who told her that she needed to “mend fences.” However, because I had not responded or contacted her in any way (including Mother’s Day), she feared that she had “blown it” with me. (Ya think??)

My sister pointed out that I had set boundaries with her and told her what I was willing to give (monthly contact by letter only). By my mother overstepping those boundaries, it was like “spitting all over” me. To the extent my mother is capable, she seemed to get it, so I **hope** she will continue leaving me alone.

Things got worse on my sister’s end, though. My mother kept going on and on about not understanding what she ever did that was so bad. (My sister just gritted her teeth.) My mother then became much more clingy with the one daughter who is still in her life, which is about to drive my sister up the wall. For the first time, my sister said that she is beginning to see the wisdom of my ways. She says that her limited contact was barely tolerable. This clinginess is about to put her over the edge.

I am not sure what my sister is going to do, but that is not my issue. My sister needs to choose her own path, just as I have chosen mine.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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