Please note: This episode was recorded prior to the killing of George Floyd in the United States. I have since added resources for anti-racism education and trauma and mental health support  below. 

Trauma and boundaries are very closely related. Childhood trauma can seriously impact our ability to set boundaries in adulthood. When we experience boundary violations early in life, what can happen is we grow up not realizing that we have the right to be an individualized, whole person with our own needs, wants, and preferences. 

Your ability to draw boundaries is heavily influenced by what you saw and experienced in your family of origin. If you grew up in a chaotic, dysfunctional or abusive family system, you might have learned that you didn’t have a right to speak up, to say no or to express yourself in a healthy way…and that message could still be driving the way you interact in the world and in your relationships in the present. 

If you have difficulty setting boundaries in your life, I’m walking you through the signs and symptoms that could point to trauma as the culprit, plus sharing some steps to take that can help you begin to heal.


The struggle to set boundaries is one of the most common issues I hear about in sessions with my private clients and from the women in my courses and coaching communities. That’s why I’m obsessed with helping you learn how to establish healthy, flexible boundaries. (So much so I wrote a book about it! Boundary Boss coming April 2021, so stay tuned.) 

First, let’s go over the different types of boundaries. 

> Physical boundaries pertain to objects, your material possessions, personal space, privacy, and your body. 

> Mental boundaries are your thoughts, ideas, and opinions. 

> Emotional boundaries are your feeling states and how you interact with the feeling state of others. 

> Other boundaries include sexual boundaries, financial boundaries, and spiritual boundaries. 

Personal boundaries are what types of communication, behavior, and interaction are acceptable to you. They separate you from the people in your life in a healthy way and are protective. Simply put: it’s knowing what is and what isn’t OK with you.

It’s possible that you might not even know. So many of us spend much of the time putting others’ wants, needs, and desires before our own, so deep self-knowledge may not be present because, in our childhood, that kind of adaptive behavior was protective for us. 

What is trauma? “Trauma is the effect of an experience or event that overwhelms our sense of safety, often to the point where the world, the future, or other people are no longer seen as positive or safe.” ¹

If you’re a survivor of trauma, which could be physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse or being “parentified” as a kid (being expected to do adult things or parent your parent), you might have learned that it was safer to focus on others rather than on yourself. You may be less likely to defend or assert yourself because, in the past, what you felt or needed didn’t matter. 

The point, which can be difficult for those with past trauma to understand, is that you have a right to have boundaries around all of these things…but it’s up to you to create them.

While it might feel threatening to make this shift, I promise you it is possible, and learning how to create healthy boundaries is the best way to get empowered in all areas of your life. 

In this week’s downloadable guide, I’m giving you a list of the signs and symptoms that past trauma could be hindering your ability to set clear boundaries, so be sure to download that here now. Getting clarity and raising your awareness of what’s going on underneath the surface of current conflicts or frustrations is the first step to making a change for the better. 

Remember, nothing replaces therapy, so if you go through this process and find that you do have unresolved trauma, please seek out the support of a professional trauma expert. If you need help finding the right therapist for you, I created a comprehensive step-by-step guide for you and you can access that right here.  

Before I get into things you can do, I want to talk a little bit about the fight, flight, or freeze response. As human beings, we all have this natural, visceral response to any perceived threat or danger. If you are a trauma survivor, you might be more deeply entrenched in this response than others, and that can inhibit your ability to say “no” or recognize when a boundary has been crossed. 

There’s a fourth often overlooked response that is common in traumatic experiences, called the “fawn” or the “please” response. ²

This is an adaptive survival behavior in which the victim assesses the situation and the aggressor and then seeks to please them in order to mitigate the danger. If as a child you felt trapped or threatened, you might have learned that you could diffuse the situation if you knew how to please that person. 

Many trauma survivors grow up to be empaths and high functioning codependents because being hypervigilant and having the skills to intuit what someone else was thinking, feeling and needed in any moment might have kept them safe or avoided conflict. 

It took me years in therapy to realize that I wasn’t responsible for every other person in the world’s feelings. I’m a recovering high-functioning codependent, I’ve turned my empathy into a superpower and if I can do it, so can YOU. I talk more about my own personal journey in the episode, so be sure to watch it here or listen to it here

Here are some steps you can take to get clarity around your personal boundaries:

  • Take a boundary inventory. 

Who do you really need to look at your boundaries with? Where are you a pushover or where are you super rigid in your life? In the guide, I’m giving you some more questions to consider that will help bring attention to the areas where your personal boundaries have been crossed, so be sure to download that here

  • Journal it out. 

Think through situations where you wish that you had handled things differently. What do you wish you would have done? Write it all out. 

  • Talk to people you trust. 

Reach out to trusted people to talk through how you’re feeling and ask for support. This could be friends or family or other women who won’t judge you and can just hold space for you. (Our free Facebook community is truly an incredible, supportive safe space.

  • Get into therapy. 

Giving yourself the gift of therapy is hands down one of the greatest acts of self-love and self-care you can take. Again, I’ve put together a comprehensive guide on how to find the right therapist for you, and if you do identify with being a trauma survivor, there are experts that you can talk to. Here’s the link to download your “How to Find the Right Therapist” guide.

  • Start small. 

Make a list of the high priority and low priority people in your life. Who’s in your VIP section? Then, start practicing a healthy boundary setting with the low priority people first. Expressing and exercising your boundaries is a skill and it takes practice, but starting with the people who aren’t in the front row of your life is much less threatening. It’s ok for you to ease into this. In this episode, I gave you some language and tips to help you resolve conflict quickly and effectively and so much of it can be applied to boundaries. Check that out right here

Setting boundaries is not mean, bitchy, or selfish. It is truly an act of self-love and ultimately creates the space for healthy relationships. No matter what you’ve experienced in your past, you have the right to be seen, heard, and known. 

I really want to hear how this goes for you, so please drop me a comment or any questions you have below.  

If this episode helped you, please share it on your social media platforms. The more healthy people we have in the world, the better the world is going to be for all of us, right? So let’s raise our mental health vibe together. 

I hope you have an amazing week and as always, take care of you.

¹https://www.lifeworkspsychotherapy.com/interpersonal-boundaries-trauma-keeps-us-silent/

²https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.pete-walker.com/codependencyFawnResponse.htm


 

Below you will find a list of resources we are finding helpful and hope you will, too.

I encourage you to learn from and support these Instagram accounts:

@cicelybelle_xo (Cicely Belle Blain)
@curlytherapist (Sana I. Powell, M.A., LPC)
@dr.marielbuque (Dr. Mariel Buquè)
@glowmaven (Latham Thomas)
@prestonsmiles (Preston Smiles)
@rachel.cargle (Rachel Cargle)
@mspackyetti (Brittany Packnett Cunningham)

To further educate and act:

Vote in your primary election

Support a BIPOC business in your local area.

Visit the Anguish and Action website to;

  • Find the mental health care and trauma support you need
  • Learn about police violence and anti-racism in America
  • Take steps and lend support to encourage reform
  • Connect with organizations on the front lines of social justice

Check out the Anti-racism Resources page to:

  • Find articles to read
  • Podcasts to subscribe to
  • Books to read
  • Films and TV to watch
  • Resources for parents to raise anti-racist children
  • Organizations to follow and support.
  • Plus more anti-racism resources to check out.

View the article : 13 mental health resources for black people trying to cope right now. To find:

A selection of mental health resources specifically for black people, recommended by the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI)

Get Additional Support:

If you need additional psychological and emotional support right now, get into therapy. Talking with an unbiased professional about what you’re feeling and experiencing right now could be exactly the self-care you need.

I’ve partnered with Better Help, an online counseling platform that can match you to a licensed, professional therapist, often the same day, that you can talk to from the comfort of your couch. It’s affordable, private and just as effective as face-to-face sessions. You can find out more here.

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  1. Hi, I stumbled upon a YouTube video you did, which was excellent, although I cannot remember what one it was, which led me to your website, and to this boundary episode. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for having free resources. I have a tight budget as I try and gain control back of my resources, and have been looking for help with a minimal cost. I am childhood trauma survivor of sibling incest, with no relationship with the monster, strained relationship with parents who love the monster, and I believe has always lived him more, both of us were adopted, and I am in a 13 year relationship with someone who looks a lot like a full on narcassist. I have not dealt with my family or origin, and I supply my husband with my roller coaster emotions, my depths of dispair and seeing everything as life or death. I pay all the bills, and am a fantastic martyr. I beg pplto love me, and willing let them use me as a mat. I have no boundaries. None. Notta. Zilch. I have a neon sign flashing, please do not just use me, abuse me. So thank you for helping dim the neon sign.

    1. Hi Chelsea,
      First of all, I’m holding space for you with so much love and compassion. Thank you for sharing all of this and for being here. I’m so glad the content has helped you and that you continue to learn more about setting boundaries and putting yourself first. ❤️ Keep at it, mama. You are worth it.

  2. Hello Terri,
    I relate to what you are saying about how early trauma can effect our ability to set healthy boundaries with a struggle to say no. What I am interested in is the opposite response when people are ready to set you” straight ” and tell you off, and the like. What is this aggressive response to boundaries about?

    1. I hear you. Their reaction often has more to do with them than it does with you. You can only take care of your side of the street. You do not have to allow anyone to treat you in an aggressive manor and you can ask them to stop or you will leave. We can’t control the reactions of others, and we can ask for what we need and have our own back.

      1. Yes leave you said. I left a few people and it is never ending story for me. How many times do I have to change an appartment or a workplace to stop attracting abusive, disrespectful, nor meet in the middle, etc. people? I am tired of running away and staying is painful too. Guess a gentle, quiet people will always be dominated by boundaries bullies and the like.?

        1. I am witnessing you with compassion and holding space for you. You deserve people in your life who see you for who you are and love you as you are. Practicing boundaries and asking for your needs helps people to see you for you and the people who can’t accept you can leave!

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