It may feel impossible right now when your partner has betrayed you, abused you, and devalued you, but you can become fearless, free, and uncontrollable.
BTR.ORG is here to help you become “fearless”. Yes, abusers manipulate our minds to instill fear and condition us to comply with their abuse. However, with support and education, you can see past the manipulation and create a safety plan to get out.
Victims become free from their abusers when they are able to make decisions based upon what is best for themselves, rather than making decisions out of fear or trying to guess what their abuser wants them to do.
When victims feel ownership of their own minds and thoughts, their own decisions and choices, they are free from their abusers.
Some power phrases that victims can use as they work toward freedom include:
- I am capable of making good decisions
- I know what is best for myself
- I give myself permission to take however long I need to when making decisions
- I am patient with myself when I struggle with making choices
Victims can and will become uncontrollable as they set safety boundaries that separate them from abuse. Support, self-care, and education about trauma and abuse can help victims work toward the safety they need to become uncontrollable.
BTR Is Here For You
At BTR we understand how overwhelming it can feel to work toward freedom from abuse.
That is why our BTR.ORG Group Sessions meet every single day in every time zone.
Join today and find the community that you need as you seek support on your journey to healing.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
Today, I’m going to talk about boundaries because so many women are confused about what boundaries are and how to use them to be safe.
What Is The Purpose Of A Boundary?
The purpose of a boundary is to stop harm. If you think about boundaries in the traditional sense you’ve got a boundary line or maybe a fence and it stops someone from coming over the fence. But if the boundary does not stop the harm, then it’s not a good boundary or not a boundary at all.
A boundary is not something that doesn’t work. If you have a property line and someone can just cross over it with no problems, the boundary doesn’t do you a whole lot of good.
When I talk about boundaries, I want you to think of something that can actually stop the harm. If you then put up a fence and they climb over the fence, then you still don’t have a boundary. Then, if you put a lock on the fence but they still climb over the fence, you still don’t have a boundary.
Boundaries That Stop The Harm
What you can do to make a boundary that actually stops the harm is the topic of today’s discussion.
The reason so many women are confused about boundaries is because, traditionally-speaking, therapists and other “experts” have set up boundaries this way:
You set a boundary, meaning that you state what you will or will not accept, so you say something like, “I will not accept pornography in my home,” or “I will not be lied to.” That is your “boundary.” Then, if the boundary is crossed, you have to enforce your boundary.
Okay, that pattern of boundary, violation, and then having to enforce or hold your boundary is problematic. That is what so many therapists or coaches are teaching right now, and it is not working for a lot of women.
The BTR Model For Boundaries
If that model works for you, shine on and keep using it. But if you’ve been taught that model and you’re like, “This is hard, now how do I enforce my boundary.” I “set” the boundary, I said, “I will not be lied to” or “I will not be treated this way” or “Porn is not allowed in my house” and then it gets violated and you’re like, “What do I do now?”
If you’re in that boat, I want to teach you a new model for boundaries that, I think, is way more practical and makes a lot more sense.
Instead of thinking of a boundary as a statement or a thing that you will or will not tolerate, I want you to think of a boundary as the actual physical or mental thing that stops the harm. If the harm has not stopped, think in your mind, “I don’t have a boundary yet.” Like I said, if you think, “My property line is the boundary but then the person just walks over it,” you don’t have a boundary.
What Is A Boundary?
A fence is the boundary, but the person just climbs over the fence. You don’t have a boundary yet. When that person stops crossing your property line, that’s when you know that you actually have a viable boundary.
You might want to take notes here.
- A boundary is something that actually stops the harm.
The point of a boundary is to stop harm. If the harm has not stopped, you have not set a boundary. That’s the first thing I want you to know because the whole point is for the harm to stop. If the harm hasn’t stopped, then what? You’re in the same situation that you were before.We’re just going to deal with actual practical things here in terms of how you can get to safety.
- Statements are just statements and they can’t keep you safe.
BTR Can Help You Identify Your Safety Issues And Needs
Statements like, “You cannot treat me this way” or “I will not allow this in my home” are just that, statements, and they cannot keep you safe. Therefore, they are not a boundary. With a coach or a therapist, if you’re doing “boundary work” and you’re making a list of things you will or will not tolerate, you are not making a list of boundaries. What you are making a list of is safety issues. These behaviors help me feel safe and these behaviors do not help me feel safe.
As you make that safety list, you can write down, for example, number one, “I don’t feel safe with someone who uses porn.” Number two, “I don’t feel safe with someone who lies to me.” Number three, “I don’t feel safe with someone who is grooming me through being kind to me when they really just want to have sex.” Number four, “I don’t feel safe when this or that.”
Write Down Your List of Safety Issues
You can write a list like this, but that is not a list of boundaries, that is a list of safety issues. Many women need to understand what safety looks like. Many women really haven’t gone into “What would help me feel safe? How can I feel safer? What behaviors are safe and what behaviors are not safe? Making that list of safety issues is key. You can write them down. You can even state them to your abuser. You could say, “I don’t feel safe when you try to manipulate me,” or “I don’t feel safe when I’m gaslit” or whatever. You can say it or not say it, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that you understand what the safety issues are. You can state a safety issue, you can write it down, but you cannot state a boundary because if you just say, “My boundary is this,” it doesn’t make a difference. They can still climb over the fence so to speak.
Identifying Safety Issues Is Not Creating Boundaries
I don’t want anyone to think that if they make a list of things they will or will not tolerate that it will help keep them safe from those things. It will help them identify the unsafe things, but it doesn’t really help you be safe, apart from just being able to identify it, which is an important step, for sure. You have to be able to identify it to set a boundary around it, but making a list of safety issues won’t, by itself, keep you safe.
That list of safety issues is not a list of boundaries. That’s just a list of safety issues.
Determine Actions You Can Take, Based Off Of Your Safety Issues
Once you understand what the safety issues are, then you can work from there to determine what actions you can take, they can be mental actions or physical actions, to keep yourself safe.
Writing something down or making a list of statements or determining safety issues is just that. They are just safety issues. If you’ve made a list of things you will or will not tolerate you have not created any boundaries. You’ve just made a list of safety issues.
- A boundary is an action.
Mental Actions, Physical Actions: Boundaries Are Actions
It could just be a mental action. It could be that you close your eyes, that could be a boundary. It could be that you turn the other way. It doesn’t necessarily mean divorce or something big. It can mean a lot of different things, but a boundary is an action that stops the harm.
Let’s take the example of the property line again.
You’ve got a property line and the person keeps crossing it, so you put up a fence and then they climb over the fence. You still don’t actually have a boundary because the person can get over it.
Then you put a lock on it, which doesn’t really do any good because they can still climb over the fence. Then, your next step might be that you call the police. You call the police and say, “This person is trespassing on my property.” The police come and they arrest the person and they take them to jail and charge them with trespassing.
“A Boundary Is An Action”
That might stop it, so once the harm has stopped you know that you have an actual boundary.
That’s what I mean when I say “a boundary is an action.” If the harm has stopped then you can be confident that you have an actual boundary.
For example, blocking someone on your phone actually stops them from being able to harass you, call you, text you, and things like that. Now, can they call from another number or a blocked number? Yes, they can.
But, if you make a boundary that you will never answer a number that you don’t recognize, then you’ll never be caught off guard and then they’ll have to leave a message. Are they going to leave a verbally abusive message? They might, and then you can block that number and you can just continue to block numbers.
Find Boundaries That Fit Your Safety Needs
Saying, “I won’t talk to him,” just saying it, “if he continues to lie and manipulate,” doesn’t really keep you safe because then every single conversation he can lie and manipulate you. If you notice that he is getting over the fence, then blocking it on your phone or blocking his email or deleting your social media accounts is an actual boundary because it literally stops the harm.
If that seems extreme you could go for a smaller boundary, like every time he says something you walk out of the room or every time he starts stonewalling or refusing to talk to you, you get up and walk out. Does that stop the harm? I don’t know.
You need to know what the harm is. If you have that list of things that harm you, then you can kind of assess, “Okay, I set this boundary,” which means you took action, and it stops.
What Is A Good Boundary For YOU?
Let’s say he is verbally harassing you in the car and you turn and look out the window and he stops talking. Did that stop the harm? Is that a boundary? The answer to that might be yeah. Yeah, it did work, because he stopped in that moment. You can say, “Okay, that’s a good boundary. I’m going to continue to do that.”
Now, most abusers, especially psychological abusers, they’re going to increase their abuse once you start setting boundaries, so you will notice that. As they escalate their abuse, you can escalate your boundaries.
Let’s talk about the difference between boundaries and benchmarks for a minute. A boundary is an actual physical or mental thing that you do that stops the harm. You stop listening, you detach emotionally, whatever it is.
What Is A Benchmark?
A benchmark is something that you are looking for to know if this person is progressing. It might be that they start telling the truth. It might be that they tell their friends and family the whole truth and they don’t lie anymore.
I don’t know what your benchmarks are going to be for safety, but a benchmark is not a boundary. If you say, “I’m going to set the boundary that he cannot move back in the home, and my boundary is that I’m going to change the locks and he needs to stay somewhere else.”
If that’s your boundary, that’s fine, but you might want to have some benchmarks for him moving back in. You might want to think, “Okay, if he signs up for Center for Peace (I’m just using that as an example), that’s something that I will look at to reassess my boundary.”
“Stop The Harm First, Then Look For Benchmarks”
Don’t put the cart before the horse. Don’t tell the perpetrator, “Okay, if you don’t go to Center for Peace then you have to move out in three months.” Because then, when that three-month mark comes, and he hasn’t signed up, then how are you going to get him out of the house? It’s really hard. It might be really hard to get him out of the house in the first place, but you need to set the boundary first.
Stop the harm first and then look for the benchmark. Don’t look for the benchmarks while the boundary has not been set or don’t say I’m going to wait to set a boundary and hope the benchmarks take place.
You Don’t Have To Verbally State Your Boundaries
No. No. No. No. You will just put yourself at further risk.
You can decide in your mind what the benchmarks are. You don’t have to tell your perpetrator at all. You can just decide in your own head, “He knows about this or that and he knows what to do, so I am just simply not going to engage unless he participates in some of these behaviors.”
“It Is Not Rocket Science”
If you’re familiar with the 12-Steps and you’re looking for a step 8 or 9, like full restitution or living amends or something like that, if he’s attending 12-Step, you don’t have to tell him, “You can’t move back in until this has happened.” He can figure it out. He is an adult man.
You don’t have to state every single benchmark that you want to see. Expecting someone to be honest, take accountability, be humble, and submit to the consequences of their actions. Those are literally basic skills. It is not rocket science. You don’t have to lay it out for him.
You can say that if he wants to step up and be an adult and be a healthy person, “Great, I’ll let him back into my life,” and if he doesn’t, “Great, I’m safe.” If you’ve set the boundary already, before you look for the benchmarks, then you’re going to be safe the whole time.
Getting Boundaries Backwards
This thing where you have to come up with your boundaries and then you have to tell the perpetrator, “Okay, my boundary is no porn in the house and if you do porn in the house then I will ask you to move out.”
I think that is completely backward. If they use porn in your house, you don’t have to tell them upfront or decide beforehand. If it happens you don’t have to give them notice. None of that.
If it’s a safety issue you can say, “You used porn in the house, you now need to move out.” It doesn’t go boundary, violation, and then enforce a boundary.
That is not how boundaries work. Functioning, responsible, mature adults don’t need to be told, “If you lie to me, I feel unsafe, so I’m going to set a boundary.” They don’t need that. A functioning adult and a mature person would know that you shouldn’t lie to people.
Boundaries Have Two Parts
Boundaries have two parts:
- A safety violation.
- A physical or mental thing that stops the harm.
The way it works is: safety violation> boundary to stop the harm.
You can take action and create a barrier to keep you safe, whether or not he understands it. You don’t have to tell him what it’s for. You don’t have to explain it. You can just set the boundary and be safe. If he gets it, he gets it and if he doesn’t, he doesn’t. It’s not your responsibility to try and explain it to him.
The things we want them to do, like be honest, don’t manipulate, don’t look at porn, don’t cheat; it’s not rocket science. These are basic skills that adults should know. It’s not your responsibility to have to explain it.
Keep An Eye Out For Manipulation
If someone tries to make you feel like it is your responsibility, that’s simply manipulation to try and get you to communicate with someone who’s not safe enough to communicate with.
I was reading in the Book of Mormon this morning and, with the COVID-19 it’s interesting because of all this apocalyptic sort of “end of the world” stuff that people are talking about, and in 2 Nephi 30, it’s talking about the end-times.
I’m not saying right now is the end times, I have no idea, but in the scriptures in verse 10-11, it says:
For the time speedily cometh that the Lord God shall cause a great division among the people, and the wicked will he destroy; and he will spare his people, yea, even if it so be that he must destroy the wicked by fire.
And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.2 Nephi 30:10-11
Boundaries Are Healthy And Godly
This division that we’re talking about where the wicked or the unhealthy are separated from the healthy is prophesied throughout the scriptures. I recently did a podcast about boundaries and New Testament scriptures that bring up boundaries.
If you’re a woman of faith and you think, “Well, wait a minute, this lack of communication or separating feels bad and my church doesn’t teach this.” That’s not true. We have evidence of that throughout the scriptures. That, in the last days, there will be a great division between the wicked and the righteous, and it’s okay if you’re seeing wickedness or unhealth in your own home and you’re realizing, “Wait a minute, I need to separate myself from this.”
Separating Yourself From Harm
It’s similar to needing to quarantine if you have COVID-19. I’m not saying you’re wicked if you have it, but what I’m saying is even with just public health issues it’s a safety issue. If you have the virus you need to stay separated from people who don’t, so you don’t get them sick. It’s the same thing with wickedness here.
I don’t want you to think that I think people with COVID-19 are wicked or that they are sinning. Please don’t take that from that example, but in the example of harm, separating yourself from the harm is important, otherwise, you’re going to be harmed. There is no other way to protect yourself other than separating yourself from it.
Identifying Safety Issues Versus Setting Boundaries
When someone asks what is a boundary? I want the answer to be, “A boundary is a protective barrier.” It’s not something that you can say. If you’re in a fight and you say to them, “If you don’t speak to me with respect, I am not going to participate in the conversation.” Let’s say you say that out loud to them. You have not set a boundary, but you have identified a safety issue and you have said what you will do. That is not a boundary.
If you are in the discussion and they are not speaking to you with respect, the boundary would be walking out of the room because if you keep engaging with someone who is harming you, even if you keep telling them, “Please don’t do this” or “Please stop,” but they keep doing it and you don’t leave, you haven’t stopped the harm.
A Boundary Is A Barrier That Minimizes The Impact Of The Harm
When someone asks, “What are boundaries? What is a boundary?” The answer is, “It is a barrier that stops harm.”
To determine what kind of barriers you need or what kind of harms you have in your life, you may need to write a list of safety concerns or safety issues. “These are the behaviors that I am seeing that are safety concerns.” “These are things that I don’t want in my home.”
Those are safety issues. That is fine, but writing that list, again, is not a boundary. Let me give you some examples.
From a community member, someone had an issue with do they interfere with their husband’s recovery or not. Because he’s not going to therapy and he’s not really doing what he’s supposed to do. The woman wanted to set a boundary and say, “I only want you to have a male therapist.”
Boundaries Are Not Requests
She wanted to request that and so she “set a boundary” and told him, “You can only have a male therapist.” Well, that’s not a boundary because it’s just a safety issue. She’s concerned and doesn’t want him to have a female therapist because she doesn’t want him to be alone with another woman, which is totally reasonable.
Instead of her thinking she set a boundary and telling him, “I don’t want you to have a female therapist,” then how would she set a boundary around this? What does she do? My response would be, “It is totally reasonable for you to expect that your husband refrain from being alone with other women, including a therapist. What are you going to do to feel safe in that event?”
“To Stop The Harm, She Needs To Remove Herself From The Situation”
She might say, “Well, he did choose to go to a female therapist, so my boundary is going to be that I’m going to go stay with my mom because, every time I see him, I’m so triggered that I feel unsafe.” To stop the harm, she needs to remove herself from the situation.
Here’s another one from our community members. Someone just found out that for the last month her husband had been viewing porn almost daily. She said, “It was so disappointing. Of course, all he could say was he was sorry. I said I know that he’s sorry but how does that change anything?”
“What Boundary Would Help You Feel Emotionally Safe In Your Own Home?”
A response of a boundary is, “I’m so sorry that you feel sad that your husband has been using porn, what boundary would help you feel emotionally safe in your own home? Would it make you feel safe if he moved out? Would you feel safer if he slept in another room? What actions can you take to stop his actions from harming you?”
Using the BTR model for boundaries has two parts:
Part 1– A safety violation, meaning an abusive behavior. This would include lying, manipulation, gaslighting, porn use, extramarital sex, having affairs, or any type of abusive behavior.
Part 2– A boundary, meaning a protective barrier. It’s the action that you take to stop him from harming you, such as looking away, closing your eyes, walking away, sleeping in separate bedrooms, separation, etc.
What Is a Boundary? A Protective Barrier
Let me give you an example. If someone is soliciting a prostitute in Brazil and you don’t know them and you don’t know the prostitute, does it hurt society in general? Yes, but is it hurting you directly? Well, it hurts all of us directly, I guess, but not really.
However, if it’s your husband who is soliciting a prostitute, that hurts you a lot.
It’s getting enough space to say in your mind and in your heart that, “What he does is far away from me.” You’re trying to push his behavior as far away from you as possible because that is what stops the harm. It’s always going to harm you, if it’s really close to you, so whatever way you can to detach.
“You Can’t Control What He Does”
You can’t control what he does. You can make requests, but you can’t do anything about it. How can you separate yourself from him so that his behaviors no longer harm you? That is the question.
This new model is great because then nobody needs to “enforce” the boundary and also the boundary doesn’t feel punitive. With the old model where you have a boundary, then someone violates your boundary, and then you have to “enforce” your boundary, you have this sense of, “Oh no, I told him and he crossed that boundary and now what do I do?” That is the main problem that everybody has.
Boundaries Minimize The Impact Of His Harmful Behaviors
With that model, it doesn’t quite work as well as just the two-part model of a safety violation and then a boundary because then you don’t have to worry about enforcing anything. You have a safety violation like he’s lied to you, and then you do something to keep you safe from the lies. Which might be that you don’t talk to him because if he talks to you and he lies to you, the only way to stop that harm is to not talk to him anymore.
“The Only Thing You Can Do Is Separate Yourself”
There is no other way to do it. There is no way to get him to stop lying. The only thing you can do is separate yourself from someone who is lying.
I am a teacher and I think this whole situation would be much better if I drew it out on a whiteboard, but since this is a podcast hopefully you can visualize it. There is a graphic on this podcast episode that you can go to and see the old school model that people use and this more practical model that will help you actually get to safety more quickly.
“What Is A Boundary? How Do I Keep Myself Safe?”
If the old school model works for you, go for it, but if it doesn’t and you’re still asking, “What is a boundary? How do I keep myself safe?” This new model of safety violation and then boundary will help you.
Just to recap, a boundary is a protective barrier that stops the harm for you. He could still be doing the harmful behaviors, but he can’t do it to you anymore because you have this protective barrier.
“The Actual Harm Is Greatly Reduced”
Is he going to hurt you? Yeah, I mean you can set this protective barrier and he can still do his harmful actions out in the world. Will it still hurt you? The answer to that is yes. If he’s lying to other people about you and stuff, it’s still harmful, but the actual harm to you is greatly reduced when you don’t have contact.
Then knowing that you can bring up and talk about safety issues, you can talk about safety concerns, but just talking about it or making a list doesn’t help you much, if you don’t take some type of action to keep yourself safe.
Support the BTR Podcast
I hope that makes sense. I want to hear your comments and questions. I want to hear your confusion about boundaries.
Talk with us on Instagram @BetrayalTraumaRecovery and on Twitter @BetrayalTrauma, and please comment below with your thoughts and questions.
For those of you who support this podcast monthly, thank you. Your support makes a huge difference.
Also, please rate this podcast on iTunes or your other podcasting apps. Every single one of your ratings helps isolated women find us.
I just want to encourage you. I know it feels like you are so very vulnerable to your abuser through your children. I share that feeling and concern in my situation. Especially since you are seeing things already that show you that he is not serious about making decisions in the best interests of your children, I want to share something that I did that might give you the best chance at a leg to stand on. Calling again on the best interests of the children as reasoning, (which he wants to maintain is his focus) and amending the last judgement to include this if possible, consider suggesting a Parenting Coordinator. I got recommendations from my attorney on PCs that would be most likely to be able to see manipulation and coercion.
PC’s can help make sure the agreements made in the decree/judgement are being implemented well and in the best interests of the children, and be a deciding vote to settle differences of opinion.
I know the pain you are experiencing well. I hope this can help in some way. Please know you have another Mama in your corner that understands and is lifting you up!