When Your Boundaries are Violated Through Abuse

Oct 19, 2017

It’s rarely good when boundaries are in the news, and the past several months been no exception. Stories have been coming out, a trickle at first, and then an avalanche, of men who have abused their power, violating the boundaries and dignity of women in Hollywood, in Silicon Valley, and beyond. Of course we know that these stories are not limited to celebrities and executives.

These events have inspired a wave of discussions across social media platforms. Many women have updated their Facebook status with the phrase ‘Me too,’ to express solidarity with other victims of sexual assault and harassment. Perhaps you, like many others, have felt emotionally triggered by this conversation, provoking painful emotional responses you didn’t expect to feel.

You know that establishing boundaries for yourself is difficult, especially if you were abused in some the past. No one who hasn’t experienced this victimization can truly understand what you’ve been through. Of all the injuries that can be endured, this type of abuse causes severe spiritual and emotional damage.

A victim is a person who has, while in a helpless state, been injured by the exploitation of another. Some victimization is verbal, some is physical, some is sexual, and in many awful cases, all of the above. All of these forms of abuse cause extreme damage to the character structure of a person who may battle distortions in their emotional, spiritual or cognitive elements of their lives. In each instance, however, three factors remain constant: helplessness, injury, and exploitation.

Some of the results of abuse include:

Compulsive disorders
Impulsive disorders
Inability to trust
Inability to form close attachments
Inability to set boundaries
Poor judgment in relationships
Further exploitation in relationships
Deep sense of pervasive badness
Chaotic lifestyle
Anxiety or panic attacks
Suicidal feelings and thoughts

Victimization has long-lasting and far-reaching effects on the lives of adult survivors. Healing for victims is difficult because their developmental processes have been damaged or interrupted by abuse.

Research, and my experience in counseling, has shown that the most primary damage done is to injure a victim’s ability to trust. Trust, the ability to depend on ourselves and others in times of need, is a basic part of survival. We need to be able to trust our own perceptions of reality and to be able to let significant people matter to us. Victims often lose a sense of trust because the perpetrator was someone they knew as a voice of authority, someone who was important in their life. When the relationship became damaging, their sense of trust became broken.

Additionally, victims often feel a deep, pervasive sense of being “all bad,” wrong, dirty or shameful. No matter how affirming others are of their character, victims are convinced that, underneath it all, there is no good inside of themselves. Because of the severity of their injuries, many victims have over-permeable boundaries. They take on badness that isn’t theirs. They begin believing that the way they were treated is the way they should be treated. Many victims think that, since they were told they were bad in some way, that it must be true.

The healing process is often a long, exhausting journey, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to restoration. In many cases, the severe nature of the need is such that the victim will be unable to live a peaceful life without professional help.

I strongly urge abuse victims to seek out a counselor who can guide them in establishing and maintaining appropriate boundaries.

Learn more about what it means to empower yourself by using boundaries.