Boundaries After Childhood Trauma

A difficult post to write and to own; cuts to the heart of vulnerability and shame for me. I’ve been writing it in my head and processing the truth of it since my workshop on Wednesday night when I realised I had unresolved business for myself. It’s taken a few days but I think I’ve managed to focus on the heart of it.

It might trigger some people – childhood abuse and adult content.

One of the very long term impacts from childhood trauma, for me, focuses on boundaries. I’ve had to, and am in the process, of re-learning them. By boundaries, I mean social, sexual and self boundaries, what is appropriate behaviour and what is not, for a myriad of reasons.

When you experience childhood trauma, it changes you – the way you perceive the world, your place in it, the people around you, everything. You no longer quite understand the way things are meant to work and you spend a lot of your time scanning your environment and the people in it to determine what is normal, what is acceptable, and how you should be behaving. If your environment is dysfunctional, well, no other way to put it, but you’re screwed.

This week, I’ve realised that I’ve been trying to work out the boundary thing my whole life.

It starts with me, just being in the world. My perception as a child was that I wasn’t worth very much. Rightly or wrongly. That perception, unchecked until much later on in my life (last five or so years), really governed how I fit into my world.

Because I perceived I wasn’t worth much, I found my value in giving to and doing for others. Most of my life I’ve been a fixer for and supporter of others.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s a good way to be, but only if it is who you are and not because you’re scrambling to belong, to be accepted, to be worthy. I had no real boundaries – I didn’t know when to stop giving or doing or being. I just gave and gave and gave – not altruistically – and that makes the giving unhealthy.

It is also unhealthy because I did have the expectation that because I gave and gave and gave, others needed to give back.

What they gave was never enough though.

And it wasn’t enough because I was really wanting someone to rewrite my narrative and tell me I was worthy. I was filling a hole inside my soul that only I could fill. Only I could rewrite that narrative of misperceptions.

And I now know, you can’t belong with others until you wholly belong to yourself. Ooh, that pricks tears.

I always felt a little betrayed in friendships – by myself mostly – because I didn’t maintain them well. I could walk away easily – never really fully invested – until about fifteen years ago. And even still, I’ve been relearning all of that time what it means to be a friend, relaxing unrealistic expectations, and understanding what is healthy. And understanding that friendships don’t have to be suffocating – I don’t need to be in their faces or on the phone all of the time.

It’s been, at times, very painful, very vulnerable, very shameful work. I’m still learning the boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not. I’m just blessed to have beautiful friends who cut me slack.

And then there are the boundaries of intimate relationships. I’ve fallen for quite a few married men – yep. Safe in one sense because they are unattainable in a holistic sense. And because I was so thirsty to be loved, desired, and found to be worthy, would follow blindly and become hurt eventually.

I’ve also fallen for people who are like me and can’t commit emotionally – the reality of emotional connection sounds great in theory, but in practice, completely untenable between two broken people. Too much vulnerability, no understanding of boundary, and god knows what else lol.

So, I’ve found myself in situations I haven’t known how to handle in any way, shape or form.

I don’t regret anything, but I am developing a clearer understanding of how my lack of understanding of boundaries, has shaped my life.

I feel that some people have, consciously or unconsciously, taken advantage of the broken person throughout the years. It’s a given. Some ‘friends’ have used me for money, for connections, for support to fix their own brokenness, for their own agendas. They provided lessons for me. More friends have not.

As a child, I felt I had no power. To function, to survive, I learned to do as I was told. As an adult, until very recent years, I was still doing this. I felt and expressed an unreasonable, child-like fear of getting into trouble. The thought of doing something wrong and getting into trouble paralyzed me – hello, 2016.

There is one that I’m still processing. It resulted in me losing people I thought were friends, again the need to be loved and to be badged as worthy, and whilst the behaviours made me feel ‘normal’ and like I could belong, I now realise it was all far from that.

I was trying to recapture the experiences of youth, of normal adolescence, of that rite of passage of doing dumb stuff before you start to mature and grow up. I never had a normal adolescence and it stunted my emotional growth. Ultimately, to move forward I had to experience this time in my life. I’m grateful for it. The last bit of anger is trickling away.

Sometimes, without clear boundaries, we make snap decisions that enable us to think we are normal and do things to belong, or because we feel loved in the moment, or for both reasons, and it’s just plain unhealthy. We end up in a deep pit trying to find ourselves and understand what happened. It’s important to make peace with that and to understand it’s a process in healing. It takes us to where we are meant to be.

I think I’ve made peace, now, with a lot of my adult behaviours and decisions that were or were close to inappropriate. I can see the drawbacks and the benefits in each one, at the time, and for me now.

Still some work to do – we are all works in progress.

A Perpetual Work in Progress

Massive lessons being learned by me at the moment. I am in transition again. So much movement in my life, and so much trying to be and do everything. You can only ever disappoint when you try to be everything to everyone.

Hmmm … I didn’t mean to underline, but there you have it. The first salient point in this post lol.

My whole life, I felt small. I felt like I had no worth unless I was doing and being for others. As I reflect, that core belief is what has always landed me in trouble during my adult life. And it is ultimately the belief that has lead me here to be able to smash through it. Gingerly lol.

Obviously, that belief started in childhood. I don’t hold others responsible for it – it was my perception (mis-perception) of the trauma I encountered. The same trauma that has made me who I am (who I like – an empowered, resilient, and beautiful woman – a little proud I can say that without any challenge or awkwardness).

Last weekend, I hit a snag on Sunday. I forgot I had organised to go to the beach and then catch up with one of my very closest people. I was too tired. Soul tired. I slept ALL day.

I knew I had to make changes.

I couldn’t keep watching people live their lives – explore the world, see family and friends, do stuff – whilst the vast majority of what I did was work. Don’t get me wrong, I love my work. I just realised last Sunday, that I also love not working. It’s as simple as that.

I am most present and most liberated when I am doing any sort of healing work, be it with others or on my own self. Healing, and all that means, is my highest value and the reason I am on this Earth at this time – to empower and inspire others to be their best selves.

When I am not engaged in this work, I am not as buoyant.

This work takes many forms: tutoring, workshops, clients, writing, videos with Renee, and connections. And I’m sure there is more. It is my whole self.

But there needs to be a balance within the healing work.

And because of my ‘fear’ of disappointing people, my inability to say no for the same reason, all connected to my belief that my worth is connected to what I do for others, I have run out of mojo already this year.

When I’m working in my balance, I am energised. When I’m working out of balance, I become soul tired.

I’ve made difficult decisions this week, had difficult conversations, and the world hasn’t imploded. I still woke up this morning. People are managing to live their lives. Not much seems to have changed.

However, I have. As someone said to me yesterday, “It’s good you are setting boundaries, Tina. We would keep taking as long as you were still giving.”

As a person who has experienced trauma, standing up for what I want and being supported in that and not being belittled or punished, has been empowering.

The world didn’t end when I set some boundaries. People are disappointed, but we are all still functioning. The difference now, my needs are being met too.

And I AM worth that.

Something Important

This is a link to a You Tube channel my friend and I are starting. This is our random introduction.

Our videos will focus on the impact of childhood trauma on the adult, and we will talk about the strategies we have used to bring balance back to our lives as adults.

Our first formal video will be posted in the next few weeks. This is a taster.

If You Build It

Tonight is the first night of my Moving Beyond Childhood Trauma workshop. I am excited and terrified all in one.

Running workshops always terrifies me. The impact of my own trauma becomes very obvious to me: the fear that I’m not good enough and have nothing to offer of use.

Obviously, this is garbage, but it is the narrative I’ve told myself my whole life. I’m not good enough. I think that’s why I stayed in teaching for so long – the system kept me very small and I enabled that because it fed my narrative – I’m just not good enough.

So, I have to walk the talk. I have to tell the fear to sit in the back seat whilst I drive the car. It can come, but it can not speak. Thank you, Liz Gilbert. I pay this metaphor forward and it changes lives.

Fear is normal. Minimizing yourself as a result of it is something you can control. To live our best lives, we need to learn to harness it. Acknowledge its existence, but do not give it power.

I scaffolded the program weeks ago. As you do. Something had been holding me back from fully committing to that scaffold. Yesterday, just before heading to work, tonight flashed into my brain.

The last week, first.

Always have the goal in mind. What do I want my life to look like? Who do I want to be?

Then, we will deal with the trauma.

I’m hoping the participants find the courage within themselves to attend; I have such a good feeling about the group.

Another impact of my own trauma is that I used to struggle with stepping outside of my comfort zone. Twenty seconds of courage to click yes and to knock on a door changed that. I now go when and where I am called.

Changing my trauma narrative comes one word at a time, one impact at a time, one change at a time. With lots of self-love practiced.

Trauma doesn’t have to define our lives. It is our choice.

What Am I Learning

I am so immersed in trauma at the moment, I’m amazed I’m functioning.

My friend and I have started a YouTube channel that focuses on moving beyond childhood trauma. Each month, we will post a short discussion on a topic that relates to childhood trauma and it’s many impacts.

I’m also preparing my workshop materials for Wednesday’s course, Moving Beyond Childhood Trauma.

So, what am I learning?

I’m learning that when you are delving into and immersing yourself in this issue, you really need to practice self-care.

I am learning that triggers will come fast.

I am learning that trauma makes you very vulnerable and makes you want to be so small that no one sees you.

I am learning that trauma’s voice is shame, and it speaks when it wants to.

I am learning that I am not the little abused child anymore. I’m a grown woman who possesses a fierce spirit and a compassionate soul. I am learning that the impact of trauma is ultimately a choice: we choose to stay in it or to get out of it.

We are in control of our lives. We choose what we do, where we go, who we hang with, and whether we get treatment or drown.

We choose.

The Long Term Impact of Trauma

I was having coffee with a great friend yesterday afternoon. We are in the process of developing an idea for You Tube content. The series will focus on childhood trauma and its impact.

We are both examples of surviving and healing childhood trauma, and creating impactful lives for ourselves in the process.

Our trauma occurred in very different areas: she lived in a cult and I lived in suburbia. We both have very high ACE scores (Adversity in Childhood).

The interesting thing about this, is that for both of us, the long term impact and effect of the trauma (unresolved and untreated during childhood) has been the same.

We both struggle or have struggled with confidence/trusting our judgement, we both have found a voice that had been silenced by shame, we are both workaholics, we have both suffered depression and contemplated suicide, and the list goes on.

The impact is not all negative though – we both want a different world and we work hard to raise awareness, and enable and empower the healing in others. We are both very passionate, very focused and love music (a safe place).

Trauma is interesting. It can keep us stuck, afraid, and unhappy repeating desperate cycles, but it can also liberate our souls so that we achieve bigger things than we ever dreamed possible.

Ultimately, our lives are what we make of them. Our lives are the collection of choices we make every day. Even after trauma, maybe because of trauma, life can be amazing.

A Quickie Before Work

What a weekend. I’m knackered. After work today, I will be engaging in some massive self-care. Hopefully by sleeping hehe.

I feel great – apart from tiredness – I feel a level of calm and peace within. Life is on track and I’m finding that I’m doing significantly more things that fulfill my three key values.

Choices are amazing things. Fear can be crippling – best we don’t let it be.

What step can you take today to make your dream life a reality?

Healing Truly Is A Process

Well, I’m exhausted lol. Another layer of healing pulled back and processed yesterday.

What I have noticed is that once upon a time, triggers took days, even weeks, for me to process, and during that time, I would slip into depression and sabotage my friendships. I would be immersed in and suffocated by darkness.

Yesterday, during the trigger and processing process, I was a little disoriented when a friend came knocking on the door, but I was functioning and to a high level. In fact, the visit brought the remaining cortisol down. Apart from tired, my self-care and tool kit of strategies took me through the process.

Very often, the triggers are not the cause of the emotional and/or psychological chaos. They just trigger it. I’ve found, that as I’ve added to my tool kit, the triggers no longer disrupt my life or my psyche for long.

I think the greatest tool I use to return myself to balance is what I’ve learned from Mai Mai in our sessions, and from reading Dr John Demartini’s books and applying the ideas.

I no longer have to look for the support in the moment – it is always there in some form – I still acknowledge the step as part of the process though.

The drawbacks are always fairly obvious, and then I focus on the benefits and list them one by one. I also now connect them to my values – how does this incident support my highest values?

Then, after that intense work, I’m just tired and yesterday, I practiced self-care. I apologized for not being able to attend an event I had been looking forward to, and I was honest about why, which whilst embarrassing and shameful (in my eyes at the time) liberated me in the long term.

It is so important that we use our voices and share where we are. Honesty enables trust in relationships and removes guilt.

Ultimately, yesterday was an opportunity for me to walk the talk, and to demonstrate to others how I did this.

Healing is a lifelong process, and that’s okay, because I’ve got this.

Poor George 😝 onwards and upwards