Have you experienced relational trauma? If so, you may be struggling with boundary setting. This type of trauma can deeply impact your communication patterns and sense of personal space. If you have experienced relational trauma, learning to communicate assertively and setting healthy boundaries is essential to establishing the sense of safety and well-being you need to heal. In this blog post, we will look at the role personal boundaries play in your life, discuss the impact relational trauma can have on personal boundaries, and take a little dive into what assertive communication looks like. Be sure to look for the next post that offers a practical guide to setting healthy boundaries.

A Brief Look at Relational Trauma

Relational trauma refers to traumatic experiences that occur within the context of relationships with others. This can include, but is not limited to, trauma that stems from childhood, intimate relationships, family dynamics, work environments, or religious beliefs. Relational trauma is usually repeated trauma, meaning it happens over and over for a period of time. The impact is complex. It can deeply impact a person’s sense of self, their ability to trust others, and their capacity for healthy relationships. Because relational trauma usually involves some form of emotional abuse, boundaries become broken and blurred.

Understanding the Role of Personal Boundaries

Boundaries are the physical, emotional, and mental limits we set for ourselves. Think of them as the personal fence lines that define who you are and what you are responsible for. Establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries is crucial for safeguarding your mental and emotional well-being. Personal boundaries are necessary for navigating relationships. They act as a filter, allowing you to distinguish your own thoughts and feelings from those of others. This is vital for maintaining a strong sense of self. Well-defined personal boundaries enable you to engage in healthy relationships that are based on mutual respect and understanding.

Being able to set boundaries is influenced by a complex interplay of factors, such as culture, upbringing, and individual experiences. It’s important to note that struggling with boundaries is quite common in our culture today. And it’s important to recognize that for someone who has experienced relational trauma, maintaining boundaries can feel impossible. At its core relational trauma is intrusive and invasive of another’s boundaries. Most who have experienced relational trauma have been taken advantage of and exploited by others. Boundaries become blurred and shattered.

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Impact of Relational Trauma on Boundaries

The residual effects of relational trauma on boundaries can manifest in many ways, from avoidance or non-confrontation to anger or hostility. Know that every response is valid, but not every response is conducive to healing. Let’s look at four ways trauma may impact your boundary setting:

Permeable Boundaries

Some with trauma develop over permeable boundaries, allowing others to encroach upon their psychological or physical space without realizing it. You might find yourself allowing others to define your boundaries at your own expense. This can lead to a range of issues, including an inability to recognize one’s own needs and a heightened risk of retraumatization.

Rigid and Inflexible Boundaries

Conversely, others may respond to trauma by erecting rigid, impenetrable barriers to protect themselves. This can result in isolation, an aversion to intimacy, and an unwillingness to accept help from others, hindering personal growth and the healing process.

Dissociation and Boundary Blurring

Some individuals may experience dissociation, a state where they feel disconnected from their identity or the world around them. This dissociative state can lead to a blurring of personal boundaries, as you struggle to ground yourself in reality.

Boundary Confusion

Trauma can also create a sense of confusion regarding what constitutes a healthy boundary. Those with trauma may have a skewed understanding of what is appropriate behavior, both in terms of what they expect from others and what they believe they deserve.

Having Flexible Boundaries is the Goal

What do flexible and healthy boundaries look like? Boundaries that are flexible are adjusted according to the situation. With flexible boundaries, you can read the room, if you will, and know whether you are in a space of safety or harm and then act accordingly. Healthy boundaries allow you to protect yourself while at the same time giving you space to grow. This type of boundary setting requires assertiveness, the ability to express your needs directly.

Understanding Assertive Communication

Assertive communication is key to both preventing relational trauma and healing from it. It’s the middle ground between passive and aggressive styles of communication. It involves expressing your thoughts and needs in a clear and confident manner while respecting the thoughts and needs of others. This mode of communication can help you advocate for yourself without overstepping the needs and rights of others. Let’s look at the three basic styles of communication:

  • Passive communication is self-sacrificing and avoids conflict at all costs. People who communicate passively often put aside their needs for the sake of others, leading to frustration and resentment.
  • Assertive communication, on the other hand, allows you to express your feelings and opinions honestly and kindly. It prioritizes a balance between your needs and the needs of others without passivity or aggression.
  • Aggressive communication disregards the feelings and needs of others and can come across as hostile, controlling or demanding. This style often arises from frustration, anger or anxiety.

Assertive communication leads to the ability to have flexible boundaries and healthy relationships. Here are a few tips for developing assertive communication:

The Use of Direct Language

Say what you mean and mean what you say, straightforwardly but kindly. Remember you have a right to express your wants and needs.

Practice Active Listening

Give others the same respect and attention you require by actively listening to their needs and preferences. Focus on the present so you can attend to your needs and the needs of others.

Pause and Reflect

If a request or interaction makes you uncomfortable, take a pause to reflect before answering or reacting. Take the time to discern whether the situation is safe then act accordingly.

Celebrate Small Victories

Every time you communicate assertively, celebrate it as a step in the right direction. You will find that over time assertive communication comes naturally.

Seek Support

Surround yourself with people who understand the importance of boundaries and can support your efforts to communicate effectively.

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Find Support if You Have Experienced Relational Trauma

If you have experienced relational trauma and struggle with assertiveness and boundaries, know this makes sense given the nature of this type of trauma. And know that you can learn to be assertive and you can learn to set boundaries. It may feel impossible given your experience but with time you can develop these skills. Remember that assertive communication and boundary setting are skills that you develop through practice and self-awareness. Be patient with yourself as you unlearn old patterns and establish new, healthier habits.

If the struggle is too much, seek a trauma therapist who understands the complex impact of relational trauma. A therapist can provide guidance tailored to your unique circumstances. With time and effort, you can cultivate an assertive communication style framed with healthy boundaries that help you foster the genuine, fulfilling connections that you deserve.

Other Therapy Services Offered at Lysle Shaw Psychotherapy in Austin, Houston, and throughout Texas

If you think we may be a good fit, reach out for a phone consultation. I specialize in online trauma therapy in Texas. In addition to Trauma Therapy, I offer Therapy for Relationship Issues, Spiritual and Existential Exploration, and Therapy for Introverts, Empaths, and Highly Sensitive Persons. Begin your journey toward healing and growth by reaching out today. Find more articles like this on my blog and look for my next one that offers a practical guide to setting boundaries.

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