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source: Michael C. Irving, PhD

Having boundaries is a normal activity that survivors can have difficulty with. Boundaries are about your relationship with distance, time, space, emotions and thoughts. Having conscious boundaries is being able to know and decide when, where and with whom you merge. It is also being able to determine and vary the degree of limits you establish. Not being able to stand up for yourself, say no or refuse to give over something you don’t want to, are all boundary issues.

Abuse Destroys Boundaries

During child abuse boundaries are totally ignored, violated and shattered. To survive abuse you had to dissociate from any sense of boundary. As the deadening response to abuse became habitual you missed out on developing the inner sense of boundaries. You did not pick up the lessons that healthy role models in your world displayed. Part of the healing and coping process for survivors of abuse is to reconnect with the inner sense of boundary. To learn ways to give yourself boundaries and let others know what your boundaries are is a difficult but vital task.

Identifying Boundaries

To have good boundaries, you have to identify them and think about what they are:

  • Physical Distance: Physical distance refers to the space that you have around yourself and others; for example, being too close or too far away.
  • Emotions: Having difficulty with emotional boundaries means not being able to distinguish between your feelings and others’ feelings, or merging with someone’s emotional energy.
  • Time: Problems with boundaries over time means not distinguishing between present, past and future. It is feeling yesterday’s traumas as occurring in the here and now, or being absorbed in the dread or fear that something terrible is going to occur.
  • Space: Issues with space means not knowing that the place you are in is not somewhere else; for example, your home feels like the place where you were abused.
  • Thoughts: Having what others think dramatically affect you, is an example of not having healthy boundaries between you and them.

Creating Cognitive Boundaries

  • Remember the best time to gain control of panic, anger or fear is early, before it gets really going!
  • Consciously think about how you feel and what you need to say.
  • Visualize a barrier around negative emotions.
  • See a barrier or wall between you and what you want to keep out.
  • Visualize a protective bubble around you.
  • Image or even verbalize that you now have control over your body, boundaries and the abuser.
  • Assert boundaries out loud to your abuser (without them there).
  • Visualize yourself as strong and empowered.
  • Trust your gut feeling and inner voice.
  • Practice saying no assertively, but not aggressively.
  • Tell people what your limits are.
  • Visualize that you are surrounded in healing white light.
  • Tell yourself that you are worthwhile.
  • Look in the mirror and tell yourself that you love yourself and approve of who you are.
  • Banish guilt.

Creating Physical Boundaries

  • Hold your belly in or hold a set of your muscles taut.
  • Feel a wall or bubble around yourself that keeps out what you want.
  • Feel your energy or sense of strength.
  • Feel yourself being tall or getting taller.
  • Cross your arms or legs.
  • Move to a location where you feel stronger or more protected.
  • Experiment with changing your posture to a position where you feel grounded and empowered.
  • Wear clothes or accessories that make you feel better, more protected or stronger.
  • Be aware of colors that give you strength or a sense of confidence.
  • Using your body and no words, practice saying no, don’t mess with me, back off.
  • Use that body sense to say no to what caused the internal memories of old pain.
  • Feel a physical and time distance between yourself and the old hurts.
  • See the distance between you and others.
  • Think about and listen to the distance that feels comfortable between you and others.
  • From a physical sense practice not merging with others’ emotions and issues.

Creating A Container

  • Imagine an object or a place where your flashbacks can be stored.
  • Imagine the flashback in a room. Imagine a point far off in the distance. See the room with the flashback moving off to a distant point and getting smaller and smaller as it gets further and further away.
  • Find an actual object for storage. Write down flashbacks or draw flashbacks and put them in the container. They can be taken out at a later date if desired.
  • Make and decorate a container in a meaningful way.
  • Ask someone you see as strong or supportive to give you a container.
  • Imagine a safe person or an imaginary protector who takes care of you, or creates containment of the flashback for you.
  • Find your strongest place inside and provide containment for your inner child.

Creating An Imaginary Safe Place

  • Image a safe place — it can be a real or imaginary place:
    • What do you see — especially colors?
    • What sounds do you hear?
    • What sensations do you feel?
    • What smells do you smell?
    • What people or animals would you want in your safe place?
  • Imagine a protective bubble, wall or boundary around your safe place.
  • Imagine a door or gate with a guard at your safe place.
  • Image a lock and key to your safe place and only you can unlock it.
  • You can draw or make a collage that represents your safe place.
  • Choose a souvenir of your safe place — a color, an object, a song.
  • Keep your image of your safe place so you can come back to it when you need to.
  • Make a relaxation tape of your safe place (This can be combined with breath.

Creating A Safe Environment In The Here And Now

  • Choose a room or a safe area in your house where you can reassure yourself that you are safe. Rearrange the area so that it increases the sense of safety. Place objects around to assist with the sense of safety. Adjust the intensity of the lighting or placement of light to help you in knowing you are safe.
  • Have a portable phone to make calls if you need to.
  • Have a list of emergency and support numbers where you can see them or find them easily.
  • Put bells on doors and windows to act as a warning sound.
  • Have comforting objects around, like blankets and soft toys.
  • Have soothing and peaceful music.
  • Use blinds or partitions in a way that helps to make your environment feel safer.
  • Put up pictures or posters that are nurturing, protective, reassuring or empowering.
  • Put up affirmation cards or post-its.
  • Put up positive letters or cards from friends.
  • Put up certificates or awards that make you feel stronger.
  • Make a wrap-around: put affirmations on a T-shirt, pillowcase or blanket and wrap yourself in it.
  • Healing shield: make a shield of images of strength and protection and hang it in a visible place.
  • Wear protection: put on jewelry and clothing that reminds you of safety and protection.
  • Clean clutter and chaos from your house or even just one room.
  • Use a Walkman to feel focused in yourself by creating a private world.
  • Avoid substance abuse.
  • Go to a diner or cafe that feels safe.
  • Create a comfort kit that you can take with you that includes items such as:
    1. Phone list.
    2. Money for a phone call or emergency.
    3. Small teddy bear or toy.
    4. Stress ball.
    5. Sweet scent.
    6. Small jar of lotion.
    7. Photo of happy time or friend.
    8. Comfort food.
    9. Small note pad and pen.
    10. Affirmation list.


Disclaimer:   I am not a health care professional. I am an abuse survivor. The resources on this site are for information and education only. Information on this website is meant to support not replace the advice of a licensed health care or mental health care professional. Please consult your own physician for health care advice.

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