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Set Boundaries In Abusive Relationships and See More Clearly

Set boudaries in abusive relationships to regain clarity. Here's how to set boundaries and see things as they are--not how the abuser presents them to be.

Setting personal boundaries in abusive relationships lets the abuse victim see how rampant the abuse has become. When it becomes clear that the abuser disrespects your boundaries–repeatedly–the relationship becomes more tiresome and the abuse more obvious, increasing the chance that you will find a way to leave. A personal boundary is a rule that you day cannot be broken without consequence. Consequences for breaking your personal boundaries are not punishments for the person breaking them. The consequence involves you doing something good for yourself right away.

Boundaries for Abusive Relationships in Your Lifetime

Some personal boundaries are standards that you set for yourself for all relationships from here forward. For example, these are some of the boundaries I set for myself for the rest of my life:

No name-calling directly or indirectly where it can be overheard by me or other people.

No covert abuse implying I am is less valuable than another because I hold a different opinion.

No word games, no rephrasing of my words to change their meaning, no more technicalities or meaning-splitting (i.e. “You didn’t say not to do that on the list!”).

No attempts to control through tone or word.

No abuse disguised as a joke.

The consequence of someone violating that boundary is as follows:

If someone violates this personal boundary and I feel safe saying something to them, I will say, “I feel threatened/disrespected by your words and tone. I am going to leave your presence to collect myself. Maybe we can spend time together later, but I’m not sure when.”

If someone verbally abuses me and I feel unsafe in saying something, I will only act on the consequence, not explain it. I will leave the area for an extended period until I feel safe to return (if it is safe to return!).

Leave “You are” and “You Make Me” Out of It

Notice that the consequence for abuse does not include statements like “You are_______! You make me feel______!”

  • Saying “You are…!” labels and defines the person, and we abuse victims KNOW how unfair and miserable it is to be labeled – so don’t do it to someone else, no matter how nasty they are.
  • Saying “You make me feel…” gives my power to the person hurting me. If I fall into the trap of believing that someone else can stir me up, then I let go of all responsibility for my own feelings. I allow the abuse to define me, and that is a slippery slope leading to all sorts of nasty internal consequences including low self-respect.

Boundaries in Abusive Relationships for a Specific Person

There is another way to write a functional boundary in which you have a specific person and their specific abuses in mind. Here’s a second example of a boundary:

When you narrow your eyes and interrupt me, I feel unheard and disconnected from the conversation. I want you to acknowledge my point of view.

And the consequence:

Because I can’t control what you do or say, I will leave your presence and the conversation temporarily until a later point in time when we can try to communicate again.

Setting Boundaries for My Abuser Made Me Feel Guilty

The first time I wrote out a specific boundary for my abuser, I felt guilty. I felt as if protecting myself was a crime against him. The idea that I should be and do just as he wanted was the source of that guilt. But after writing a few boundaries, I noticed that the guilt disappeared. While defining the things he did and said, I realized that his actions were wrong. He should feel bad for the way he behaved and I had every right to protect myself from his derogatory words and actions.

Writing the boundaries helped me to recognize the abuse when it started. By defining what I didn’t like, by putting it into words on paper, I learned to circumvent the abuse from the beginning instead of sticking around until I was a crying heaving mass of jelly.

Writing my own boundaries gave me a sense of personal strength and a sense of responsibility to myself to curtail the negativity I had once so willingly accepted. I stopped seeing myself as a victim and started seeing myself as an agent of change, both for myself and my relationship.

When I began enforcing my boundaries, the abuse increased. My abuser was like a little child being denied his comfort blanket. He didn’t take to my new reactions well. We are divorcing because I began to act in ways that were good for me. As much as I didn’t want this divorce, I also would not go back to that situation ever again.

Things Boundaries for Abusive Relationships Did and Didn’t Do

The outcome for your relationship may be different, but I suspect the feelings you have after writing your boundaries will be similar to mine. Writing boundaries helped me to realize several things, some of which did not come to fruition, such as

  • I thought I could improve the relationship now that I knew how to behave in a healthy way (alas, it does take two to tango, and he didn’t want to behave differently).
  • I thought that my ex would change his ways once the responsibility for his actions and words fell back onto his shoulders (he only became angry that I didn’t take responsibility for them anymore).

But, at least two important feelings helped me shed my victim mentality:

  • The disgust that the abusive behaviors occurred in what was supposed to be a love relationship.
  • The greater sense of empowerment I developed after remembering I don’t have to feel guilty for being good to my mental health.

For help writing your first boundaries, visit Verbal Abuse Journals/How to Set Personal Boundaries.

19 thoughts on “Set Boundaries In Abusive Relationships and See More Clearly”

  1. I was the daughter of a disfunctional family. My father was abusive and violent emotionally and physically. When I was young I was sexually molested and to my surprise, I learned about how awful that was when I was in my 30s. Needless to say, I was destined to be in disfuctional relationships. I married someone who was not physically abusive but an absent person. I never thought he was so damaging in my life. He didn’t value his wife. I had then a relationship with a man who was so abusive verbally. I never experienced that before. I tried to please him. I became nude of my own opinions and own being because I wanted to make him happy. Just as much as I wanted him to make me happy. It was awful and it took a long time to heal. I still don’t know if I overcame all of that. It was as I had a stroke and needed to be retrained in everything about relationships and social interactions. I was afraid of making mistakes! During my recovery I met another man who was verbally abusive too. This time I feel stronger, I have more pride in myself and having gone through the descriptions of this article word by word, I am very happy to say that although not perfect I am a great human being just any of the other women who join this chat. Be strong, believe in yourself and your capacity. That is what I repeat to myself everyday.

  2. I have been living in an emotionally abusive relationship for 41 years. My father was verbally abusive to my mother and I grew up learning how to survive with a monster as a husband. I worked, got the friendships, and the social connections. Last week was the last straw. I am an RN who has not been able to work since 2005 due to Lupus/Asthma. Although my husband was shouldering the bulk of the income, I was always ready to contribute as much money as needed from my inheritance and I have plenty to contribute. 3 years ago I had a complex hysterectomy which with Lupus left me fragile and ill for 8 weeks. My husband told me THEN that he didn’t love me anymore because I was sick all the time! Cute, huh? So for the last three years I have bent over backwards to please him. Starting last April I began a grueling series of back surgeries that had me in so much pain I was vomiting all the time. this went on for 3 months with people helping out every day at home. My recovery required absolute rest with no stress. This made him so unhappy that I was getting help and healing that he pulled the absolute cruelty card out: I don’t love you because you are sick all the time” He is a monster! He thought I couldn’t live without him because I’m fragile and dependent on him. He is moving out tomorrow. He couldn’t have me happy under any circumstances. Wish I never married him.

  3. I have been in two … yes two abusive, narcsisstic relationships. One married … one dating. I have read and researched everything I could on verbal and emotional abuse. It is so insidious. I could write book after book of all that transpired. The strongest asset you have is to recognize abuse and set boundaries. No doubt it is hard to set boundaries especially at the beginning of a relationship. We are wanting to see and seek positives and there is a definite yearning that we want to be loved and accepted. We then ignore the bad and unacceptable behavior of someone else. We allow that abuse when we are not strong enough to set boundaries. I am still struggling with the end of my 3 year dating experience with a narcissitic, verbal abusive man. Remember, please remember you are worthy of love and respect and the minute a man does not give you that…. please be strong enough to say….No to the relationship . Do not give power to a man that is not worthy of the beautiful you of you. 18 years in an abusive marriage…. three years in an abusive dating relationship after marriage. know your own heart … your soul and always believe that you deserved God’s best.

  4. I have been in an emotionally abusive marriage for 20 years. We have 4 children. It recently reached a point I can no longer take. Its affected my physical health, my childrens emotional health… basically everything…when I siggested counseling & temporary seperation…he lost it.. & said je was going to kill us all, kids included. He said he would kill, our children…:( 🙁 He had a weapon within reach…I escaped with the children.
    Now we are both in counseling ( separately) and my counselor is asking me to write out things that I need to see before I know he has changed. Or asking me what are the things he needs to do to show me he has changed? How can that possibly happen without him being in the home?.. Which he is not and is not going to be. I have a domestic violence restraining order for one year. He has shaken my trust and security to the core. He only has supervised visitation w/our children. Its been 3 months since it happened….and Im just now, barely coming out of the numb feeling.. even trying to think about the situation. How can I move forward in a healty & safe way.

    1. Always remember: your counselor is not the boss of you. You’re paying him or her, and he or she is doing you a service. You have the power to redirect your counselor’s assignment. Instead of writing out what you would like to see in this man who probably won’t change at all, write out what you WANT in a partner. (I don’t advise looking for a partner yet, but get a grip on who you would like to be with). See this page: http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2015/01/healing-from-abuse-decide-what-you-want/ and scroll down to “How To Heal From Abuse A Bit Now” subheading. That will explain the exercise much better.

      Your counselor may be asking you in a roundabout way to describe all he’s done to you in the past. By telling him/her what changes you’d want to see, you’re revealing what he’s done. The exercise I suggest will do the same thing, but it won’t be about you dwelling on HIM. It will be you forecasting your future.

      If you’ve got a restraining order for a year, think about making this a permanent separation, divorce and all. You wanted a temporary separation, and now you have it. Use it.

      If you haven’t settled on divorce, get an attorney anyway. And for signs of change, you’ll have to look for them in his public persona. Unfortunately, his public persona is part of why you fell in love with him in the first place. He’ll do his best to appear to be the victim to others and the man who loves you to you. But, some signs to look for that he is changing is if he initiates doing something that would help him. Something NOT court ordered. Something he doesn’t tell you he PLANS to do, but something he’s been doing already (and remember, trust, but verify!).

      I don’t know if you two are able to text about the children or what the details of the restraining order are. My restraining order included phone, email and texting so we could deal with the children together. In short order, I told him I wouldn’t accept calls – only email or text. (He used phone calls to abuse me.) Funny how that stops when you have a written record of what he says to you.

      Anything that shows his “change” must be observable – you have to see it. Words don’t count when it comes to him anymore. He will SAY anything. And remember, his ability to lie like a rug could get him back in your home, close to a weapon, … you know the rest.

  5. Nothing. You say nothing. This is a point where you ask yourself, “Can I live with this behavior or does it hurt too much?”

    He is withdrawing and withholding, which is abuse. You cannot “make time” with an abusive person. It gives them time to prepare their reaction. Yours simply decides to NOT respect your time or feelings.

  6. when I want to talk to him he says what the f and other abusive things do I need to hear you (even after we make a time) walking out is exactly what he wants not to talk about what I feel needs to be discussed. What do I do?say?

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