Anticipating our responses to life’s events and learning to cope with left over negative feelings is one way we learn to take care of ourselves. By continuing to evaluate what...
Anticipating our responses to life’s events and learning to cope with left over negative feelings is one way we learn to take care of ourselves. By continuing to evaluate what currently is happening in our life is part of the process. Learning how to protect ourselves in the real world can sometimes become an issue for us in recovery.
For those who have experienced trauma, past events may have left us feeling powerless over what happens in life today. Trauma can often undermine our sense of competence, even faith in our own judgment. We may feel uncomfortable protecting ourselves, particularly in new situations, thinking, “Why bother trying?”, “It doesn’t matter what I do,” or “Nothing I do makes a difference.”
If we believe this inner dialogue, it is easy to continue to be subjected to emotional harm or stay in unhealthy relationships, jobs, not living to our true potential. However, we all have choices. We can choose to seek a safer route to get where we are going, taking steps to protect ourselves, learning to trust by being with safe people and, of course, having healthy boundaries.
Part of being human is recognizing the need for the inner sense of emotional connection with others, as this is our basic need for intimacy.
Emotional connection is also one of the most effective ways we can cope. Receiving support from others is a form of emotional connection. Following a trauma, we may find it difficult to hold onto a positive feeling of connection, even with our supportive friends, family, or therapists. The time when we most need support, understanding, and acceptance, is often the hardest time to ask for help.
When we live through a trauma, it is not unusual to feel completely alone in our pain. It may appear to us that no one else can possibly understand what we’re going through. But by opening up and sharing our fears with those we do trust, we are often surprised to discover they too, may have shared similar experiences.
And while it can be difficult to hold onto connections when alone, looking at photos of someone we’re thinking about can help us remember a treasured time. Re-reading letters, listening to a tape of someone’s voice, can help retrieve a sense of connection or closeness. Looking at, or using a gift received from them might lighten to burden. Remembering special times, even writing a note, whether or not the person will ever receive it, helps us feel closer in someone’s absence.
If you don’t feel comfortable discussing problems or hurt feelings with another person, try this:
When you notice that something isn’t working, think through a past event but imagine it happening differently so it turns out with a better ending.
Here is a situation: Debra often went out with friends on weekends. As long as she was with a large group, she always had someone to talk to and enjoyed herself. Several times when she went with just one other friend, however, she felt self-conscious and drank more than usual. The morning after such evenings, she always ended up regretting some of her behaviors and choices, and often feeling embarrassed.
Here is an example of how Debra could imagine a different scenario: She could imagine things would have been different if two or three friends had come with her rather than just one. What would have happened if she and her friend had gone to a movie instead of a bar? Where else could they have gone? What other things could they have done? Why limit her activities to drinking?
What would have happened if she had said to the friend that she’d rather not drink? Perhaps they would have gone out and enjoyed each other’s company in a setting where alcohol was not served. As Debra imagined these various scenarios, some of them felt more comfortable than others. Some seemed more fun than others. Debra can use all this information to plan ahead for new ways of being with herself and friends. Maybe some boundary setting would have made a huge difference in the outcome of their evening.
Maintaining Interpersonal Boundaries
To have an interpersonal boundary is to know where you “end” and another person “begins.” It is also to know we have a right to allow and not allow others to enter our personal physical or emotional space. Maintaining appropriate interpersonal boundaries is an important self-protective coping skill. Figuring out comfortable and safe boundaries can be difficult for those who have experienced violations such as unwelcome touch or harassment and emotional abuse. Such survivors may feel loss of power or control leaving them vulnerable to future violations. A natural and protective response is to withdraw. Withdrawing in order to be safe can work; but in the long term, it can interfere with meeting other basic needs such as trust and intimacy. It’s a challenge to trust and be open after a severe boundary violation. Trust and openness include risks. Taking risks is may seem difficult after being hurt, and yet risks can enrich our lives as well.