Patterns of communication and unresolved conflict.
As humans, we have an innate desire to create connections, secure relationships and communication is an integral part of maintaining such relationships. Some ways people communicate and relate with each other include being passive, assertive or aggressive. Assertiveness is about finding a middle way between aggression and passivity that best respects the personal boundaries of all relationship partners. Expressing assertiveness or creating boundaries helps you express your needs while maintaining a sense of self and allowing others to have an experience different to yours. Setting boundaries reinforces that each person has the right to defend themselves.
‘Thick’ or ‘Thin’ Boundaries?
People who score ‘thin’ on boundaries tend to be more open, trusting, and vulnerable and have a rich fantasy life. They can struggle to distinguish between their own and other’s needs. People with very ‘thick’ boundaries tend to be solid, organized and sometimes too rigid and tend to be insensitive to the damage their boundaries can cause. Awareness of one’s boundary levels, purpose and impact are all useful places to reflect when it comes to boundary setting.
How does Trauma affect your Assertiveness?
One of the most severe consequences of trauma is the collapse of boundaries, not just in the moment that caused trauma but as a lasting effect. Their bodies are in a reponse state to threat- to their physical and emotional well-being. This impacts their sense of identity as it can be challenging for them to understand where ‘they’ end, and ‘others’ begin. They can easily go into states of fight, flight, freeze or fawn due to the dysregulations in their nervous system. The feeling of unsafety generates the belief that others are not to be trusted, or they feel the need to please others to avoid ‘threat’. Boundaries either become non-existent or rigidly maintained, with the primary purpose of avoiding all threat or any possibility of real connection, depending on the type of trauma. People with developmental trauma have a hard time with trust as their caregivers or loved ones abused their trust or safety during childhood. This can lead to rigidly maintained boundaries, or aggressiveness in some.
It is important to note that systemic issues such as income disparity, institutionalized violence, the rigidity of gender roles, violence against women, and racism, among many other factors, play a massive part in shaping the experiences of all individuals, and particularly women when it comes to boundary setting.
How can Counselling help?
How do you relate to people around you? What are your triggers and attachment patterns? Is it easy or difficult to take up space? To express your needs? Ask for what you need?
Counselling can help you create emotional awareness, connect with your needs and allow you to access your emotions without overwhelming you. Working with trauma, learning regulation and self-soothing can create a stronger connection to your sense of self, and help you distinguish between your needs and others. Cognitive, emotional and somatic, among other approaches, can be used for such work. Boundaries and assertiveness can be taught, practised and can transform your relationships!
Dombeck, M., & Wells-Moran, J. (2006). Setting boundaries appropriately: Assertiveness training. Retrieved March, 15, 2011.
Hartmann, E. (1997). The concept of boundaries in counselling and psychotherapy. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 25(2), 147-162.
Heitzler, M. (2013). Broken boundaries, invaded territories: The challenges of containment in trauma work. International Body Psychology Journal, 12(1), 28-41.
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