Trauma alters the way we understand boundaries, including our own. I wrote about Basic Boundaries earlier this year, but I wanted to give space for why boundary development can be particularly tricky for folks with serious or persistent mental illness when exceptionally traumatic history looms.
Boundaries gives us a way to define and preserve our sense of self in a multi-faceted world of identities, ideas, and limits. When trauma chisels at a person's ability to modulate, impulsivity and sensitivity can blur the abstract processing of social boundaries.
If you've had a particularly stressful encounter, you might recall some sequalae of physiological changes: muscular tension, a headache, anxious thoughts, a feeling as if having been stricken with an electrical current, sweatiness, a deeply cold sensation, etc. Perhaps, in this situation you had to exert a social boundary to alleviate yourself of said stress. The signal and response varies from person-to-person. The difference with trauma, however, is that these encounters can become much more debilitating and long-lasting. Intense cycles of stress hormones flood the system each time a traumatic reminder over-stimulates the senses thereby shutting down the neocortex to allow the limbic system to address the threat. This process may leave the person with few options to respond via fight/flight/freeze or 6 F's. Recuperating from such setbacks may require more time, physical endurance, and cognitive reprocessing.
People who have experienced trauma or other neurological injuries may have difficulty with*:
How damaged boundaries may impact life*:
When our trauma response is activated, the neocortical region of the brain fires slower than our limbic system. In this state, our human brain rescinds to the reptilian brain which serve us in our last ditch effort to protect from a threat. This becomes a physiologically normalized response following excessive trauma. In those moments, it's especially challenging to negotiate boundaries. I encourage self-compassion and self-exploration for finding a way to convey a "stop command" whether the person is talking or non-talking.
For me, my strategy that I'm practicing is the simplest, complete sentence I can verbalize: No.
While it might be initially odd or mean to others: no is no. Can you still come over tomorrow? No. Can I borrow your book? No. But that makes me feel invalidated. No. I'm sorry, but I'm not well right now.
Because receiving "no" is difficult for most people, it's okay to learn "yes" by expressing our vulnerable side (when we feel safe). Vulnerability does not require a massive undertaking of over-explaining all of the painful details. It can begin with "I'm not well right now" or "I'd like to hang out now if you're free." Where you choose to start begins with you and where you're at.
Also, people respond to boundaries differently. People may*:
*All "lists" are non-exhaustive and therefore can be improved upon.