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Boundaries: Steps 1 and 2

In Part Two of my 3-part series on Boundaries I will explain how to recognize a good boundary. I’ll also explain the first two steps in the 5-step process to creating healthy boundaries.

Creating healthy and effective boundaries is an important factor because we can set all the boundaries we want but if they are not worthwhile we won't get the results we hope for and need.

Before I start explaining what makes a good boundary, it's necessary to discuss the concept of safety and how it relates to betrayal trauma.

The Importance of Safety

Safety is one of the most basic human needs. In fact, it is the second of the 5 categories of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Remember those from Psychology class? To refresh your memory, the first is physiological needs, the second is safety, third is love and belonging, fourth is esteem and fifth is self-actualization.

Please catch this: Without a foundation of safety, humans cannot achieve other higher-level needs such as the need for love, connection, creativity, or self-actualization.

When you're with people who feel safe or in an environment that feels safe, your body and your nervous system relax. On the contrary, your protective instincts activate when you perceive something, or someone, to be dangerous or unsafe.

When safety is compromised in some way or when boundaries are violated the effect lingers and has a continual impact even long after the initial traumatic circumstance occurs. When trauma happens a betrayed spouse can become hypervigilant and anxious when she’s in a situation that matches the incident when she was victimized. This physiological response is often referred to as a trauma trigger.

If you're a partner of a sex addict in the early stages of discovery and disclosure, you may feel that there is no safe place to turn. Much of what you assumed to be true about your partner and your relationship has been called into question or proven to be a lie. The person you thought would always be there for you is now the source of profound pain.

If you responded the way I did, you have probably combed through bank accounts, messages and credit card statements looking for clues and evidence of the sex addict’s secret life. Some have even hired a private investigator or installed a tracking device on the addict’s vehicle or phone without telling him. These are ways partners of sex addicts attempt to reestablish a sense of safety.

Safety is a fundamental human need and safety is created by the use of effective boundaries.

You may have heard or realized by now that boundaries are everywhere. The definition of boundary is a line that marks the limits of an area or a dividing line. As I mentioned in the first article on boundaries, boundaries marked territories and borders in scripture. In my opinion this is a profound fact that reinforces that boundaries are a biblical concept that honor God when they are used appropriately.

Boundaries calm the nervous system, allowing you to relax and rest.

In relationships boundaries operate in the following ways:

Self: this object, thought, emotion or behavior belongs to me. This is as close as I want to be to you sexually, physically, intellectually, emotionally and I have the right to determine the distance.

Others: This object, thought, emotion or behavior belongs to you. No one, including me has the right to tell you what you may own, think, feel or do. This is as close as you want me to be to you sexually, physically, intellectually, or emotionally. You have a right to determine the distance and I accept your limits.

Just like a physical fence personal boundaries communicate this is me/mine and this is you/yours. And the two main purposes your personal boundaries serve are:

  • they create safety by protecting you from others and protecting others from your boundaryless, inappropriate, or offensive behavior.

  • they define who you are as well as your personal space by letting others know how close they can get to you physically, sexually, intellectually, emotionally or spiritually.

When protective boundaries are shaky or nonexistent you are at risk of having your boundaries violated by the people around you. It’s very common for a betrayed spouse to feel as though she’s being taken advantage of. If you are experiencing betrayal trauma, you are likely not getting your needs met, and as a result, your life may be chaotic and unmanageable. Because you don't know how to get your needs and wants met directly or assertively, you may unknowingly resort to passive strategies of manipulation and control. If your protective boundary is severely impaired, you won't have confidence and trust in your ability to protect yourself. That is why it’s critical to understand the steps to creating healthy, effective boundaries.

Beware of the Common Misconceptions

The reason for and purpose of boundaries is often misinterpreted and misunderstood. They are sometimes viewed as harsh, cold, or controlling. They're also mistakenly viewed as punishment carried out by rigid, uptight or selfish people.

Because boundaries create limits, I’ve had mentees tell me that their husbands saw boundaries as repressive or as restrictions on personal freedom. Has this happened to you too?

Common Misconception #1 In my opinion, the most damaging misconception about boundaries is that you don't have a right to protect yourself because of what happened to you in the past. At the root of this misconception is often an unconscious belief that the person is defective or unworthy as a result of having his or her boundaries violated as a child or having experienced 1 or several traumatic events as an adult. If you were frequently abused verbally, emotionally, physically or sexually you may unknowingly carry a deeply held belief that you don't have the right to protect yourself. Please know: THIS IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE! No matter what has happened to you or what you have done, you have a right to set limits for yourself around how others treat you.

Common Misconception #2 Another very important point to clarify about boundaries is they DO NOT give us permission to tell someone else what they must do or must not do. In a Parent - Child relationship, a parent can tell the child what he or she can or cannot do. However, in an Adult - Adult relationship, you can make a request for a change of behavior, but you can't demand any action or behavior from another person.

This point can be further explained by the following example. Commonly, I hear from my mentees, “I told him my boundary is that he has to go to therapy every week.” Of course, it may be appropriate and even necessary for the sex addict to go to therapy once a week. You can request that the sex addict engage in a particular activity or behavior, but he has the right to say yes or no or to negotiate an alternative agreement. Here’s the important point to be aware of: You have the power to create a boundary about what you will do if your partner says no to your request that he go to therapy. However, you cannot create a boundary that requires another adult to do, act or behave in a certain way.

Boundaries aren't something you do to another person. Boundaries are something you do for your own self-care, well-being, and security.

As a partner of a sex addict, you must understand the basics of boundaries so you can determine where you're uncomfortable, vulnerable, or at risk.

The Five Boundary Categories

  1. Physical boundaries are about how close you allow others to get to you physically, and the access you give others to your personal property. Physical boundaries are non-negotiable personal boundaries.

  2. Sexual boundaries, like physical boundaries are non-negotiable meaning a no to sensual touch means no. When your sexual boundaries are functional and intact, you know how to express your sexual needs and wants, as well as how to set limits with your partner about sexual activity that isn't comfortable for you.

  3. Listening boundaries are the most difficult of the four primary boundaries. The listening boundary is about taking in what you hear and deciding what you think and how you feel about what you've heard. When the listening boundary is functional, you will know how to sort through what you hear and how to protect yourself from taking in others’ emotions or any data that isn't true for you.

  4. Talking boundaries involves the ability to share your thoughts and emotions in an honest, authentic and relational manner. When the talking boundary is functional you have an active filter between what you're thinking and what you say, you regulate your emotions as you speak, and you use appropriate volume and tone.

  5. The personal energy boundary is a fifth category. Personal energy is not necessarily something you can hear or see but is rather an intuitive or felt sense of a person that extends or radiates beyond the physical body. To further explain, when a person seems to fill up a room so that he or she dominates or unduly draws attention to himself or herself this is an experience of personal energy.

What good boundaries can do for you

Here is an abbreviated list of the great things you can expect from effective boundaries:

  1. A sense of safety as you learn how to protect yourself and others emotionally, physically, and sexually.

  2. The ability to make improvements in your life as you set limits on your own behaviors that you want to upgrade or change.

  3. Clear communication.

  4. Knowing where you stand in relationships rather than wondering or guessing.

  5. The ability to define your limits physically, sexually, emotionally, and intellectually, and to communicate those limits in your relationships.

Step 1: Define and Accept Your Reality

Have you struggled to know your reality? Take heart, dear Friend! Most betrayed spouses have a deeply diminished trust in their own reality and their intuition is damaged. It’s very common for addicts to risk almost anything for their addiction including their livelihood, friends, extended family, primary intimate relationship, their relationship with their children, and even their life. Sex addiction is so incredibly powerful. I’ve never heard of an addict that did not go to great lengths to hide their behaviors and their secret life.

Sex addicts avoid talking about anything that could possibly lead to a conversation about sex or their own sexuality to protect their addiction. In their primary relationships, addicts may have little or no interest in having sex with their partner thus appearing sexually anorexic. If this is the case in your relationship, you will be even less likely to suspect your partner is acting out sexually. Over time, the addicts deception and double life erodes your trust and your reality and intuition.

Often my mentees criticize and scold themselves by saying, “How could I have not known?” Or “I was so stupid to have believed his lies.” If you fall into the trap of blaming yourself for being deceived, remember the sex addict in your life has made conscious efforts to confuse, omit, or otherwise obscure the truth.

In early discovery, partners of sex addicts experience a profound shift in the way they view themselves, their relationship, and even the world. What you understood your reality to be pre-discovery has been shattered. To make sense of the new and devastating information you've received you may begin to view most if not all of your experiences through the lens of sex addiction and betrayal. This is a natural and normal response to your situation and an attempt to create some semblance of order and safety.

Fortunately, it is possible to regain trust in your perceptions and intuition. Repairing the damage done by ongoing deception, manipulation and abuse is a process that begins with the simple yet powerful practice of identifying your reality.

In order to establish a boundary, you must know your reality or what is true for you. Your reality in the present moment is what you're experiencing with your 5 senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, and physical sensations), what you are thinking and your emotions.

The following 3 questions will help you define your reality:

  1. Data: What did I see/hear/experience that could be documented with a camera or video camera? Write only what you could actually see, hear, or experience with your 5 senses and don't include perceptions or judgments such as mean, rude, ignored or harassed. (If your only data is an intuitive hunch, you can describe the intuitive thought or perception as a form of data.)

  2. Thought: What is my perception/thought, or what do I “make up” about the data? While you may have many thoughts about the data, identify one key thought that creates the most energy for you and write it down.

  3. Emotion: What emotions do I feel as a result of the thought I have about the data?* Identify all that apply: anger, pain, guilt, shame, love, fear, passion, joy, etc.

*My mentees use a Feelings Table with Intensifiers to answer question #3 above.

An example of piecing these three steps together is “When I asked my partner why he was late coming home and he said I was harassing him, what I thought about that (or what I made up about that) is that he was being defensive. And about that I feel pain, fear and anger."

Step 2:

Determining Your Needs and Getting Them Met

“In our culture, most of us have been trained to ignore our own wants and to discount our needs.” Marshall Rosenberg

When a relationship is creating distress or pain, it's likely because a need or even several needs are not being met.

Earlier in this article I mentioned Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The most basic needs are physiological, and the highest level of needs are for self-actualization. In between those are safety, connection/belonging and respect. If these foundational needs aren't met, the chances of the relationship surviving, much less thriving, are remote. Because we have been trained to focus on other’s needs, often it’s difficult to determine our own. For that reason, my mentees use a Needs Inventory to complete this step.

Truth and honesty are the foundation of all intimate relationships, yet invariably those two needs are a casualty in relationships where sex addiction is present. How do you, as a partner, get this fundamental need met during the addict’s unpredictable and often turbulent transition from secrecy and deception to transparency and honesty? The first step is to discover what you need in order to rebuild trust in the addict’s word. In the beginning you will need to rely more on your own perceptions and reality and less on the addict’s words and promises. However, you can start noticing right now whether his words and actions align.

To complete boundary step #2, review your reality from step one and then identify the need or needs that aren't being met in your current situation. The second part of boundary step #2 is getting clear on the outcome you want by writing it down. Ask yourself, “What is the outcome I want, or what is my vision, with regard to this issue?” Your vision should be specific and measurable, for example, I want my partner to call me once a day between 8:00 PM and 10:00 PM when he is out of town.

I hope you’ve found this information helpful and informative. Remember writing effective boundaries takes time and practice, but you CAN do it!

Next, please watch for Part Three in the 3-part series on this topic where you’ll learn the last 3 steps to follow to create healthy effective boundaries. Also, remember I am here for you and would love to meet with you for a FREE 1-hour Consultation where you can safely share your story and I’ll answer any questions you have about how my trusted guidance through the healing process can benefit you.

If you’re ready to move forward toward healing, please click here FREE 1 hour Consultation.


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