Childhood Abuse and Boundaries

By Sherri L. Board

In the book, BOUNDARIES, by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, they say, “Boundaries define us. They define what is me and not me” (275*). Fighting for my identity and space while surrounded by six and sometimes eight siblings was hard. But when severe abuse was thrown into the scramble, it was harder. I didn’t receive the type of parenting that could meet a child’s needs. I had no sense of “me.” When I read BOUNDARIES as part of my Christian Counseling studies, I wanted to stop studying everything else and concentrate on this one subject. It was exactly what I needed. It helped me define me.

Here is one of the biggest lessons I learned from the book: “We need to keep things that will nurture us inside our fences and keep things that will harm us outside” (307). The authors continue, “Often, when people are abused while growing up, they reverse the function of boundaries and keep the bad in and the good out” (318).

Man, did a light bulb go off for me when I read the above! I had been reversing the function of boundaries my whole life. I was attracted to the bad stuff and repelled the good. For example, as a young adult the only way I could see my mom was if her abusive husband was present. Yes, I got to see my mother, but I always left feeling very depressed. I hadn’t made the connection between my depression and being around him. After reading BOUNDARIES, I know I should have distanced myself from him. What would this have done? To paraphrase Cloud and Townsend, in distancing ourselves from hurtful people, we protect love. Distancing myself from my stepfather would have protected love within me.

We have the right and responsibility to establish personal boundaries in all aspects of our lives—with family, friends, and partners. We need to all put up our fences in the right places as the good doctors suggest. We need to be on the lookout for those who may harm us and not allow them to enter through the gate of our hearts and souls and minds. We need to make sure that the people who we choose to let in will not injure us, but help us grow and heal and enjoy life. Keeping out the bad, letting in the good, we can define ourselves with boundaries.

*Citation numbers are location markers from electronic book version.