Dealing with fear while setting boundaries
[September 23, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
Many victims find it hard to deal with fears that come up when they think about setting boundaries to distance themselves from their abusers. Here are some thoughts that might help. I’ve extracted them from an email conversation I had recently with a survivor, so I’m speaking to a survivor in the second person, addressing her as “you”.
Every spasm of guilt you feel for ‘selfishness’ is false guilt, inbuilt and habituated by YEARS of brainwashing from your church and your husband. The Scripture take every thought captive to Christ might be useful here. Share with and call upon Jesus to help you take each of those thoughts captive when they grip you, ask Him to help you deal with the lies and the false guilt: if you can make a decision to try to recognize and not get hooked in when those guilt spasms come, and pass each thought up to Him, then that can help Him to renew your mind.
My gut feeling is that whatever you do, it will have something to do with changing your habitual patterns of thought; reconditioning and recalibrating your semi-automatic responses, or catching them more quickly before they run away with you. That guilt is FALSE guilt. The more often you can see and believe that, and refute its lies, the stronger you will be. You have the right, biblically, morally and ethically, to set a wall between yourself and your non-repentant abuser, and to set whatever boundaries you want to set with him.
But it’s also important to recognize that fear of setting boundaries comes not just from false guilt, it also comes from real and practical apprehension of what he might do when you set a boundary. When you set new boundaries, the abuser will escalate his abuse tactics. So your fears are based on reality, as well as partially springing from false guilt.
Take home message: Fear comes from at least two places:
(1) false guilt
(2) realistic apprehension of the abuser’s retaliation.
The only way to deal with the realistic apprehension of how he might retaliate is to make a safety plan, including planning your tactics of when, how and where you set boundaries. There are no guarantees of safety, but planning in advance can sometimes forestall some of the unpleasantness. This is where it helps so much if you seek advice from secular domestic abuse support workers.
Even if you don’t want to consult such workers personally, I recommend you look on the internet for info about “Domestic Violence Safety Planning”. There are numerous sites on the web that set out the basics of safety planning. These sites are not going to tell you how to tailor and adjust a plan so it is the best fit for your particular (and changing) circumstances — as a professional DV worker can do — but they will give you an idea of where to begin and what is involved. (DV is shorthand for domestic violence, but it includes all the non-physical types of abuse as well.)
(I’m also repeating here a comment I made to Jenny’s comment at another post):
….Most victims don’t consult DV support workers, but in many cases they would find it beneficial to do so. These workers are trained to help the victim develop a safety plan whether or not they are ever intending to leave the relationship. I always advise victims to seek support from secular DV workers if they can…. [Emphasis original.]
There are so many ‘traps for young players’ that can be avoided if you have good counsel from people who know the local scene re: what support is available, legal issues, ways to obtain protection, etc., etc.. I also advise women that these DV workers are usually overworked so you have to persevere in asking for what you want. But don’t hesitate to do so. Just because these workers have other clients, doesn’t mean that you should put your needs in second place because those other clients also have needs.
Compassionate and empathetic women tend to always be thinking of the needs of others. When you are suffering abuse, it helps to try to remember to give your own needs a bit of a higher priority. And the needs of your kids for long-term safety and an environment where there is less abuse.
[September 23, 2022: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to September 23, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to September 23, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to September 23, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (September 23, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]
Safety Planning — ACFJ Resources page listing many different safety planning resources.