When the abuser is a family member (Part 2): Challenges to healthy boundaries

Setting healthy boundaries without judging oneself and feeling guilty is one of the toughest challenges for an abuse survivor. Children in abusive environments develop this feeling that they are bad and it is their fault that they are being abused; they cannot fathom that their caretakers are the wrong party. They develop protective coping mechanisms to preserve their sanity and their sense of trust in their caretakers, to survive.

Judith Herman in her book Trauma and Recovery, talks about two coping mechanisms that children develop:

1. DoubleThink – I order to survive and cope, the child has to hide the abuse from herself.

“The service of this wish, she tries to keep the abuse a secret from herself. The means she has at her disposal are frank denial, voluntary suppression of thoughts, and a legion of dissociative reactions” (p. 74)

2. Double Self – Since the child cannot think that there is something wrong with her abusers, she blames herself and thinks that she is at fault. This innate sense of badness is continuously reinforced in the abusive environment and continues into adulthood, and she cannot shake it off. It leads to enmeshed intimate relationships where there are no boundaries.
There are many deficiencies in self-protection in the abuse survivors.

The idea of saying no to the emotional demands of a parent, spouse, lover, or authority figure may be practically inconceivable. Thus, it is not uncommon to find adult survivors who continue to minister to the wishes and needs of those who once abused them and who continue to permit major intrusions without boundaries or limits. (p. 81)

Reference: Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman

Only for this article, ‘she’ is used for convenience in writing. It doesn’t imply that the abused children are only girls.

When the abuser is a family member (Part 1): Boycotting your abuser

(Part 3): Exploring forgiveness

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About Puja

I am a Counseling Psychologist, Certified EFT Practitioner & Accredited Trainer with AAMET. In my 12+ years of experience, I have effectively used EFT and Counseling to help clients heal their emotional and physical problems.
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