Do you have trouble saying ‘No?’
Are you all caught up in others’ problems while ignoring your own needs?
Do you have trouble standing up for what you believe in the face of opposing views?
Do you constantly fly under the radar so you won’t be noticed?
Is your learned coping style intended to keep you out of trouble, but preventing you from being an independent, self-determining human?
Those of us who grew up in dysfunctional families lack healthy personal boundaries. Most of us learned early that we had no right to privacy, respect or even safety.
Survival lay shrinking ourselves.
Recently I’ve been re-reading Dr. Gabor Mate’s book, When the Body Says No. In his book, this Canadian doctor cautions that “when we have been prevented from learning how to say no … our bodies may end up saying it for us.” The result lies in numerous stress-related illnesses. (p. 3.)
“There are ongoing negative effects on the body’s hormonal and immune systems, since people with indistinct personal boundaries live with stress; it is a permanent part of their daily experience to be encroached upon by others. However, that is a reality they have learned to exclude from direct awareness (p. 19).”
We no longer even feel encroached upon. Maybe our narcissistic parents thought they owned us, that we were a part of them. Or our angry parents thought it their duty to assault us and called it discipline. Sexually frustrated parents thought it was okay to use us for sex. It was a rare parent in the past that considered small people deserving of their love, protection and personal respect.
How many of us were sure no one would read our mail or sneak a peak at our diaries? Worse, small children can be easily overpowered by adults’ superior strength and smarts – too often with cruel and sadistic results.
It’s worth examining our own boundaries and estimating how much ongoing stress we’re enduring to “keep the peace” or “get along.” Chronic stress, Gabor Mate points out, underlies many chronic illnesses.
Gabor Mate, M.D. When the Body Says No: Trauma Dissociation and Disease, Vintage Canada Edition, 2004.
Robert C. Scaer, M.D. The Body Bears the Burden: The Cost of Hidden Stress, The Haworth Medical Press, 2011.