Boundaries: sexual abuse and relationships

As kids, boundaries are required so we learn all kinds of things, such as when to go to bed, when to leave the room to allow adults to talk, who is family vs. a stranger, how to talk to adults in an appropriate manner, how to have self-control with food, how to respect teachers, who to trust, and hundreds of other things.

When a person who is supposed to love and protect us, hurts us instead, our boundaries change from clear and precise to confused and fluid.  Instead of being in the middle, extremes begin to appear in various aspects of our lives, particularly around sex.  Individuals either become extremely sexually active or they head to the other side of the coin and attempt to avoid sex altogether.

Food issues may appear as well. Food either becomes the center of their universe or they develop food rituals in an attempt to have control over something. (This stems from having zero control over what happened to them when they were abused). Examples of food rituals may include refusing to eat a food unless the food is a particular color or texture, only eating at a particular time, or only eating food at a particular temperature.

Learning to trust is also affected.  Individuals may trust absolutely everyone or have difficulty trusting anyone fully.  If we gathered the courage to tell someone about our abuse and we were not believed, our ability to trust becomes even more complicated.

Boundaries are extremely important for us to be able to learn self-control, self-respect, and self-love.  Being molested significantly impacts these three things.  So how does this play out in relationships? Here are a few ways that relationships can be impacted:

  • Triggers – A touch, a word, an experience, a smell, a picture, a person – anything can trigger a memory that takes you right back to the moment in your life when you were molested.  It can make becoming emotionally or physically close to someone extremely difficult.  You may find yourself breaking off relationships before they really have a chance to begin and developing an excuse or reason to justify it in your mind.
  • Wavering – The experience of blaming yourself or being blamed for being molested can lead a person to be overwhelmed with self-doubt. Self-doubt or shame can bleed into all areas of your personal life. You may have difficulty making and sticking to decisions that may range from what entrée to order, what shirt to wear, what house to buy, or whether a person is a good fit for you. It stems from not being allowed to develop healthy choices.  Instead, people made decisions for you by subjecting you to situations, memories, and feelings that you had no control over. As an adult, you may still not trust your ability to make choices.

Boundaries are essential to so much in our lives. And now you have had the opportunity to understand a little more about yourself or about another person who has been molested.  For assistance or to speak with a licensed therapist who can help you work through the process of recreating boundaries for yourself, please take a look at the resources below.

If you are a parent, talk to your kids (girls AND boys) about what to do if they are kissed or touched by ANYONE. The majority of abusers are not strangers - they are close friends and family members. Give your kids scenarios (example - What would you do if we were at a party and you were in the house and someone tried to touch you? What would you do? Where would you go?) There are resources below to help you with the conversation.

Resources and Websites:

Find a Therapist

National Center For Victims of Crime

Resource for Child Sexual Abuse

2000 M Street NW, Suite 480 Washington, DC 20036 Phone: (202) 467-8700(202) 467-8700 Fax: (202) 467-8701

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network

1.800.656.HOPE1.800.656.HOPE(4673) 24-hour hotline

Talking to your kids about sexual abuse and prevention

Project Unbreakable

This powerful and evocative project shows abuse victims holding up a card with the words of their abusers written on them.

To see more photos or to learn how to submit your own click below.

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Helping men who've had unwanted or abusive boyhood sexual experiences live healthier, happier lives.