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Reclaiming Intimacy: Creating and Maintaining Boundaries After Trauma


 Intimate relationships can be challenging to navigate even under the best of circumstances. But what if you’re trying to venture into them again following trauma in the form of abuse or assault – or some other violation of your body or your mind? Given the risk of further harm they pose – to people like myself, and countless others I’ve been privileged enough to hear from over the years – the relationship between trauma and boundaries is worth a little unpacking. Boundaries are porous, interacting with other boundaries in endless combinations Whatever the trauma was, we’ll need to set new boundaries afterward and try to find ways to co-exist with other people inside them. But what do boundaries even mean? Where do they come from? And why do they matter so much, when it comes to our sense of self, and our relationships with others?


Understanding Boundaries


 Boundaries simply draw an invisible line in the sand on your terms, creating a perimeter for your personal space and determining the scope of your relationships. They could have to do with physical space, emotions, money, time, and sex. Boundaries help to define a safe and secure space where you’ll feel comfortable, without your needs or authority being violated.


Creating Boundaries


 Self-Reflection: Take a second to deeply consider your sexual experiences, feelings, and needs. How do you feel comfortable (or uncomfortable) in an intimate space?


 Identify Triggers: Notice your triggers that you may have around your past trauma so these don’t seep into your ability to create boundaries. Notice when you have a knee-jerk reaction to something and understand the need to create more boundaries than usual.


 Open Communication: Engage in open communication with your partners regarding your limitations and boundaries. Express what you expect, what concerns you, and what you simply can’t do.


 3. Draw clear boundaries. Be clear about limits: name and establish your boundaries for different areas such as touching, closeness, privacy, or personal distance. Be sure your partner knows what they are.


 Consistency: You need to enforce your boundaries consistently so that your partner and you both become used to respecting your boundaries. Consistency will reinforce to your partner that your boundaries are important to the relationship – to trust and security.


Overcoming Challenges


 Guilt and shame; Survivors of trauma may have difficulty setting boundaries without feelings of guilt or shame. Informing yourself that self-care is healthy and necessary for moving forward will help defeat any thoughts of being selfish.


 Fear of rejection: discomfort with establishing boundaries may be caused by fear of rejection or abandonment. Healthy relationships are built on shared respect; it may be that learning to set boundaries helps to create the intimacy and trust that your relationship needs.


 Resist Manipulation: Notice when your partner tries to rush you or criticize your boundaries and stand your ground in reasserting your needs. Pursue a supportive friend or family member, or a therapist, in your darkness if necessary.


 Self-Doubt: Trust your gut! Your feelings about what’s right for a boundary are your own, and it’s OK to have them and respect them enough to advocate for using them to create a boundary that helps you feel safe and comfortable.


 Seek Care: It can be helpful to see a therapist or counselor with a specialist interest in trauma recovery, who can assist with the navigation of these challenges as they come up in your relationships.


The Importance of Boundaries in Healthy Relationships


 Boundaries are the grounds for a relationship of health and happiness. Borders delineate the parameters of a relationship and secure the boundaries around our very selves. Relationships thrive when the emotional territory is well-marked and guarded when our foundations are firm. Boundaries keep things fresh, original, and forward-moving in a relationship. Not surprisingly, rigorous research in social, personality, and clinical psychology repeatedly confirms the interdependence of a sense of control and independence with our positive feelings.




 To reclaim intimacy after trauma is an act of vulnerability, self-reflection, and boundary-setting. It takes prioritizing your self-care and your partner’s, communicating honestly about your preferences, creating a dialogue, and getting support when you need it. You are entitled to feel and be treated, safely and respectfully.



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