Blurred Boundaries

Childhood experiences and adult role models establish the ability of an adult to set boundaries in friendships, with spouses and intimate partners, with children, and with employers. When child sexual abuse occurs between family members, particularly if the abuser is the parent, boundaries are blurred and roles are confused. Children become  confused, anxious, and disturbed. Depending on the length of the abuse and the consequences of disclosure, the child will be more or less able to establish healthy boundaries in adulthood. 

A boundary is similar to a border, a place where you stop and the other person starts. When boundaries are invaded, a person has entered territory belonging to the other person. This may be an emotional boundary, a physical boundary, or a sexual boundary. Boundaries also exist in other areas, however. Telling someone how to think violates their mental boundaries. Telling them how to spend their money violates their financial boundaries. Abuses are usually identified by the boundaries that have been violated (e.g., physical abuse, sexual abuse, mental abuse, emotional abuse).

Sexual abuse violates almost all conceivable boundaries of a human being. The lines are crossed physically, sexually, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. This violation leaves
the victim in a boundary-less state. Consequently, the ability to set and maintain future boundaries has been compromised. As an adult, the sexual abuse victim may struggle with boundaries in all relationships.

Common types of boundaries abused in childhood and adulthood: 

  • Physical boundaries - When someone "invades your space," usually they have entered an approximate 3-foot space and you do not feel comfortable with them being that close. The physical boundary is less with people you are close to and care about: family members, close friends, partners. Domestic violence is an example of a physical boundary violation.
  • Emotional boundaries - How close you want to allow someone to get to you emotionally is your emotional boundary. Again, this depends on the relationship with the person. It affects how much you want to share with another person or talk about your feelings. When someone disrespects you, deliberately hurts you, invalidates you, they have violated your emotional boundaries.
  • Sexual boundaries - Every person has the right to determine how sexual they want to be with another person. Sexual abuse occurs because a sexual boundary was violated. A child does not have the ability or right to consent. Rape and sexual assault are unwanted and unasked for sexual encounters.    



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