Setting Boundaries

Setting boundaries is difficult for people who are victimized by abusive people. One, we’ve been conditioned to believe that we are insignificant, small, unworthy…we have no right to proclaim who we are because we, in essence, do not exist.

Two, because we believe we are too small to be important, we may attempt to set our abuser’s boundaries FOR him; turn the tables because ‘he does it to me, so he’ll understand and respond when I do it to him.’ We try to control him because it appears to work so well!

Here’s a boundary that cannot work:

“You are not allowed to be mean to me.”

Really? Who says he isn’t allowed? If the most powerful person in the world told him to stop being mean to me, it MAY stop his behavior in front of that person (a phenomenon I know too well), but would it stop the abuse? No. What if his daddy demanded he stop being mean to me? His grandmother?

It doesn’t matter who commands the abuse to stop because as Donnalee commented, “he can and will do whatever he wants because he is an adult.” A personal boundary cannot control someone else. I cannot tell someone else what to do, how to behave and what to think and expect them to obey.

However, I can tell myself what to do, how to behave, what to think and expect myself to obey myself.

A boundary that will work:

When you say things that are mean to me and will not allow conversation but insist on me listening to you, I will pull out a piece of paper and begin writing all the hurtful things you are saying. This action will allow me to step outside of the situation and observe from a position where I can see that you are speaking nonsense, thereby protecting myself from your words.

A boundary is a blueprint of a plan for you to follow. It is not an order given to someone else. No one, not soldiers, not cops, not abusers, not even victims of abuse, must follow orders that go against their morality and the core of who we are.

Dear Donnalee, if you set boundaries with your abuser last night and still believed that you have no control over your self, then I suspect the boundaries you set were directed at him. I could very well be wrong, but as a sister who’s felt your exact pain, I suspect that I’m more than partially right.

The part I am sure I am right about is that whatever boundary you set did nothing to protect you.

For help understanding and setting boundaries, please read “Set Personal Boundaries” for understanding, “How to Set Boundaries” for guidance, and then maybe “My Boundaries” to see where I started.

And if you’re sick and tired of hearing my voice, try Robert Burney’s website to discover where I received guidance on how to set boundaries. His suggestions are phenomenal.

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About Kellie Jo Holly

Kellie Jo Holly passionately advocates against domestic violence through her writing and mentoring service. She loves helping women cope with abuse while in the relationship and supporting them as they leave the relationship and begin to heal. You can also find Kellie on Google+, Facebook and Twitter. You can buy her books from Amazon.


  1. I’ve pulled out the piece of paper to write before. It didn’t go well. Most abusers see any boundaries as a challenge to them. They eat boundaries for breakfast. In fact drawing attention to what you DON’T want to happen seems like the worst option. For example, it took years for me to figure this out, but if someone invited me to a birthday party or a girls-get-together, I couldn’t tell him about it ahead of time. The more time he had to think about it, the craftier he got about creating chaos and the less and less likely it became that I would be able to go anywhere. If I simply picked up my purse ten minutes before the party and headed out the door with a simple, “oh I’ll be back”. I often made it to the function. But to blatantly help ones self right in front of the abusive man was a scary thing to do.

  2. Yeh, I see it now. I said “you can’t talk to me like that”…left it kinda wide open. I didn’t think about the consequence. I did read all the setting boundaries, etc, however it was my first attempt. I shall get better 🙂 I so appreciate the feedback, I don’t feel so all alone anymore.

    • You sound very positive, Donnalee! Yes, learning is trial and error, but the most important part of learning is trying again after an error. 🙂 I am wondering exactly how I will do when faced with the “in your face” abuse again. Only three weeks or so until I know. I’m thinking of you, hoping you never ever have to face the abuse again, but knowing you will…so, I’m here, we’re all here for you when you do. And next time, you’ll have an action to back up your words.

  3. As a person who is not in a similar situation, it is surprisingly interesting and enlightening for me to read your blog.

    I read your entries yesterday but was wasnt feeling great and didnt take the time to comment.

    I went to sleep last night thinking of you and of all the work you are doing to retrain your mind how to think and react and such and just thought wow. What a lot of work you are putting into this. And it must be sooo hard. You must be tortured a bit even by how much effort and thought this all takes.

    But then I thought how WORTH it it is because Kellie, YOU ARE WORTH IT. Keep doing this hard work and getting yourself ready for his return. You are worth it and you deserve to live happy and free. I am pulling for you.

    Hope your day is a good one.

  4. Smartgirl says:

    Didn’t want to put my real name only because it’s so distinctive, I didn’t want him to see.

    Thanks for this—I just ended things with a verbally abusive man. I’m trying to think about how I failed to set boundaries–it’s an issue with my son, too—and I appreciate this.

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