Teaching Good Physical Boundaries

I stand across the desk from my supervisor. He looks up from reviewing my work and comments on how pretty my blouse looks. He then asks me to come over and help edit the story. As I lean over, his arm moves to touch my chest, his hand holds mine. A thought flashes through my head.

What is that thought?

Over the many years I’ve worked with clients, the issue of personal boundaries comes up all the time. On the news, many instances of poor physical boundaries by those in power have come to light and we all listen to those affected by their inappropriate behavior. When talking to friends and clients, the issue of why people don’t tell comes up a lot, as well as, how could they think this was acceptable. My peers and I know a portion of the answers and I’d like to share.

People, Especially Children, Don’t Tell

Research for years has shown that 60 to 80% of people who experience unwanted touch as children and adolescents report these events until they are adults. My experience as a counselor is that many who do report, only tell a close caregiver they trust. These parents and family members are not seen as impartial witnesses and the justice system typically requires an interview by a professional or even testimony by the child in court. A child in both situations struggles with feeling safe and able to be clear about a confusing and difficult subject. Very little can happen to protect these children until a lengthy court process can occur. Then the consequences to the abuser who is convicted seems small compared to the damage done to the child. Much of this process holds true for adults who have less ‘power’ than their abuser and need to ask for protection as well.

Reactions To Poor Physical Boundaries

Many people who have experienced unwanted touch or other’s poor physical boundaries, have similar thoughts. Some think:

  • “What did I do to make that happen?”
  • “I don’t want to lose this relationship, it wasn’t so bad.”
  • “How can I get this to stop without being embarrassed?”.

Some feel:

  • Ashamed
  • Embarrassed
  • Scared
  • Guilty

Others have even more complicated and confusing reactions.

Parents Train Your Thoughts

In our family, our response to all of this has been to teach our children to say, think, and believe “My Body, My Choice.” We trained our kids by repetition and focus, to think this thought right after an unwanted touch [usually by saying it right after one of them hit the other. I wish we hadn’t had so much practice.] We also wanted all of them to have this in the back of their brain, waiting to come out when they are dating and in the workplace. It can never hurt to have that voice come in and remind them to respect other’s boundaries.

If the young woman in the example had thought: What did I do to deserve this, her reaction might have been to be quiet and make a plan for the future. She might have felt guilt or shame over the man’s actions. On the other hand, if her immediate thought was: “My Body, My Choice”, her reaction would be quite different. She might have said “That is unwelcome and I am very uncomfortable.” She would have felt strong and known that it was not her choice for him to touch her and that it was her right to bring attention to this negative behavior of his.

If the man in the example had only had that intervening thought, Her Body, Her Choice, how would that exchange have been different? What would our society look like if we were all having that intervening thought when we have an impulse that is less than honorable?

If something negative has occurred to you or someone you love, call me. After 17 years, I don’t have all the answers, but I know where to find them. With experience and training in Trauma Informed Care, I can help. If I can’t help with your specific situation, I know someone who can. You are not alone. 940-222-8703 ext 700

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