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avoidance as a healthy boundary

Can avoidance be a healthy boundary?

by Matt Pappas

I’m starting out this post as somewhat of a “thinking out loud” scenario. Actually I suppose you could look at many of my posts here on this blog in that way. I write about how I’m feeling and work through my healing journey here, online with all of you amazing survivors. I can’t thank you enough for all of your support and kindness, it means the world to me.

So I’ve been thinking about, of course based on a recent session, how Avoidance can be used as Boundary. First though I have to explore if it really is a boundary, and I believe that it is. So the real question is that, is it a healthy boundary or an unhealthy one?

In the situation of the Narcissistic abuse that I’ve discovered as part of my past trauma…

The context of my situation with avoidance isn’t so much whether I should do it or not, because I already do. It has more to do with the guilt that comes with avoidance, and should I feel that way? Who’s making me feel that way, me or the memories of what she (my mother) did? I’ve said before I swear it’s like she’s right here with me even though she’s really isn’t. To this day she is still in my head. Old wounds heal slow and invalidation runs deep.

This feels like a healthy boundary to me because I am refusing to put myself in a position to be invalidated again. I’m not allowing her the opportunity to make me feel like I did when I was younger. Even if she wouldn’t be doing it intentionally now, I just know it would still happen.

I would get the blame because I didn’t talk to her, I didn’t reach out and confide in her when I was younger. So how would she know what was wrong? I’m telling you I can see it happening plain as day.

Regardless of how much I would explain that her constant criticism of my hair, my clothes, my music, my friends, and my attitude, hurt me, it wouldn’t matter. And to that fact, even if she would apologize, I’m not ready to accept that it would be a genuine apology even if it she felt that it was.

On top of that, there’s the near definite possibility that it would get around my family quicker than passing a hot potato around a circle. It would be like reliving the abuse all over again. I have a right to not put myself through that kind of pain again. Especially if I’m not feeling strong enough in recovery to defend myself properly.

The last thing I need now is to start taking more steps backwards and stalling out in my healing. I’ve made too much progress so far, but yet I still have a long way to go.

As I sit here and re-read what I just wrote so far, I’m feeling more confident that avoidance in this case is indeed a healthy boundary. I recognize the situation, what I’m capable of handling right now and what I’m not capable of handling. Perhaps I’m not giving myself enough credit, and that is something to consider. I mean after all I am a master at minimizing. 

However, as I examine this topic and how it relates to me, I don’t think it’s a situation of not giving myself enough credit. Rather it’s having the awareness of my knowing my limits right now. Perhaps in time I will gain more confidence, and I sure hope that I do otherwise this whole healing journey thing is not what I’m expecting.

Ok back that up, take two…. In time I WILL gain more confidence and I will be better equipped to handle a situation like this.

On the flip side, I do realize there are times when avoidance maybe isn’t the best option.  Some examples could be:

  • If you have walls built up so strong and high that you let nobody in for any reason (yes, I do that too).
  • If you avoid going out and being with friends who you know wouldn’t hurt you but you avoid the situation because of what “might” happen.
  • If  we completely shut ourselves out and away from the world, we are limiting our growth and our chance to experience the good things in life too.

There are so many instances like that, and often times they are based on past fear and trauma. We were hurt in the past so now we are leery of opening up in any capacity. Trust me, I get it, and I’m right with you. These are things we can work through and process on our own timetable. Having a professional coach or therapist can help us better understand ourselves and keep us on track in healing. I’m also a big advocate of education as a validation tool,  as well as being kind to and loving ourselves.

For the purposes of this post though, I think that I’ve come to the conclusion that purposefully not putting myself into a situation that I’m not ready to handle, is a good thing. It’s not a matter of sticking my head in the sand and refusing to deal with what’s out there, it’s about being true to myself. Regardless of what family or others think.

Perhaps you are in the midst of a similar situation, or have worked through something like this in the past? I’ve love to hear your comments.



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Sheryl Burpee Dluginski July 1, 2016 - 11:36 am

Hi Matt, I can definitely relate to what you are going through here. I worked through a similar situation with my father when I was first dealing with the fact that my flashbacks of abuse were real memories that Id previously repressed. The last thing I wanted to do was be around him during that period, because I knew that I would revert right back to my past coping mechanisms in his presence – various levels of disassociation. Disassociating as a kid in response to abuse was a brilliant coping mechanism that helped me stay sane and safe at the time. But as an adult, now safe and independent from my abuser, I had to unlearn that coping mechanism so that I could live a healthier and more vibrant life. That was a process that took many months, even years, of work. Exposing myself to my abuser too early in the unlearning process would have been detrimental to my healing.
I LOVE how you checked yourself in this post and restated your healing goal as a positive affirmation. “I will…” Such a huge sign already, in my opinion, that you are well on your way. As you develop new, healthier ways to cope (such as acknowledging, expressing and processing your feelings as they come up), being around your abuser wI’ll likely feel less threatening. It will take time and practice and healing to get there but you are on your way there now! To this day, I still avoid folks in my life that I fear will trigger an unhealthy coping response I’m still holding onto from childhood – for me that means drinking too much, disordered eating, various levels of disassociation, etc Over the years I have gotten very good at identifying these responses early, even predicting them before they happen so I can get necessary support systems in place ahead of time to avoid them. My therapist and support groups are invaluable resources in this process. You are learning how to do this now. Own that! You are in the process of healing!! I feel and express gratitude everyday for the level of health I’ve achieved, and that in itself, the gratitude, helps keep me on track too. Warm wishes for your continued growth and success. – Sheryl

Matt July 2, 2016 - 12:54 pm

Thank you so much Sheryl, I love your insight and honesty. I find it quite important to catch myself and fix it honestly..meaning to not just delete it and overtype with an “I will” type of thing..but rather just reaffirm publicly that I am still a work in progress and trying take things one day at a time, one obstacle at a time.

Thank you for validation and your encouragement…knowing there are amazing survivors out there like you who are on this journey with me, always helps so much!

Joy Richardson July 9, 2016 - 10:08 pm

Disassociation and Dissociation have the same definition but in terms of psychology the correct word is Dissociation as in Dissociative Disorders.

Pippit July 9, 2016 - 4:14 am

Hi Matt,
I totally agree with you that avoidance is often a healthy boundary. I’ve never understood the school of thought that makes healing more like an endurance contest of forcing onesself into triggering situations that throw you into the deep end. That can do a survivor more harm than good.

I also think that as survivors we have many times been placed in positions in which we didn’t feel free to say no to things we didn’t want, and being able to say no now is healing in and of itself.

I’m of the belief that nothing should be forced before its time, and only the individual knows when they’re able to move forward.

I also believe that there are different levels of trauma and that there are some triggers that can be deactivated in time, but that time doesn’t heal all wounds. There are some that are so deep that one may always have to maintain certain boundaries because try as we might some things are just too entrenched to overcome. Sometimes it takes some trial and error to tell the difference but after your best effort if you find that not everything is fixable and you need to avoid certain triggers to stay safe and stable and to continue to function then that’s OK and not a failure on your part.

You can look ar those particular remaining issues as ones that require making “reasonable accommodations” just as one would who is in a wheelchair who may need to use a lift or ramp to get in and out of a vehicle for the rest of his life or blind and needing a device to read for them possibly for the rest of their lives. Nobody would say that those two people with disabilities are weak because they are unable to do everything the way that able bodied people can, so really when you think about it the same can hold true for those with hidden disabilities/conditions.

Trusting your own instincts is important because survivors are often taught by their abusers to doubt their own perceptions and confidence is eroded as a result.

Ultimately you should do whatever you feel most comfortable with to gain back your sense of control over your own life.

Joy Richardson July 9, 2016 - 10:19 pm

Avoidance is never a healthy boundary for me. I see avoidance as an indication of fear, a desire to be comfortable or a passive-agressive weapon. In every situation where I have avoided a person or an issue, it has damaged me. For soooo many years I avoided certain topics with my husband because the issues were painful and just downright uncomfortable. I felt that if I ignored those things the problems would take care of themselves or that as long as I didn’t think about those problems they would cease to exist in my world. It was one of the main reasons why I endured the abuse and in the end my marriage failed because I avoided speaking up for myself in order to not create drama/potentially triggering situations. My father abused me in the past, and the fear of him I have makes me avoid him because I am afraid he will do it again. And honestly, I also avoid him simply because I’m not in love with his personality. However, this hurting me, my dad, and our friendship. I should overcome my fear and tell him honestly how I feel. That won’t change the past, but it will absolutely change the future. I will not allow my past hurts to dictate my present or future. I will not let any one else make me avoid them. No one holds that kind of power over me anymore. I am a strong believer in not avoiding triggering situations/people. Unless you face these triggers you can never conquer them. This is the real world, there are always going to be triggering situations and people. It’s up to me to rise above it with courage and honesty.

Matt July 10, 2016 - 11:02 am

I always love your honesty and straight forward approach to your healing and your life Joy! Thank you! For those like me, avoiding isn’t necessarily a permanent option but depending on how far along we are, it can serve a positive purpose. Depending on how confident we are in our ability to believe in ourselves, to handle tough situations and stay true to what we are working towards, I always feel it’s ok to avoid putting ourselves in potentially negative situations. Is it a long term solution, in some cases yes and other cases not so much, each is different.

It’s an honor to be your friend and to be inspired by you Joy, you always rock! 🙂

Rafal August 24, 2017 - 5:03 am

Hi, I’m now exactly as you said. Avoidance for me is like wounded Alpha male who removes himself from the pack to lick his wounds. He knows that he can not risk any fights in the process of healing, but he knows that when he fix himself he’s gonna come back to fight back his leadership. Great article mate. Cheers 🙂


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