Perhaps the most difficult word for me (as an abuse survivor) is “NO”. We know what that word means when we hear it. There was a campaign years ago that encouraged people to respect the word NO. The slogan read “No means No”. Simple and easy to understand, right? Not so much.
My childhood was stolen away from me at the hands of pedophile priests and abusive adults charged with my care in school. When I was not being raped, fondled, beaten or locked in closets, I was trying to tread lightly ever hopeful that what had just happened was the last time. The “last time” went on for almost five years of my early education. When I was finally out of that school the next several years would involve me learning to establish boundaries. “No” was not a word that held power. The other day I recalled one event involving the principal of the school forcing my little body over the pummel horse in the auditorium stage of the school, his breath reeking of stale coffee and rancid cucumbers as he pinned me down from behind. Hot tears ran down my cheeks as I cried out “no, no, no, no no….” over and over – he punched me in the back of the head, grabbed my hair and forced my face down into the vinyl padding of the pummel horse, muffling my feeble cries for help. “NO” was ineffective and simply saying that word inflicted more pain and abuse on my young soul and body.
As the years and the abuse passed, my own personal boundaries were fragile negotiating grounds – having been easily annexed by my childhood abusers. I wanted strong boundaries, believe me – but the act of saying NO and holding to it was, and still is, a difficult choice for me. This probably seems so simple to many who will read this. However, it is difficult. Conflict is something I have tried again and again to stay away from. Resistance to pressure resulted to unimaginable acts of abuse against me as a child. Even though I am a fairly strong adult now, there is a fragile child within this body who is terrified at attracting attention to himself. I often feel that when I give in to someone’s will after initially saying no, that child inside has been ignored and devalued. It is so important for those who have not been abused to respect people’s choices when they say NO. Here is an example from my experience of compromising my boundaries:
Person A: “It’s a nice day. Let’s go for a walk”
Seems relatively simple. It’s an honest suggestion.
Me: “You know what, I don’t really feel like it today.
My answer to this question is a little weak as my boundaries are fragile.
Person A: “Why not?
Okay, now I am starting to feel a little bit on the defensive.
Me: “I’d rather not go.”
Person A: “Come on! It will be good to go.”
Me: “No. I don’t want to.”
I am now starting to feel backed into a corner.
Person A: “Why not?”
Me: “I said I don’t want to.”
Here I am trying to hold my ground – shaky as it is. Now I am just wanting to hold steadfast to protect my inner child.
Person A: “Give a good reason.”
Now I am back to feeling as if I am back to being told I am a bad person if I don’t let the other person get their way.
Me: “I said no.”
That should really be the end of it – now I am getting a flood of emotions including fear, anger, shame, hatred and so on. It is not logical, it’s just how the abuse survivor’s mind is working.
Person A: “Give me a good reason and I’ll let it go.”
Yeah, right. Now I am just wanting this to end. What was once perhaps a nice day has turned to an inner feeling that I am now a bad person who has to let the other person have their way and my fragile boundary is shattered once more. This is the point where I will likely just go along with the other person. It won’t be a nice walk for me as I will be feeling resentful and ashamed of myself for giving in and not honouring what I wanted to do in the first place. This may make sense to you or you may not understand what I am trying to say here. It is just an example of one of many ways my self-worth gets eroded when NO is not heard.
All I would like in situations like the above that I have described, is to be heard. Chances are I would love to walk with you, I would love to do things, but when I am put in a position when I give an answer and the answer is not the one that you wanted me to say, please let it end there. Another time perhaps. Please don’t question my boundaries. Here is another example:
Person B: “These are great. Have one.”
Me: “I’m sure they are, but no thank you.”
Person B: “Why not?”
Now I am feeling bad that I may have done something wrong. But I have developed a food addiction as the result of being abused as a child and food was a comfort when alone consoling myself.
Me: “I don’t want any.”
Person B: “Try them. Come on.”
Here we go again.
Me: “Okay fine.”
Sure, I’ll take one – then when person B goes away I will shame eat the rest away. And so the boundaries are easily destroyed once more.
I know I write a lot about survivors and abuse. Believe me, I have come a long way in my healing. I write these in hopes of shedding light for those of you fortunate enough to not have been abused, yet who may know people who have been. If you were abused, I write these posts to ease your mind in knowing that you are not alone, and that there is no time line to “be better”. I take my healing one step at a time, and sometimes it feels like I am walking backwards. My boundaries continue to strengthen, but are at times renegotiated or challenged. I guess what I am attempting to write here is the importance of NO. There are times when NO really does mean NO, you know?