Because of my chaotic childhood, boundaries didn't seem to exist in our family. If any adult wanted anything, we gave it (even though we might have done so out of resentment).
Others intruded on our privacy by asking us questions I now realize were inappropriate, and treated us as if we had no rights. It didn't occur to me to refuse to answer.
Years later, I learned something about establishing safe boundaries. The lesson is so simple I've hesitated to express it: I can't set safe boundaries without acknowledging my susceptibility. It seems obvious now but it didn't in the past.
The first time I remember closing my bedroom door, without fear of being yelled at, was shortly after I married. I started laughing, and my wife asked me why. I said, "Now no one can come inside."
When Shirley looked puzzled, I explained that in my home none of us dared close a door. That was the end of the conversation; however, years later, when I began to face my sexual assault, it hit me: I closed the bedroom door as the first awareness of my defenselessness. Inside that room I was safe.
In many ways, I began to face areas where I felt unsafe. I associated that word with vulnerability. My dictionary defines the word as being easily hurt or harmed as well as open to attack. And there's another factor. The word vulnerable comes from the Latin word for wound, vulnus.
After I mentioned the origin of the word, a friend commented, "So once you face the vulnus, you are able."
I thought that was a clever way to say it.
"I'm able to heal," I said, "because I'm learning to establish safe boundaries."
I'm still learning.