Boundaries serve as vital tools for healthy relationships, providing a framework that fosters respect, trust, and emotional well-being. However, it is essential to recognize that the misuse of boundaries can become a dangerous weapon in the hands of abusers, contributing to domestic abuse and coercive control. 

In this article, we will explore what boundaries look like and, conversely, what they do not look like. We will shed light on the connections between boundary violations, gaslighting, manipulation, and emotional abuse while emphasizing the importance of education and support to combat these harmful behaviours.

Understanding Healthy Boundaries

Healthy boundaries are fundamental to maintaining a sense of self and ensuring respectful interactions within relationships. Here are some key aspects of healthy boundaries:

  • Self-Awareness: Individuals with healthy boundaries have a clear understanding of their needs, desires, and personal limits. They have a sense of autonomy and can express their emotions and opinions without fear of judgment or reprisal.
  • Open Communication: Healthy boundaries thrive on open and honest communication. Individuals feel safe to express their thoughts, feelings, and concerns while respecting the boundaries of others. Consent and negotiation are valued in all aspects of the relationship.
  • Mutual Respect: Healthy boundaries require mutual respect, recognizing and honouring each other's autonomy, choices, and values. Personal space and privacy are valued, and no one is coerced or forced into unwanted actions.
  • Emotional Well-being: Healthy boundaries prioritize emotional well-being. Individuals have the freedom to prioritize their own needs and engage in self-care without guilt or manipulation. Emotional support and validation are offered without judgment or conditions.

For example, these are boundaries:

“I need some alone time every day.”

“I would rather not be a part of this conversation.”

“I prefer to not hug people I do not know.”

“I feel like I need space so I will not come to this event with you tonight.”

Recognising the Misuse of Boundaries

Unfortunately, abusers can exploit boundaries as a means to exert control and manipulate their victims. It is crucial to be aware of the signs of boundary violations that can be indicative of domestic abuse and coercive control:

  • Manipulation and Control: Abusers may employ various tactics to manipulate and control their victims, such as isolating them from friends and family, controlling their finances, or using threats and intimidation to enforce compliance. These actions violate the fundamental principles of healthy boundaries. 
  • Emotional Abuse: Emotional abuse often accompanies boundary violations. This can involve belittling, demeaning, and criticizing the victim, causing severe emotional distress. Abusers may also engage in coercive tactics to instil fear and dependency.

For example, these are NOT boundaries:

“You cannot talk to other men at work.”

“You can’t wear that skirt, it is too short.” 

“You can’t go out drinking with your friends.”

Promoting Awareness, Education, and Support

To combat domestic abuse and coercive control, it is crucial to empower survivors and create a society that values healthy boundaries. Here are some steps we can take:

  • Education and Awareness: Public education campaigns should focus on raising awareness about healthy boundaries, warning signs of abuse, and the impact of gaslighting, manipulation, and emotional abuse. This knowledge equips individuals with the tools to identify and address unhealthy behaviours.
  • Support Services: Domestic abuse charities play a crucial role in providing support and resources for survivors. By offering helplines, counselling, and safe spaces, they create opportunities for survivors to reclaim their autonomy and heal from the trauma of boundary violations.
  • Legal Protections: Governments should strengthen legal protections for survivors of domestic abuse, ensuring robust legislation, and efficient enforcement. This includes recognizing the coercive control aspect of domestic abuse and providing appropriate legal remedies.
  • Community Engagement: Building strong communities that reject domestic abuse is essential. Community leaders, schools, workplaces, and religious institutions should actively promote respectful relationships, open dialogue, and safe reporting channels for those experiencing abuse.

Boundaries are the building blocks of healthy relationships, but they can also be used as tools of control and abuse. Recognizing the signs of boundary violations, gaslighting, manipulation, and emotional abuse is crucial to combat domestic abuse. 

By prioritizing education, support, and societal change, we can create a world where healthy boundaries are cherished, and survivors of domestic abuse can heal and thrive. Together, we can break the cycle of abuse and build a future free from coercive control.

If you are based in South Tyneside and think your partner may be abusing you then please get in touch. 

Call us in confidence on 07375 788 835(opening hours Mon-Fri 9am-5pm), or email us at [email protected].

Or, you can call the National Abuse Helpline, for free and in confidence, 24hrs a day on:
0808 2000 247 (women only) 0808 8010327 (men only)