Boundaries: what is a door?

One morning when I was sixteen years old I was sleeping naked in my bed when suddenly my eighteen year old brother opened my locked door and stepped in, announcing that he was borrowing my vcr, followed a minute later by our father since he didn’t know how to unhook it himself. Father muttered some comment, ‘you’re ok with this?’ in a half-hearted gesture for my consent as he undid the wires and I laid there, stunned and frozen. Neither my bodily privacy, that of my room, or my possessions was respected in our house. I was allowed to define no boundaries, everything I had was seen as up for grabs, in too many ways.

My brother’s behavior towards me that day was no aberration. Since we were very young, he respected and discerned no boundaries of mine, ever; it didn’t matter how many times I told him to knock, he would simply open my door and walk in whenever he wanted to say something. Our parents let him. The locks on our doors were easily picked open via pennies, and so he often simply brought a penny with him and got through the lock on my door without a second thought. When I was older and tried to barricade the door, he broke it down so many times that it’s tattered frame was unceremoniously thrown into the basement, and then I had no door at all to keep anyone out, and had to change my clothes in a corner when no one was looking. I was eleven years old.

When I was five, I remember that he would come into the bathroom when I was using it, one time even coming in four times during fewer minutes because he “had to use the laundry basket” at that particular moment. He treated my pants and underwear with no greater regard. Recent flashbacks have shown me the most significant, familiar body memory I have is of him gripping the waistbands at once, and pulling them down, yanking them off and helping himself to whatever it is he wanted–humiliation, a laugh, to spank, molest or rape me (or all of the above.) He must have taken them off me dozens if not hundreds of times without a care for how I felt or my protests.

Our parents did the same thing; I remember when I was six my father bursting into the bathroom while I was using it to shake and threaten me for some supposed misdeed; it happened again when I was 14. In earlier years I recall hearing my father chase my brother down the hallway to his room and bang on the door shouting for him to open it, threatening him, banging harder and harder… I remember nights when I was asleep and suddenly my mother showed up in my bedroom, screaming and waving a hairbrush for unknown reasons, but with the obvious intention to beat me with it. Despite having sexually abused me herself, I remember being screamed at and punished by her as a young child for ‘touching myself,’ as if that was a privilege reserved for her and my brother.

In our sick, incestuous family my parents never modeled any respect for privacy, dignity, or healthy boundaries. My mother was a disgusting person who sexually abused her sons, beat, ignored, and used them for her own emotional needs. And I was always at the bottom of the totem pole–the one seen as deserving the least for being the youngest. The least rights, the least voice, the least concern and care. They all saw making fun of me as a family sport of theirs–with my brother, mother, and father having inside jokes they shared about me often using similar insults and mocking comments to me. When I tired to assert my boundaries back then, they would always reply to me “you can’t tell me what to do,” and as typical bullies, they would take this as a challenge to continue insulting and ridiculing me even more. But I did and do have a right to tell anyone not to say cruel things to me, not to touch me, to stay out of my personal space. Regardless of age or size, I had that right, and they had an obligation to respect it, to keep their hands off me and stop the verbal abuse.

When I was 17, my sister started to harass me for “putting up a wall.” Because I was trying, through our online conversations to establish my boundaries against her constant hypercriticism. I was sick of her insensitive intrusions into every aspect of my life, of the way she sided with our mother and believed every piece of gossip she told her about me. And I wanted to hold on to my privacy; in our vampiric household, it was all I could do to keep my emotional life private; I didn’t invite friends over, talk with them about my life outside the home, or much of anything else actually. What she spoke of as a “wall” was my rightful response to her incredibly rude intrusions; she was constantly about one hundred feet in front of the boundaries I wanted to establish, but she refused to move, so I did.  Other intrusive people I’ve had contact with since then have also referred to my boundaries as “walls.” But I’ve never heard that from the kind, sensitive people who I’ve really wanted to spend my life with.  

One particularly emotionally abusive girl became really upset with me because I didn’t want to tell her what my birth name was (I changed my name in 2005, though not legally yet) when I tried to explain that I didn’t like the name and it had been used in such ugly, hurtful ways as a child she shouted “can’t you be try to be positive??” As I explained to her, my life, my emotions, and my reality are not subject to someone’s definition of what is supposedly “positive” or “negative,” I don’t believe in those labels, and I am allowed to give or withhold information as I please, set my boundaries wherever I’d like them and not let just anyone in. I may not be able to tell others what to do, but today I am the doorman to my life, and the door I have is not one that can be broken, picked, or pushed open against my consent.


About proudlysensitive

Gay male survivor of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
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