Leading Authority in Treatment of Narcissism and Emotional Abuse

Finding Refuge

When I was finishing up my grad degree, one of my professors had us do an exercise meant to help us find “grounding” when life gets chaotic and anxiety threatens to overwhelm. She had asked us to bring a sketch pad and colored pencils, markers, or charcoals to class. For this project, she wanted us to close our eyes and imagine our safe place – that place we go to in our head when we are desperate for a refuge. She talked about how different colors evoked different feelings, and that visualizing this safe place can help us stay calm and discern what to do next.

I thought it would be easy. I am an artist after all. So, I closed my eyes…. And all I could see was the white sheet of paper. I peeked an eye open and looked around to see everyone else working on their masterpieces. I was thinking to myself, “I’ve got nothing!” No inspiration whatsoever.

But, then I realized something, when I think of my safe place, it’s a harmony that comes to mind, not a picture. I couldn’t hum it for you (I’m a horrible singer!) or tell you what it really sounded like, but it’s always there. Just… this harmony. Sometimes it seems like it will connect with a song around me, or speak into a beautiful moment that catches me by surprise. But, it is definitely a “space” I resort to when I am desperately in need of hearing from God.

That actually made sense to me! Now that I think about it, when I was a youth, I remember finding such solace in song in my darkest moments. I would sing, when no one was listening, as I worked in the fields of our farm, usually hymns I had learned in our country church. Whenever I was struggling the most with loneliness, confusion, and loss throughout my marriage and divorce, I turned to song, trying to tap into the bits and pieces of harmony that continuously runs in the background of my soul.

I wonder if what I catch glimpses of in that melody are just snippets of the song of heaven, and that when I get there, I’ll get to hear the whole piece in full score.

This Week’s Question:

My biggest problem is setting more or bigger boundaries. I have never had to set big boundaries.

It has been suggested by a counselor that my husband apparently has a really high tolerance for chaos, and that the things I have done in a normal relationship would’ve been enough. I have no clue what kind of boundaries to put into place next! I have left for a night. I’ve left for three days. I’ve refused to go to family reunions for the past 3 years. I’ve refused to go out to eat. I have refused to go dancing. I’ve refused to go to church functions. I’ve explained to him that my refusal was to be away from the unloving, uncaring, dishonoring, minimizing, etc. ways he treated me. He doesn’t seem to get it! Or even care to get it!  It seems like the only thing left at this point is to file for a legal separation.

Are there any healthy boundaries that you can think of that I’m missing? I’m not used to feeling like I have to be this “”mean”” to an adult. At least not to one living in my own home. It’s there a part in the process that I’m not doing?  Sorry for sounding so needy. Confrontation it’s not my strong suit.

Sharmen’s Answer:

Hi. You don’t sound needy. Confrontation is hard!

So, something to consider: Boundaries are about keeping yourself in safe healthy space. And they are about inviting the other person into a better relationship with safe healthy space. If you find that your boundaries are keeping you safe and healthy but that the other person isn’t doing any work to engage in that context, it tells you they have no interest in being safe and healthy with you, which is their problem to fix, not yours.

I’m thinking that’s what it looks like with your husband. A high tolerance for chaos doesn’t mean he CAN’T find healthier ways of doing life with you. He’s making a choice not to. I don’t know how clear you’ve been with him about what you need and how he can meet those needs, but he, as the “headship of the home,” should be doing the work to seek/pursue the relationship as a priority – not making you work that hard for a good relationship! There comes a point where legal separation IS the right step – to stop the bleeding, to be intentional about where YOU are headed, and to be a wake-up call that he can’t just keep up his same ol’ stuff and trust you’ll still be there to take it.

Here are some ideas for some next steps:

  1. Journal about these things: Who are you? What do you need? Where are you going?
    What is your husband speaking over your life? Life or death? Encouragement or contempt?
    What is your experience of life with him – what have you lost and how have you been changed? What do you need to get back to living from your core sense of self? What is your vision for marriage/relationship? How can you reclaim what is yours – self, space, identity, even your stuff…. Spending some time writing these out will help you become more intentional about what you allow yourself to be a part of.
  2. Confront him from the perspective of your experience (rather than his behavior – make sense?). Tell him what you’ve lost and how you’ve been changed. Be clear about what you are intentionally doing to change the trajectory in order to regain your sense of self/purpose/joy. (It’s a good idea to have written some of this out in preparation.) Invite him to join the journey, but tell him you aren’t going to let his chaos ruin you, and that if he continues, the natural consequence is that you won’t have a relationship with him… and that means legal separation/divorce. He might think you’re being “mean,” but that is his problem! He has brought that upon himself by his own behavior.
  3. He’s telling you who he is by what he does. You can’t make him change that! Which means you’ll probably have to grieve everything you thought this marriage would be and quit hanging onto the façade. You do have a choice to resolve to stay well, be well in the middle of a relationship that is nothing like you hoped. But, it will mean putting to death all expectations of having a healthy relationship. Basically, you become alone in marriage, making your way through life as an individual (you and God against the world) finding your joy in walking out who you are, where you are, even with all the heartache and sorrow, but without the mess of a divorce. You have to guard you heart pretty fiercely, but God’s grace would enable you to live well honoring him in that space should you choose it.

It wouldn’t be too much different to get out of the marriage – the mindset it much the same! Guarding your heart, trusting God to enable you to be who he’s called you to be, carrying sorrow and loss, being alone…. Only without the constant presence of someone pushing you to be more intentional.

I know none of this directly answers your question about what specific boundaries/consequences you haven’t tried yet…. Maybe this thought would help: Put a much greater focus on what you need to change. How can you regain you? Reclaim your space? (Meaning your home, too!) Find your purpose and joy? You can’t control HIM, or make him own what he won’t see, or get him to understand what he doesn’t care about. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t make purposeful changes on your own.


Sign up our newsletter to get updated information, promo or insight for free.

Latest Post


Need Help?
Get The Support You Need From One Of Our Therapists