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If You're a Trauma Survivor, 'You Oughta Know' Alanis Morissette's 4 Boundaries

In a new profile for SELF, published Wednesday, iconic singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette didn’t shy away from talking about her past experiences with trauma and mental health. As a result, she shared the “four boundary” rule she’s passing on to her kids, which is good advice for anyone with a history of trauma.

SELF profile author Nicole Cliffe took Morissette back to her 2002 album, “Under Rug Swept.” One of the major themes of “Hands Clean,” the lead single off the album, was Morissette’s “relationship” with an older man when she was a minor. Morissette said it took her a long time to understand that relationship, which she now characterizes as predatory, as her view changed after becoming a parent.

“I remember forever I just kept saying, ‘But I was participating, I was…,’ to my therapists,” Morissette said of the relationship. “And now that I’m a mom: Are you fucking kidding me?”

Morissette said “Hands Clean” is “the story of rape, basically.” In 2002 when the song was released, however, the #MeToo movement was still years in the future. Morissette said even for those who caught the song’s meaning, they ignored the implications or victim-blamed Morissette. It’s one reason why some women wait to come forward after they’re assaulted if they do at all.

“The people who were addressing it at the time, they weren’t being very supportive,” Morissette said of the public’s reception to “Hands Clean” in 2002. She continued:

Still now, women are sort of being supported. It — and I — were just straight-up ignored at best. Vilified and shamed and victimized and victim-attacked at worst. There were moments where around the #MeToo era where people would say, ‘Why are people waiting so long to speak up?’ And I was like really? But then also I lovingly reminded a couple of them oh, but you do remember me saying something 15 years ago, right? Word for word about this and do you remember what happened during that time?

These past traumatic experiences now influence how Morissette raises her children. Now a mom of two and pregnant with her third child, Morissette teaches her kids how to hold solid boundaries — four boundaries to be exact.

“I talk about this with my kids a lot, the four boundaries being: You can’t tell me what I’m thinking, you can’t tell me what I’m feeling, you can’t fucking touch my body/you can’t do anything with my body, and don’t touch my stuff,” Morissette said.

If you’ve ever experienced trauma, maintaining healthy boundaries can be a struggle, especially if you didn’t learn safe boundaries as a child. Morissette wants to help her kids learn their thoughts, feelings, body and property are their own — to cross those boundaries requires consent. She said she tries to provide the support and guidance she needed growing up.

Because Morissette is currently pregnant, her previous experiences with having children and mental health dominated a large portion of the SELF profile. She said childbirth itself can be triggering, especially for those who have a history of trauma.

“It’s this whole chemistry of emotions,” Morissette said. “Hormones and chemicals that are just coursing through your body. It [can] be triggering or flashbacking or re-traumatizing.”

Morissette also experienced postpartum depression after each of her two previous pregnancies, and she said it took her a long time to reach out for help. Like many with mental health conditions, she tried to “muscle through” the first time because feeling depressed seemed “normal” to her.

“For me I would just wake up and feel like I was covered in tar and it wasn’t the first time I’d experienced depression so I just thought, ‘Oh, well, this feels familiar, I’m depressed, I think,’” she said. “And then simultaneously, my personal history of depression where it was so normalized for me to be in the quicksand, as I call it, or in the tar. It does feel like tar, like everything feels heavy.”

But after more than a year of living in the “tar,” Morissette finally realized she needed support, which she got. Following her second pregnancy, she said she waited four months before reaching out. This time around, Morissette said several loved ones are standing by to remind her it’s OK to admit she needs help from the get-go.

“I have said to my friends, ‘I want you to not necessarily go by the words I’m saying and as best as I can, I’ll try to be honest, but I can’t personally rely on the degree of honesty if I reference the last two experiences,” Morissette said. “Not singularly relying on myself to diagnose myself is key. Because the first time around I waited.”

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Header image via Alanis Morissette’s Facebook page