Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Power Up, Boundaries Part II



POWER UP!     Boundaries Part II


The integrity and flexibility of your personal boundaries is a major determinant of your happiness and health. This article will further explain boundaries and their development.  If you've been concerned about the way you're being treated by others, you may want to understand how to develop your personal power. Parents: take note of this information. Your child-rearing style will influence the welfare of your children as they grow into adulthood.


Your boundaries begin to be formed in infancy within the family setting. You learn your self-worth throughout childhood in the way you are treated by your parents and siblings. Later you communicate your boundaries as you present yourself to others. When you act in a passive, overdependent or anxious manner, you signal poor or conflicted boundaries which will let others take advantage of you. The other extreme, rigid and over-defended boundaries, may push others away.


Children growing up in emotionally dysfunctional families develop boundary problems due to either enmeshed or overly distant parenting styles. Notice that I specified "emotionally" dysfunctional families. A family which may appear outwardly conforming or prosperous behind a white picket fence may be rearing emotionally challenged children. The overly enmeshed family is not well understood but can have serious repercussions for the emotional health of their children.


Children, being dependent, become victims of their parents’ problems and inadequacies. Most of the parents I am describing can be characterized as narcissistic, putting their needs ahead of those of their children.  These parents are overtly or covertly demanding or controlling of their children. We all recognize that parents’ true mission is to take care of their children. In the case of narcissistic parents, however, the reverse is often true, and these children learn to feel guilty unless they are attuned to meeting the needs of their parents. These children grow up with a hypersensitivity to rejection due to the fact that parent love is conditional, not freely given.


Enmeshment is sometimes difficult to recognize because of the superficial resemblance to intimacy. In true intimacy the individuality of each person is respected and protected and each freely chooses love and closeness. Enmeshment may feel close and secure at times, but just the opposite is true. In an enmeshed parent-child relationship the child is not allowed to develop a separate identity from the parent. The enmeshed parent may or may not be aware of his or her emotional emptiness because it is then filled with an overly close relationship with the child. In many cases the parent needs a child to take on the parent’s identity. That is, the child is flooded and filled with emotions, thoughts and values of the parent. Enmeshment can also occur when the parent lives vicariously through the child, becoming too involved with the child's thoughts, activities and interests. In either case, the parent’s needs are satisfied at the expense of the child's separate identity. This can occur even when the parent views him or herself as a superior parent, very closely involved with the child's life, picking the right playmates, schools, lessons, even spending copious amounts of money on the child. The key distinction is that the parent makes the choices for the child based solely or primarily upon the parent’s perceptions and interests. The overly enmeshed parent will assume he or she knows the child's needs and is acting in the best interests of the child with little or no appreciation for the child's individual needs and preferences.  An enmeshed parent-child relationship often persists throughout the entire lifetime of the child. The adult child continues to be flooded with feelings and/or guilt related to this relationship. The adult child's personal boundaries are often poorly developed with inadequate self protection against other narcissistic or demanding individuals.


You are probably more familiar with the concept of the emotionally distant parent. In this case children are emotionally neglected, receiving insufficient nurturance, guidance or feedback to develop a sense of their own identity. These parents may be emotionally distant, cold and withdrawn. However, this parent may also be very intrusive, demanding that the child think or behave a certain way, wanting to know the child's secrets, yet still be emotionally unavailable to the child.


The take-home message from these articles is that you, as an adult, do have a choice as to how you set your boundaries and what kind of behavior you will accept from others including your parents and loved ones.  You don't want to give your power away. You must be able to assert your right to your individuality and self respect. The message is:  power up!


Now we've come to the humor section of my article. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of humor in a discussion about boundaries. So here's some advice about humor:


                        Laugh alone and the world thinks you're an idiot!

                              He who laughs last, thinks slowest!