In dysfunctional families, parents violate the boundaries of their children.
Parents from these families;
- do not respect their children’s personal freedom and privacy,
- they discount their children’s feelings,
- do not honor their attempts at independent thinking and decision-making, and
- do not allow them to experience their impulses toward creativity, spirituality and self actualization.
These deficits in the children’s development are revisited by problems in their adult relationships and careers, and with raising their own families.
When parents disrespect a child’s boundaries, the child’s sense of self are compromised. This affects their;
- sense of autonomy,
- feelings of effectiveness and
- making a difference.
In place of a healthy sense of self, children may come to feel they are "damaged goods". They may feel;
- inherently bad,
- stupid, or
This negative conditioning limits what they believe they are capable of doing, being, and having throughout their lives. One of the central priorities of the recovery process must be to reconstruct this damaged self-esteem.
Boundaries are broached in different ways.
Physical or Sexual Abuse
In the physical or sexual abusing family, the child’s physical boundaries are violated.
Surrogacy or Caregiver
In families where there is insanity or serious illness of a parent, the child’s emotional boundaries are infringed upon, and the child may be forced into the role of surrogate spouse for the other parent, or required to act as the ill parent’s caretaker.
Emotional Instability and Poor Nurturing
In the substance abusing family, the volatile and immature behavior of an intoxicated parent creates confusion about appropriate boundaries in interpersonal roles. As there are no models of rational or predictable behavior, there is breakdown of honest communication, a lack of emotional stability and nurturing by the parents, and a lack of safety that would permit trust, self disclosure and intimacy to develop.
Spiritual and Moral Rigidity
In the fundamentalist, dogmatic or authoritarian family, parents trespass on children’s right to think for themselves (mental boundaries). They also violate children’s rights to make their own decisions (volitional boundaries), to interpret and act upon their own conscience (moral boundaries), and to experience and express their innate spirituality, creativity, and quest for meaning and value (spiritual boundaries).
A priority for recovering adult children from these dysfunctional families must be to rebuild appropriate boundaries. The experiences of recovering adult children has shown that;
- They can relearn what is appropriate sexuality, and what are legitimate ways to express displeasure or anger without injuring others or themselves.
- They can re-empower themselves to say no to relationships they do not want and that are not good for them, no to demands that they are not able to handle.
- They can rehabilitate their ability to trust, to feel and share their feelings, to self disclose and establish intimate relations.
- They can re-establish their ability to think for themselves, and to make their own decisions, confusing and scary as that might be.
- They can re-own a coherent and meaningful set of moral values by which to govern their lives, and to take responsibility for their behavior.
- And finally, they can renew their connection and relationship with a Higher Power, that provides for them a sense of guidance, a roadmap, a set of principles from which they may confidently and courageously live their lives.
All of this rebuilding is addressed in 12 Step Fellowships such as
- Al-anon / Alateen for family and friends of alcoholics,
- Codependents Anonymous,
- Adult Children of Alcoholic (ACOA),
- Gam-Anon for Family & Friends of Gamblers,
- S-Anon for partners and friends of sex addicts and
- Naranon or Narateen for family and friends of addicts.