ACoAs & RIGID Boundaries (Part 1)

heart in jail 

it’s the only way I can feel safe!



BOOK:  Boundaries and Relationships, Charles Whitfield

Healthy BOUNDARIES are about having personal power.  When used appropriately they are our “line in the sand.” We create Bs to define who we are and to protect ourselves from unwanted influences. We get upset when someone “crosses our boundary” without an invitation.  We constantly mark Bs as individuals, as groups & as organizations, around jobs, responsibilities, resources, work space, time & other things we feel are important to us

• In any family – parents are supposed to not only provide emotional nurturing & care, but also be the guiding force in teaching children how to function successfully in society.  This includes teaching age-appropriate boundaries – not too loose, not too tight. Parents are supposed to be in charge – be the responsible adults – but also allow their children enough leeway & options so they can grow & find out who they are as separate individuals, not just extensions of their caretakers.

Unhealthy – However, in families where boundaries betwrigid Bseen parents and children are too rigid, all of the power and control lies with the parents. There’s no room for kids to breathe, for individuality, for making mistakes, for taking ones time to learn or to be playful & relaxed.  One-sided power strangles family communication by limiting or eliminating any real sharing between the generations (“no back talk” / “children should be seen and not heard”…).

• In some families the parents are monolithic – they stand together as a unit – against the children, rather than for them
• In others one parent – often the father, but not always – is the tyrant who dictates all rules, to be followed without question
— If the other parent – usually the mother, but not always – simply capitulates or escapes, he/she leaves the children at the mercy of the bully, or perhaps a mentally ill spouse
— sometimes the weaker parent will join forces with the children, EITHER to help then surreptitiously, OR to manipulate / coerce/ guilt the children into obeying, in order to protect him /herself

• Eventually the children move into adolescence – either withdrawn or extremely flattenedrebellious.
EXP: Ben was a happy talkative small child, friendly to everyone, even strangers. But his narcissistic parents were performers & constantly forced him to participate in their work – which he had no interest in. Over the following 10 yrs. he went thru many other painful experiences as well, including several uprooting family moves, physical & emotional abuse at home & bullying at school. Gradually he began to withdraw & by the time he was 13 or 14 he had stopped talking or socializing with other children. His parents couldn’t understand “what was wrong with him”!

ACoAs develop overly-rigid Bs either from families:
• who were too restrictive, dictatorial, cruel. Even tho it made us very angry, we end up copy their pattern, afraid to break out of the suffocating shell that was created for us, OR
• who were neglectful, overly-dramatic & boundary invasive. This is very frightening for children – so we over-compensated by tightening up our own Bs to have a tiny measure of our internal control and quiet our great anxiety

EITHER way – such ACoAs use this per-version of Bs as protective armor, via Toxic Rules & Toxic Roles (“This is how we’ve always done it” / “This is the right way to do things”….). We’re so afraid of being personally violated that we can become inflexible and hyper-vigilant, even paranoid. This is especially the case if we’ve been physically, psychologically, emotionally &/or sexually assaulted.  All our relationships suffer because we are incapable of true emotional intimacy.  See: ‘’Come here-Go way chart (being the one who constantly runs away is just as self-sabotaging as chasing the unavailables!), We feel that if we were to let our guard down, we’d fall under the total control of the Other. Such defensiveness leaves us profoundly empty & lonely.

• We see this pattern in animals that have been abused & neglected by humans – it’s natural for them to not trust people because of their traumatic experiences.  The same can be said for children, even very early on. We set up walls of defense against those who have hurt us, and since our minds innately work in schematics…. we associate experiences & people in generalities.  
Abused children lose the ability to make the connection: people=pleasure.
EXP: A woman violated or abandoned by adult males as a child will definitely not trust any man. A ‘broken’ man might fear trusting his judgment & his heart to let in another opportunity for love, success, joy…..wrong guy

ACoA irony: At times our isolation becomes unbearable & then in desperation we reach out to whomever is immediately around, whether inappropriate or not. If that person – or group – shows any interest in or kindness toward us – we fall profoundly under their influence before we even realize! For an instant we drop our guard & lose ourselves if a fantasy of finally being loved & taken care of. They become our sole obsession – for a time. We think we can’t live without them & nothing else is important but being with them.

Eventually, however, we feel strangled & overrun (whether they’re healthy or not) because RIGID Bs are not Bs at all! They just mask our desperate need for connection, which for the WIC mean symbiosis. So we experience the other person as a virus invading our inner sanctuary & must be expelled. We absolutely have to devalue and discredit them by finding fault, starting fights or withholding & loosing interest

NEXT: RIGID  Boundaries (Part 2) – Characteristics

6 thoughts on “ACoAs & RIGID Boundaries (Part 1)

    • Kirsten, To have good boundaries you have to actively live your life based on your RIGHTS. Read the posts on Healthy Boundaries & My Rights.

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