Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Where Was The Boundary?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” - Leo Tolstoy

As I continue to do my grieving regarding my family of origin that often did not give me the proper attention and care I needed I find myself more and more able to retrospectively define what the seminal issues were.  And one of them was the issue of boundaries.

Unhealthy families are distinct from healthy ones according to a number of indicators.  And one of those is boundaries.  In an unhealthy family boundaries are either too rigid and dense or weak and diffuse.  A family with rigid boundaries may express a form of authoritarianism in which the children of this family are given limited access to the world beyond the home.  Friends might not be able to come visit the children of the household with any ease.  Privileges may be restricted.  Access to opportunities for fun and play may be limited.

Meanwhile, families with poor or loose boundaries may exhibit quite opposite issues.  Parents may fail to monitor children's activities and progress in school.  They may fail to provide proper guidance, not be proactive regarding their children's health and even disclose their own struggles with their children in cases where their primary relationships do not offer the support they need.  Parents in such families may also have trouble pursuing healthy relationships of their own.  These issues may adversely affect their own children.  My father's family fits easily into this category.

When I have attempted to confront some of my father's siblings regarding the abuse and chaos I experienced I have rather consistently experienced avoidance or silence.  Self-righteous indignation has been another response.  The responses I have received have led me to make my own conclusions regarding where the boundaries actually are and were within my family of origin.  It seems to me that the abuse I experienced would have continued (in the event my father had not actually been nearly murdered...which led to the end of his relationship with my stepmother and the end of the abuse) up to the point of my own tragic and preventable death.  The issues in my father's second marriage were that bad.  Tolerance of such severe abuse to the point of physical harm, permanent injury and even death is a great example of a very poor boundary.  Is it any wonder I fantasized about running away?

It's my impression that children who grow up in families with poor boundaries will become adults who often face the challenge of learning what healthy boundaries actually are.  When parents do poorly in parenting their children those children will ultimately have to find good role models in other people.  This has been my experience.  I am still learning how to create healthy boundaries for myself.  It has  certainly been a process.

Given what I experienced and what I know of my father's childhood I can only surmise that there is a lot more to the story of my paternal family of origin than I have ever had access to.  And I suspect this will always be so.  I feel immense sadness when I contemplate the boundary issues and seeming 'unspoken agreement to be silent' of my father and his siblings.  Such silence can ultimately prove deeply alienating.  It certainly was for me.


And now it is time for a hopeful counterpoint to what I have already written.  I may be effectively and permanently estranged from my father's family but that doesn't mean I cannot go out into the world and create my own family and abiding friendships.  This is what I want to be about.  But as I do this I need to continue to attend to my grief.  Each day is often just a bit better than the last.  I have my difficult and demoralizing days but I am happy to say the trajectory continues to be upward.

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