Many ACONs* work hard to meet the needs of other people–probably due to the empathy factor. Because ACONs are high in empathy, they often try to rescue their boyfriends, husbands, parents, siblings and grown children. Grown children is a good term for many of the people we try to rescue. It’s not wrong to care or show compassion, but it’s wrong when we do it over and over again to the very people who are abusive to us.
Have you ever had someone rage and yell at you in anger–only to look for a way to calm them down? Has it ever occurred to you that it was never your responsibility to calm them down or pay their bills or make them happy? No matter who this rageaholic is in relationship to you, other people’s emotions and behavior are NOT within your jurisdiction.
Fixing others might be a long term habit and you might even do it without thinking, so it’s important to ask yourself the question, did you grow up feeling responsible for your parent’s feelings? If so, you are not alone. Many ACONs did.
What we didn’t realize while we were growing up is that our narcissistic parents were stealing our boundaries before we were old enough to claim them. Boundaries help us differentiate where we end and our parents begin. And no one–not even a parent owns another person. I was in my forties before I understand boundaries. If you were not taught boundaries, it’s worth reading up on them, so let me say it again:
Boundaries separate what we own from what we don’t.
Boundaries help us differentiate between what we are responsible for and what we are NOT responsible for. If you grew up in a family with messy boundaries, it might be hard as an adult to find your boundaries.
Sometimes people misuse the term boundaries to issue more control. I heard of a reader whose parents always talked about boundaries and used the term to say they were not going to help him with anything. They were negligent and self-centered parents and his understanding of boundaries was confused because he thought of boundaries as walls that shut other people out. What his parents modeled was not healthy boundaries–but a wall of self-protection.
For years, I avoided reading about boundaries because I too, mistakenly thought of them as a wall. After I read Henry Cloud’s book, I realized boundaries are more like a gate. A gate is a device that either blocks or opens allowing us to decide who and what we let into our lives.
There were times as a young adult that I felt responsible for my family members. I made the mistake of paying their bills before I paid my own. My boundaries were totally confused because I felt responsible for what belonged to others. I wasn’t using the gate to determine where my responsibilities begin and end.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with helping someone, but we first need to take responsibility for our own bills–otherwise we might fail to pay our bills and end up with our money problems affecting someone else’s boundaries. We might even find ourselves out on the street because we were too nice to pay our own bills and paid someone else’s bills. Sometimes being nice is not a virtue–not if you fail to pay your own bills and help someone else. Finding our boundaries helps us utilize our time and resources. The protocol for using an oxygen mask on an airplane demonstrates basic boundaries–if we don’t breathe, we can’t help anyone else.
There is a fallacy called ad misericodiam where a person cries for someone to give him money–not because he is willing to work, but because he needs the money. Most people who need someone else to pay for them or expect others to make them happy are not talking responsibility for their own boundaries.
There is a proverb that says:
A short-tempered man must bear his own penalty;
you can’t do much to help him.
If you try once, you must try a dozen times!
In a narcissistic family, the boundaries were scrambled. You were probably taught to feel responsible for your parent’s feelings–while they ignored yours. And you were probably blamed for making them sad, while they didn’t want you to express your own sadness. Sometimes all you had to do to make them sad was tell the truth. Do you realize how unfair this is? If telling the truth made your parents sad, this was not your fault–it was their fault for not living better lives.
Many ACONs were told, “If you would just stop complaining, everything could be fine.” IOW–It doesn’t matter if you were taken out of school and moved for the fifteenth time. If you are crying about it, then you are ruining the family spirit. This concept is a not only a gaslighting technique, but it’s a fallacy. First of all, you were never responsible for the feelings and reactions of your family members and second, you have a right to your feelings and you don’t need to justify why it hurt you to be hit with a belt or say goodbye to your friends every time you moved.
Because the blurred boundaries in an enmeshed family create all kinds of false shame and emotions that were not even yours to begin with, it’s important to understand boundaries to differentiate where your parent ends and you begin. Your parents are not living in your body, so only you can decide how to take care of yourself. They are not earning your money, so only you can spend it. They were not given your vote, that is yours to cast as you believe.
When people blow up or shun you because they are disappointed with your choices, they are asking you to give them something that was never theirs in the first place. Your individuality, your dreams, your beliefs and your vote are your God-given birthright and no one has the right to take them from you. You cannot give these things away and remain whole. You are the only one responsible to God for your choices.
If you just discovered boundaries and have been giving your parents your power, it’s never too late to take it back. A simple rule of thumb is to let others decide for themselves and insist on making your own choices.
In the video below, Dr. Henry Cloud gives a short intro to Boundaries and what they are, if you have never read his books you will be blessed.
*ACON Adult Children of Narcissists