Finding Boundaries

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.

Little Red and Wolf No Contact, Little Red Survivor Art
No Contact accessories available in Etsy Shop. Click on picture.

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!
-Proverbs 19:19

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

4 thoughts on “Finding Boundaries”

  1. “If you would just stop complaining, everything could be fine.”

    That’s it. That’s it in a nutshell. That’s the most nail-on-the-head line I’ve come across. My narcissistic mother has had cart blanche to say and do whatever she wants, but if I ever dare to assert myself (even in the most mild, constructive manner), then I’m the problem.

    Even if someone she’s never even met hurts my feelings, I’m the one who needs to calm down and stop being upset. She prioritizes strangers’ feelings and happiness over her own daughter’s.

    Because if other people like me, then they’ll like her. Please the people to please the mother. Or suffer some consequences.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, this to me, is the trademark of the narc parent, no concern for how they hurt their children–just a desire to shut them up so they don’t have to face their own issues. It’s not fair and it’s wrong. I think empathetic children give a lot of leeway to their parents, but we don’t have to hide who we are and what has happened to us to please them. Peace to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow… :/

    I thought I was the only one who moved a lot. I went to like 15 different schools in my lifetime and I haven’t even gone to college yet. Being an HSP, it really traumatized me and broke me as a kid to have to constantly say goodbye to my friends and family. I made it to teenagehood being an empty shell with a lot of anger and hate towards nmom. I remeber thinking up until last year, that maybe it was just me. Maybe there was something wrong with me for breaking. Maybe it’s not normal to be so sad still 15+ years later for being forced to let go of friends and family. Somehow I felt like maybe I should just “be over it” by now. I cried all the time, inside and out. It made me so very depressed. I never could understand why. Then last year in November I found out my nmom is a narc. I’m still struggling with all this. Putting the pieces back together is really difficult. But I’m grateful for all sorts of wonderful articles like this. Really makes me feel not so alone. Even though alone is all I’ve ever known.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Tyler,
    You might feel alone but there are thousands of people dealing with narcissistic parents. It seems there are narcissistic people in almost every family. We often called them selfish or self-centered, but it was their lack of empathy that makes them narcs. I’m sorry you had to deal with this abuse.

    It takes many people years to realize what was going on back when they were kids, so no, I don’t think you should just get over it. You can get over it, but there should be no rushing, only you can decide when the times comes to let go. I read once that we cannot forgive until we know what we are actually forgiving. That might be the first step in moving on–to fully understand the abuse that occurred and to find a way to heal from it.

    I highly recommend the book below by Shannon Thomas, who is a counselor and survivor herself.

    Peace and freedom to you!




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