Boundaries End Roles

I’ve had an epiphany. I hope I am not just regurgitating something I read years ago. It feels like I am the first person connecting these particular dots, but I could be wrong.

I was ranting with a friend about my family. Her particular take is that I can pick and choose to what degree I wish to participate with my family. Her position is full of maturity and common sense. And I simply didn’t buy any of it. Her position was like that espoused in Alanon, maintaining boundaries in a deliberate, intentional manner.

Here’s the issue: dysfunctional systems do not allow for that level of maturity and self-hood. Period. Dysfunctional systems are all about their own survival, at the expense of even the physical survival of their own members. “The show must go on.” Everyone has their role(s) to play. Those parts are written before the people are even born. The roles are rigid and non-negotiable. You either play them or some outsider plays them, but the behaviors are pre-determined. You are either in or out. You either accept the role wholesale (no alterations allowed) or reject it altogether. There can be no picking and choosing.

Dysfunctional systems do not allow for boundaries. To say no to a demand of the system is to encounter instant ostracism. A boundary is a limit. “I will go this far to accommodate your demand and no further.” The dysfunctional system cannot survive common sense and personal autonomy. When the system makes a demand, you either comply immediately or are out of the system completely. People raised in these systems naturally develop all-or-nothing thinking because it has been their experience from day one. Negotiating and compromise are foreign concepts. Picking and choosing have been verboten their entire lives. If you try to barter with a dysfunctional system, you are seen as a total moron. You clearly do not understand the concept of “loyalty.” The dysfunctional system demands absolute loyalty to its unhealthy expectations at all times unconditionally. Having boundaries will never be acceptable.

Here is the weird thing about dysfunctional systems, roles, and having no boundaries. These roles are slippery. Take, for example, the triad of persecutor, victim, and rescuer. Without a sense of self (having boundaries), you can easily shift from one role to another subconsciously. That’s right; it is as if you have no personality to speak of and you go from one role to another, literally without a thought. The roles are rigid, but you can play multiple parts in the blink of an eye, even within the same conversation! You can see how having limits is anathema to a dysfunctional system. “Who do you think you are?!” the system demands to know. “A healthy, functioning adult,” is the end of the conversation and your place in the system.

This is why developing a personality or will of one’s own is so unacceptable to the dysfunctional system. The system allows for no compromise. If you don’t want to play your role, you are out. I remember, in my early twenties, when it dawned on me that my brothers and I seemed to take turns having drama. It was as if only one of us could have problems at a time. I decided then that I was out of the rotation. They can have all the drama.

I have always been scapegoated, but I have never been a good little victim. They have placed me in that role, but I have never acquiesced. Scapegoats oftentimes are law-breakers and substance-abusers, a subconscious way of diverting attention from the party causing the real problems. I, on the other hand, am the straight arrow of the family. I have never been a willing participant. I will never take on their issues voluntarily.

My friend is both totally right and a little wrong simultaneously. She doesn’t understand a family system as dysfunctional as mine (perhaps a good thing because I wouldn’t wish this on anyone else). But she nails it on the aspect of personal choice. If someone should contact me (because it will never be me attempting to contact them), I can have the conversation I want to have. Any attempt to pull me into the system can be my cue to exit. I can pick and choose what I am willing to do and not do.

The irony is that these dysfunctional systems live at the expense of their own members. When the members get healthy, the system has no ability to accommodate that. The members must be ejected. If enough members are ejected, the system may even die off, which spells the beginning of mental health for all.

The frightening part is when the system shifts downward a generation. The scapegoat thinks, “Thank God! My abuser is dead. Freedom is mine.” Then, the next generation simply picks the next abuser, without a thought obviously. Freedom can never be found within the system. The system can never be transformed; it can only die off due to a lack of compliance. I already know, for example, whom the next scapegoat will likely be: the youngest daughter of my oldest brother. Why? She is in the least denial. She knows her little brother has an alcohol problem and she has called him out on it. The system cannot survive containing a member with this high level of awareness. There is no forgiveness for awareness.

My ideas are a mish-mash of Harriet Lerner, Melody Beattie, and Rebecca Mandeville. If you want to understand where I am coming from, read The Dance of Anger, Codependent No More, and Rejected, Shamed, & Blamed. I think Lerner is the one that created the perpetrator, victim, rescuer triangle. I could be wrong.

Connecting the dots is painful, fascinating, enlightening, harrowing, depressing, amazing, and so much more.

About cdhoagpurple

I live in Michigan. I was Greek Orthodox (and previously Protestant), but now am more Buddhist than anything. I am single now (through the till-death-do-you-part clause of the marriage contract). My husband Barry was a good man and celebrated 30 years in AA. I am overly educated, with an MBA. My life felt terminally in-limbo while caring for a sick husband, but I am free now. I see all things as being in transition. Impermanence is the ultimate fact of life. Nothing remains the same, good or bad.

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