I’ve been dealing with what feels like to me major boundary issues for almost 2 years now. Boundaries just did not exist growing up. I struggle with setting and enforcing my boundaries which causes me a lot of stress. Since there really wasn’t any boundaries growing up, as an adult, I feel especially sensitive when my boundaries are crossed.
I was responsible for everyone’s happiness. I was told many times…if you do this or that maybe you can snap your mom out of her depression. My mom would tell me that she would commit suicide or run away if she wasn’t so worried about what would happen to me once she was gone…so, yeah, no pressure; right? Being an only child I got just about anything I wanted, but all those things came with strings attached. I was a marriage counselor to both my mom and stepdad. I was the closest thing my aunt had to a child of her own; I also served in some ways as a counselor to her as well. So taking me shopping was a way for my aunt to instill in me a sense of loyalty and obligation to her. Loyalty, because she was the main source I had for talking about what was going on at home…well, the things I felt safe enough to talk about. Also, when someone tends to spoil you and buy you lots of things you tend to give them your loyalty without even thinking about it; especially if you are a kid. The same things that created a sense of loyalty also created a sense of obligation. I don’t believe she purposefully was trying to create a sense of loyalty and obligation to her. I believe it was just part of our very unhealthy family dynamics where boundaries didn’t exist.
I was spoiled with gifts and money for the most part, but thrown under the bus whenever it suited the main adults in my life. When it came time for the adults to handle things that adults should handle, I was usually the one put forward to deal with it instead of them. My grandparents and my aunt were more concerned about how the news of the sexual abuse I went through would affect my mom than they were with how it affected me. Everything with them was always about protecting my mom; even if that meant throwing me under the bus. I was relying on my grandmother to let me know when my mom was stable enough emotionally for me to tell her about the abuse. My grandmother’s advice went from: wait till they announce they are getting divorced, to wait till after the divorce, to maybe we don’t need to tell her at all.
I experienced what’s known as emotional incest from my mom, stepdad, and aunt. Emotional Incest / Covert Incest / Enmeshment…it all means the same thing: an unhealthy relationship between an adult and child where the adult places the child in an unhealthy, inappropriate, adult emotional fulfilling role; usually occurring between a parent and their child. While this is not referring to sexual abuse the effects are thought to mimic actual incest to a lesser degree. I can see why they say that after everything I’ve experienced over the last 2 years. Both sexual abuse and emotional incest require you to give parts of yourself that you don’t want to, and requires you to feel as though you do not have the right to say no or stop.
My grandmother passed in November 2013, and since that time I’ve been struggling with my relationship with my aunt. She has really struggled with the passing of her mother whom she was the primary caretaker. My aunt started calling me with what started out as constant phone calls that turned into neurotic phone calls, and then into obsessively calling me all the time. To give you an idea of just how often she was calling me, here is a breakdown of a three week period:
> 18 phone calls > 7 voicemails
> 8 FaceTimes > 21 text messages
IN 3 WEEKSS!!!
Since I have a fear of confrontation, and feeling like I am allowed to say no or stop was not something which was instilled in me; I didn’t know how to speak up. I didn’t know how to let her know she was overwhelming me. So, I just stopped answering my phone when she called, and only answered text messages if I had to. I became hyper-sensitive whenever she would call or text me. I would have an overwhelming urge to want to either just drop my phone or throw it to get it away from me. As though that would somehow make me safe from being forced to comply with what I perceived she wanted…to fill an emotional void so she could live vicariously through not just me but my kids as well; to make us the source of her happiness. I decided a long time ago I was no longer going to fill the role of being the source of someone’s happiness, and I’ll be dammed if I’m going to allow that burden to be passed down to my kids.
I finally worked up the courage to send her a letter that I had been working on for months. In the letter I did my best to explain how I was trying to set healthy boundaries with her, how her behavior was unhealthy and how it affected me; I explained that neither my kids nor I are on this earth to be the source of anyone’s happiness. I explained that I wanted to have a relationship with her with healthy boundaries. That not having healthy boundaries was too stressful for me.
Her response was: I’m sorry it bothered you, I will not call or text you or the kids, I love you and wish you the best, goodbye. Just like that, she chose to walk away from being in our lives based on having healthy boundaries, and instead chose her unhealthy ways over being in our lives. I had so many mixed emotions. On one hand I was glad I no longer had to deal with a unhealthy relationship. However, on the other hand, I had hoped that for once I would be important enough to be put first. That I would be important enough for her to put in the effort to have a relationship with healthy boundaries. I wanted to feel important. I wanted to feel like I mattered. Instead I felt rejected. It was as though all the fears and thoughts I had about being the expendable one in the family was confirmed. My mixed emotions confused me. When I sent the letter I was in a place where I felt very comfortable with the idea of her not being in our lives. Then to feel so rejected and hurt really through me off, and I didn’t know how to deal with those feelings. I had to constantly remind myself of what an unhealthy relationship it was, how badly it was affecting me and stressing me out. I had to remind myself that her choice removed a lot of stress from my life. I had to remember the goal is to make sure my kids grow up knowing what boundaries are, and that no one is allowed to overstep their boundaries.
One thing that really irritates me is when people imply that you have to put up with everything a person does if they are family. Why? Why should I allow someone who is unhealthy and does not know how to respect my boundaries to be in my life? Just because they are family? I don’t think so. Why should I continue to allow that stress into my life? Why should I allow my children to be exposed to unhealthy relationships so the cycle can continue with a whole new generation? No! Not this family! Not my kids! I want so much better for my kids than the environment I grew up in. I want them to know what boundaries are. I want them to know what healthy relationships are.
Why do people insist that by removing a family member from your life your kids are missing out on being around family? NO! My kids are being protected from unhealthy relationships. Family or not, I am determined to make sure my kids are free from having unhealthy patterns passed onto them.
In this process, I am learning I do have the power to speak up. That I have the RIGHT to say no or stop when I feel my boundaries are being overstepped. I am learning how emotional incest has affected my life, and how to take that power back. I am learning how to speak up.