ACoAs & Boundary Distortion (Part 3)


but I’m stuck in YOUR mud!

PREVIOUS: B Distortion (#2)



The Family MOBILE
• All of us grew up as part of a larger generational inter-connected mobile – even if we were cut off from actually spending time with various relatives.
A mobile is a collection of objects that are in constant motion within a framework. A family is the most complicated, ever-changing one that exists, made up of human personalities.

The stability of a mobile depends on all the parts being in balance, in a specific relationship to all other parts.  But balanced does not automatically mMobiles-aquean beautiful to see, safe from falling apart, nor having lots room to move.

IN unhealthy families, everything may look fine on the outside, but the mobile is barely held together, or is so rigid it can’t move at all.  In the ARTICLE : “My 10-year-old says no one cares about him, and talks of suicide – the mother is shocked because she thinks everything is fine!

EXP Addicts upset a mobile’s very delicate symmetry. Their unpredictability, violence, contempt & self-focus distorts much of the family’s interaction. To keep the mobile’s skewed ‘balance’ other members try to adapt by:
— absorbing the addicts anger, & suppressing their own
— denying the effect of the addict’s behavior on everyone in the family
— avoiding the addict, while trying to cover up the dis-ease to outsiders
—> forcing each one to become progressively more skewed to make up for the constant disruptions of the addict, causing long-term damaged & be co-dependently trapped in that state.

• Dysfunctional families are always crammed full of confusion & chaos. But there are also rules that must be followed to keep the mobile from collapsing.
a. Equilibrium
On the one hand, no matter how distorted the mobile, each person has a part to play in keeping the status quo, called homeostasis. And just like an inanimate mobile returns to its normal state after being shaken up, so do families.

So if the addict goes into treatment to get clean & sober, their return to the family is often met with great resistance – & anger. They’ve changed too much – the role they originally played isn’t available, undermining the shape of the familiar structure, sending the whole setup tilting uncomfortably off its normal axis.

• To regain the old balance the most common way is for the spouse, & even the kids – to manipulate the recovering person back into their original role by sabotaging their growth & getting them to drink or use again

• A better way would be to form a new mobile. But this is much harder, met with a lot of anger & may never work: every member of the family would have to face their own damage & make serious changes

EXP: Picture a broken arm that was never set professionally – it ‘heals’ crookedly & is only partially useful. To make it fully functional again it will have to be re-broken & set, then patiently wait for it to heal, maybe needing rehab & re-learning how to use it correctly!
It’s scary, painful & tedious. Broken lives & broken families are like that too, so people would rather keep to the twisted familiar ways than have to fix the problem in Recovery

b. Fragility
On the other hand, we learn how precarious the dysfunctional mobile actually is. Because members of a wounded family are bound by symbiotic needs rather than healthy egos – with self-hate, fear of abandonment & distorted boundaries – there’s little room for ‘error’ in the system (newness, difficulties, unexpected changes, expansion…). This mobile, with all its convoluted problems, has been jury-fragle castlerigged, held together by Toxic Rules & Toxic Roles.

• While it appears solid & inflexible / rigid, it’s actually too fragile to withstand any major shift, such as one person becoming sober or another going into Al-Anon / ACoA Recovery.
Unless other members are also willing to grow, like a parent doing some deep soul-searching….the family unit will fall apart. This is particularly threatening when there are small children, so members will do almost anything to keep the (sick) status quo.

NEXT: DETACHING w/ Boundaries, #1

ACoAs & Boundary Distortion (Part 2)

no one cares 

because nobody cares about me

PREVIOUS: ACoAs & B. Distortion (Part 1)

 ▪︎ Genogram explained


PARENTS with distorted Bs
don’t know how to connect with their children in a fair & balanced way.  In Boundaries – Defined”, we saw they can be either intrusive or uninvolved Then children are either:

a. Being watched: Some of us grew up with an intrusive parent who needed to control everything & everyone in their environment (not just their kids). They were always on our back about something, overly critical, perfectionistic & boundary-less – sticking their nose in our business when we needed respect & some privacy. This was not a sign of loving concern!

• As a result these ACoAs continue to feel a creepy sense of having a camera over one shoulder – always judging, criticizing… assuming everyone else is also watching, watching, watching – waiting for our next ‘stupidity’ or mistake

d's mouseEXP: Sophie is 5 & it’s the first day of kindergarten. Her mother is fussing, worried that her daughter won’t behave perfectly, which will make the family look bad, & she won’t be there in person to make sure….

She gives all sorts of instructions – how to sit, what to say, what NOT to say…. Sophie is already scared & now she’s overwhelmed, so all she can do is stare. As they leave the house she hears her mother say – almost to her self: “I wish I could be a little mouse on the wall !”

• Sophie’s on her own for the first time, in a big room with other kids, all sitting in their little chairs, listening to the teacher – except for Sophie who is anxiously looking around the bottom edges of the walls, actually expecting to see a little mouse watching her from its hole, maybe with her mother’s eyes!

b. Being ignored: Other parents left us adrift – too much alone, unsupervised, unguided. Yet even as small children we were expected to know how to behave, & participate correctly in all sorts of social events, without being taught directly or setting a proper example. And they were oblivious to the burden they put on us!

One result is that externally – ACoAs we don’t have Bs with others, & internally – we haven’hiding in publict learned to set Bs with ourselves, so we do whatever the WIC feel like, no matter how unhealthy, using the unsuccessful way to get needs met (needs we’re not supposed to have!)

Another result is that many of us who were neglected, are uncomfortable in public, especially with groups. We feel ill-equipped to socialize, sure we don’t know what to say or how to act. We watch other people to see how they manage, & even though we’re great mimics, we still don’t trust ourselves to be acceptable. Extroverts will at least try but feel inadequate, & introverts don’t even bother!

EXP: Sheila was a bright, sensitive girl, living in a family that moved many times because of her father’s career. A talkative extrovert, she’d grown up mainly in the company of adults, so even tho there always were people around, she was very much alone.  She was expected to be sociable, charming, well-behaved & polite to the grown-ups, but she was deeply lonely, angry & hurt.

To cope, she found escape & solace in all kinds of books (before internet & cell phones) – in the library after school, reading while walking down the street!!, under the covers at night….
Once, when her mother wanted her full attention she commented sarcastically: “I can see it all now – you’ll be reading a book as you walk down the aisle!”

PS: Obviously, the mother’s passive-aggressive anger was showing:
a. her unconscious abandonment buttons got triggered
b. her narcissism kicked in, since she didn’t see what was “so interesting”
c. she was oblivious to her daughter’s need for comfort & a buffer when with her controlling mother
d. her lack of intellectual interest was obvious, or she would have encouraged the girl’s passion for knowledge

EXT: Boundary Distortion (Part 3)

ACoAs & Boundary Distortion (Part 1)

Then why do I feel so alone?

PREVIOUS: How ACoAs B. Invade #2

SITES: Balance Theory – Wikipedia
Balancing points (Mobile exercises for students)
• re. Family Systems Theory,  M Dombeck & J Wells-Moran


Unhealthy parents with rigid or weak boundaries automatically invade the PMES space of their children – they can’t help it! As a result ACoAs grow up co-dependently enmeshed, not just with a specific parent but the whole toxic family system.
From that early model, we recreate our work & personal relationships in similar ways – invading & being invaded or keeping everyone at bay, because we don’t have the ability to enforce our personal space.

• For ACoAs, developing healthy Bs is a long, arduous & imperfect journey.  However, as long as we’re consistently reacting to people, places & things from damage (lack of Bs), we’re in the Child ego state – still not emotionally mature.

For those of us well on our way to a Whole Self, whenever we too react without Bs, we’ve regressed to an earlier stage of childhood, but are able to come back to the present more easily & quickly

• A sure sign of not having healthy Bs is when we habitually, compulsively consider ourselves only in relation to others (co-dependence).  ACoAs are enmeshed with everyone – not just people we love, or even know. It’s so much a part of how we relate, we don’t recognize it as damage.

• One way it shows up is when we disagree with or disapprove of anything another person says or wants. We get really scared – especially if they don’t like our opinion. We’re confused, talk ourselves out of dealing with it, OR we rant about it to others, obsessing about what we should have said or what we will – next time, but never do! The focus is on the other person, rather than ourselves.
✓ “I want to tell her I didn’t like what she said last week, so she’ll understand (get it) & not talk to me that way again…..”
✓ “I can’t tell her I don’t want to go there anymore because she will be upset”
✓ “I’d like to tell him what I think about what’s going on between
use othersus, but he won’t get it, so why bother”….

BUT, we’re not allowed to know what we need, so we use others:
— to complete us (review ACoAs & symbiosis) AND
— to set limits for us, as if we were still infants!
Their agendas & desires become our blueprint for responses & activities. Without boundaries we’re at everyone else’s whim.
OR :
— to have someone to copy (symbiose with). Once we figure out what they want or what they’re doing, we mold ourselves to that, even though very often it’s not what suits us nor that we actually want!

• Since the WIC is looking for a definitive outline of what’s expected of it, in a desperate (usually unconscious) desire to stay connected, to avoid feeling abandoned, to be taken care of – we will do anything to please others, usually at our expense, so they won’t be angry or be hurt, & then go away!

Therefore, ACoAs can get very upset when ‘significant’ people:
— expect us to “just know” what they want
— are unclear about that they expect from us
— change their minds a lot, are undependable, unpredictable
— lie, are chaotic, hard to read, drugged, crazy…..
Without Recovery, we then freeze, run around in circles, get angry or depressed…. because we don’t have our own core to guide us.

One of the important thing for ACoAs to doin a regular basis is to speak up on behalf of our Inner Child – because the WIC can’t.

With good Bs we can practice saying what’s truly on our mind – — we do not need everyone to validate our thoughts, feelings or existence!  and
— it is not necessary for the other person to see us, understand, or change their behavior. Some will & some won’t.
And when dealing with self-centered controllers, we can be sure they will NOT get it. An Al-Anon saying is: “Take the action & let go of the result!”

NEXT: B. Distortions (Part 2)