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    Senior Member chatoyer's Avatar
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    Post boundary dissolution

    A Type of boundary dissolution in a dysfunctional family system:

    Role-reversal. Role-reversal, also termed parentification, refers to a dynamic in which parents turn to children for emotional support (Boszormenyi-Nagy and Spark 1973; Jurkovic 1997). Although learning to be responsive and empathic to others' needs is a healthy part of child development, parentification involves an exploitative relationship in which the parents' expectations exceed the child's capacities, the parent ignores the child's developmental needs, or the parent expects nurturance but does not give it reciprocally (Chase 1999). A parent engaged in role-reversal may be ostensibly warm and solicitous to the child, but the relationship is not a truly supportive one because the parents' emotional needs are being met at the expense of the child's. Further, children are often unable to meet these developmentally inappropriate expectations, which may lead to frustration, disappointment, and even anger (Zeanah and Klitzke 1991). In fact, parents' inappropriate expectations for children, such that they provide nurturing to their parents, are a key predictor of child maltreatment (Azar 1997).

    Research shows that, over the course of childhood, young children who fulfill their parents' need for intimacy have difficulty regulating their behavior and emotions (Carlson, Jacobvitz, and Sroufe 1995) and demonstrate a pseudomature, emotionally constricted interpersonal style ( Johnston 1990). In the longer term, childhood role reversal is associated with difficulties in young adults' ability to individuate from their families (Fullinwider-Bush and Jacobvitz 1993) and adjust to college (Chase, Deming, and Wells 1998). Parent-child role reversal also is associated with depression, low-self esteem, anxiety (Jacobvitz and Bush 1996), and eating disorders (Rowa, Kerig, and Geller 2001) in young women. Due to cultural expectations that associate caregiving with the feminine role, daughters may be particularly vulnerable to being pulled into the role of "mother's little helper" (Brody 1996; Chodorow 1978). Consistent with family systems theory (Minuchin 1974), boundary violations also are more likely to occur when the marital relationship is an unhappy one and the parent turns to the child for fulfillment of unmet emotional needs (Fish, Belsky, and Youngblade 1991; Jacobvitz and Bush 1996).

    Role-reversal may take different forms, depending on the role the child is asked to play. Parents might behave in a child-like way, turning to the child to act as a parenting figure, termed parentification or child-as-parent (Walsh 1979; Goglia et al. 1992); or they may relate to the child as a peer, confidante, or friend (Brown and Kerig 1998), which might be termed adultification or child-as-peer. Although providing a parent with friendship, emotional intimacy, and companionship ultimately interferes with the child's individuation and social development outside the home, the negative implications of a peer-like parent-child relationship may be less severe than a complete reversal of roles in which the parent relinquishes all caregiving responsibilities. Role reversal can also occur between adults, such as when an adult turns to the spouse to act as a parent, seeking guidance and care instead of a mutually autonomous relationship, termed spouse-as-parent (Boszormenyi-Nagy and Spark 1973; Chase 1999). Another form of role reversal occurs when the parent behaves in a seductive manner toward the child, placing the child not in the role of parent or peer, but of romantic partner.


    Anyone familiar with this dynamic? I think I know of a handful of friends who seem like they went through this experience.........

  2. #2
    @.~*virinaĉo*~.@ Totenkindly's Avatar
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    Yes, with my mother in particular. She was much more fragile than anyone in the family, and my father's alcoholism really hurt her. My sister and I both had to walk on eggshells, listen to her complaints about my father, for a long time were her silent coconspirators (where she would tell us everything he was doing wrong, until independently each one of us broke away and asked her to stop, because we did not want to be involved that way).

    But my father was also someone who needed coddled in his own way. I am realizing now that my sister and I never really got to be children, we were far older than we should have been at that age. And it really did impact us negatively. Both of us have had a hard time depending on others or opening up (she finally got married at age 33).

    There are just so many things that you don't even realize are wrong with you, until you try to build new relationships later in life. Because, on the surface, you look very competent and self-assured and capable and emotionally stable. But underneath, it is like thawing ice; everything is hollow and cracking.

    Being INTP does not help, but I did have a "pseudo-mature emotionally constricted interpersonal style" for a long time in my life. sigh.
    "Hey Capa -- We're only stardust." ~ "Sunshine"

    “Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

  3. #3
    Senior Member Lookin4theBestNU's Avatar
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    Thanks for posting this Chatoyer. The boundaries in my household were not clearly defined by any means except one. I most certainly identify with nearly everything in there. I remember now in hindsight 2 therapists in my very early 20's each talking with me about my behaviors and the cause and effect of the way I grew up. I remember quite well my "pseudo-mature emotionally constricted interpersonal style" when they would bring it up! The incident that caused me to go to therapy for PTSD was just the tip of the iceberg they found out but I refused to talk about it. Reading this now makes me realize more of what they were trying to do with me, though I can't say I would go back to therapy.
    "At points of clarity, I realize that my life on earth is meaningless, and that I am merely a pawn in a bigger game. A game I cannot possibly understand or have control of. Thankfully, before depression sets in, I drift back into my cloudy, bewildered daily routine." **Joel Patrick Warneke**

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    Senior Member cafe's Avatar
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    Yeah. It took the help of a really good therapist to get me loose. I only was able to do it because I felt the relationship with her was not only robbing my husband and my children of my time and attention, but that she was attempting to expose my kids to someone dangerous.

    Like Jen says, I did not realize how unhealthy the relationship was until I began to get free. I also didn't realize how nuts she was. I saw all the behaviors, but I didn't interpret them for what they were.

    People would say that I had a good head on my shoulders and stuff like that when I was younger. What choice did I have? My mother behaved like an adolescent. She still does.
    “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”
    ~ John Rogers

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    Senior Member INTJMom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chatoyer View Post
    ...Anyone familiar with this dynamic? I think I know of a handful of friends who seem like they went through this experience.........
    Yes. Why are you asking?
    What are you trying to find out?

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    Senior Member chatoyer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by INTJMom View Post
    Yes. Why are you asking?
    What are you trying to find out?
    I was trying to keep the topic open-ended, but I'm curious as to which variables impact the ability to form healthy interpersonal relationships with proper boundaries as an adult, particularly the most complex one-- a long-term romantic relationship. Variables like the age of the child when this occurred, whether it was same-sex or opposite-sex parent, amount of & attention to other adults who exhibit healthy marriages, the personality types of the child & adult in question, etc.

    I'm also curious as to whether it interferes more with the Erikson stage of identity vs role confusion or intimacy vs isolation.

    When I think of my friends--this is not terribly scientific--the one that fared the best interpersonally was the one who had this happen with a same-sex parent at a later teenage age, & she is an ENF, so she had no problem looking to other adults as role models & relating to them as surrogate parents.

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    Senior Member cafe's Avatar
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    Ah.

    FWIW, I had a good relationship with my maternal grandparents. They were surrogate parents of sorts. I've been married for fifteen years. I don't feel qualified to say whether or not it's a healthy marriage, but I can say with certainty that it's a happy one.

    My husband had to play an adult role growing up, too.
    “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”
    ~ John Rogers

  8. #8
    Senior Member INTJMom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chatoyer View Post
    I was trying to keep the topic open-ended, but I'm curious as to which variables impact the ability to form healthy interpersonal relationships with proper boundaries as an adult, particularly the most complex one-- a long-term romantic relationship. Variables like the age of the child when this occurred, whether it was same-sex or opposite-sex parent, amount of & attention to other adults who exhibit healthy marriages, the personality types of the child & adult in question, etc.

    I'm also curious as to whether it interferes more with the Erikson stage of identity vs role confusion or intimacy vs isolation.

    When I think of my friends--this is not terribly scientific--the one that fared the best interpersonally was the one who had this happen with a same-sex parent at a later teenage age, & she is an ENF, so she had no problem looking to other adults as role models & relating to them as surrogate parents.
    In the later teenage years, the parent/child relationship is supposed to mature to a more shoulder to shoulder friendship type anyway, so I would say it is good that your friend was older when it happened.

    The mistake that many parents are making these days is becoming their child's "friend" too soon - when they're still supposed to be being "the parent".

    From the little I have read, a child's emotional maturing process can be stunted by dysfunction/abuse/neglect in the family.
    Just as a general principle, I would think that the earlier the dysfunction occurs, the less maturity has occurred.
    If that child stays stunted at that level, their ability to cope with all the relationships in their life is affected - the more intimate the relationship, the more it is affected.

    looking to other adults as role models & relating to them as surrogate parents
    I did this when I was in high school, but since I have a very different type from your friend, I assume my motivations were different.
    I came from a severely dysfunctional home and was constantly looking for adult approval elsewhere in my life. I had no friends my own age. I was not mature enough to deal with them.

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    @.~*virinaĉo*~.@ Totenkindly's Avatar
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    I did not have any real "role models" growing up... except for authors and artists and other people whose works inspired me and my imagination.

    My parents were just not worth emulating in many ways, and the things I did choose to do (as "good") I did because I had determined they were good, not because I was emulating them.

    There was occasionally a person I met who was kind to others or who inspired me in some way, but it was never a long-term/interactive relationship enough that I could really call it a "role model," I think.

    Right now, about to turn 39, I feel like I am 13 in terms of learning what I really value, what matters to me, and how to prioritize those values in my life without shame. I do very much feel that, despite looking very mature and being able to help/guide others (so that no one would really know that I was "messed up"), in terms of my own life I was taught to distrust my own inner voice and now have to pass through another emotional adolescence in order to be a fully rounded adult.

    (And let me tell you... it sucks.)

    I am seeing that there are just some stages in life that EVERY PERSON has to pass through... and we cannot take short cuts either. Those stages can be rough and even lead sometimes in the wrong direction -- but that is part of the journey to maturity. The destination is what is being aimed for, even if the road sometimes wanders all over the place.
    "Hey Capa -- We're only stardust." ~ "Sunshine"

    “Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

  10. #10
    Senior Member Lookin4theBestNU's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chatoyer
    I was trying to keep the topic open-ended, but I'm curious as to which variables impact the ability to form healthy interpersonal relationships with proper boundaries as an adult, particularly the most complex one-- a long-term romantic relationship. Variables like the age of the child when this occurred, whether it was same-sex or opposite-sex parent, amount of & attention to other adults who exhibit healthy marriages, the personality types of the child & adult in question, etc.

    I'm also curious as to whether it interferes more with the Erikson stage of identity vs role confusion or intimacy vs isolation.
    I played a different role to each of my parents and to my brothers as well. My surrogate parents if you will were a very unhealthy ISFJ grandmother and her ESTJ mother. Family dynamics being what they were there were not many options. I grew up exceptionally isolated from the outside world. I think this is one of the major contributing factors to my maladjustment in my late teens & early 20's. Everywhere I looked someone was mentally sick period. I noticed all of these things "not being right" by the time I was about 5 years old-seriously. I knew something was wrong with this picture you know? Anyway I started relying on "gut feelings" for self-protection as there were some unsafe people around me growing up. I don't think I have ever grown out of that.

    Identity is still an issue for me and for Gods sake I am 30 years old! Role confusion I don't think is an issue in my adult relationships. I am not sure about intimacy but I think there are probably some problems there.
    "At points of clarity, I realize that my life on earth is meaningless, and that I am merely a pawn in a bigger game. A game I cannot possibly understand or have control of. Thankfully, before depression sets in, I drift back into my cloudy, bewildered daily routine." **Joel Patrick Warneke**

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