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16 June, 2012

Having grown up with so few, many survivors struggle with boundary issues.  Many have reported having trouble discerning where the boundaries are, for instance, when bathing children and worry whether any particular action might be crossing them.

The boundary issue intrudes into relationships with males as well when survivors fail to recognize when boundaries are being crossed, inadvertently providing encouragement to … well … pigs.  Often it’s only when things get clearly out of control that survivors realize they’ve failed to set limits.  For instance, one survivor I know well spoke of meeting a man at a business conference.  She had a great idea for an entrepreneurial project and mentioned it to him.  He suggested they meet that evening for drinks to discuss it.   At that “meeting” she talked excitedly about the project and its potential, but he had a different goal in mind that took some time to become clear to her.  Survivors seem to suffer more than the expected percentage of rapes in later life, no doubt related to failures in boundary setting and thus getting into dangerous situations.*

Boundary ignorance is but one aspect of growing up in dysfunctional families.  Survivors’ families often are on the primitive side in general and so far afield from ‘normal’ families that survivors are not exposed to normal social conventions and thus have no opportunity to internalize them.

Recognizing that, survivors will often observe other people with intensity and interest, watching how they interact and how they carry out such every-day activities as eating a meal.  They recognize that they have no ken of ordinary social etiquette and struggle to learn how to be ‘normal’.

The paradox is that, while the fuzzy boundary issues are often clear to outsiders, survivors are in many other respects very keen observers of people and able readily to mimic their behavior.  Perhaps that’s one reason they make such great actresses.  Survivors are wildly overly-represented among Hollywood actresses.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and speculate about Lindsey Lohan, for one.  I suspect I know exactly what her underlying problem is and wonder if she’ll ever ‘fess up’ or get the targeted help she needs.


* Survivors tend to exude an aura of vulnerability and need which many (if not most) men find very attractive.  That aura brings out the protector, “knight-in-shining-armor” instinct in males — which makes them feel quite good.  This is equally true of both predatory men and good men.  Willie Nelson’s song, Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground, captures that dynamic well, though I doubt he was thinking consciously of survivors in particular when he wrote it.  Therapists are trained in the art of making “use of the self” in working with people.  The feelings that clients elicit in therapists is used as information about their clients.  Nearly always, I knew I was likely going to be working with a survivor by the time she first sat down in my office.

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  1. Boundaries in a Healthy Marriage | Roots to Blossom

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