The inevitable result of both abandonment and abuse is a broken boundary system. Abandonment distorts and emaciates boundaries. Abuse demolishes them. Though abandonment leaves a semblance of boundaries, it is but a fragile framework because belonging, the inner stuff that supports our emotional structure and sustains the system, has been pulled out. It will either continue to wobble and deflate or it will be buttressed by walls so thick no one can get in. This sagging emotional infrastructure produces great longings in the child that seem to magnify in adulthood: a hunger for companionship; a yearning to be loved; an exaggerated need to belong. The emptiness of a core hollowed out by abandonment produces an insatiable hunger that always gnaws in the soul.
Sexual abuse done to a child by anyone on a regular basis, will either create a stringent code of conduct or a reckless, unprotected lifestyle. It will erect rigid compartments within which the survivor functions with efficiency and purity, or it will obliterate the child's boundaries, wiping out sexual restrictions innately constructed into the soul. Sexual abuse is boundary-less, ignoring and violating any boundary that gets in its way. When a child has experienced frequent sexual stimulation it most often ingrains in his fabric, creating sexual impulses the child is unable to sort through and place in an appropriate slot. Since, in this scenario, all slots have been wiped out by the abuse, these impulses bleed into the whole fabric of her (or his) life and often are acted out promiscuously in teen years or beyond. Sexual addictions, which are boundary-less, arise from such abuse. The abuse renders the child unable to gauge appropriateness of behavior, and it often renders the adult unable to stop behaviors he now understands to be inappropriate. For those who are brought up with strongly restrictive sexual teachings, the only hope of dealing with their rogue impulses is to build such strong walls that their feelings can't get out and people can't get in. In the case where the child establishes a strict code of moral conduct, or erects an internal labyrinth of walls and compartments, the opposite response may occur in which normal sexual desire is either dulled or blunted altogether. In adulthood, though there may be sexual attraction, sexual interest within marriage is often minimal to non-existent. Since their sexuality has been shamed from the beginning, even those desiring to be what their spouse needs, find it difficult to override the shame. In this scenario the best that can be hoped for is an inconsitent sexual relationship in marriage.
When these two soul predators (of abandonment and abuse) merge in one person - as they always will when the sexual abuser is a family member - the tandem effort creates an interior landscape utterly depleted of appropriate, functioning boundaries.
Click on SafeFocus for perspective on homosexual impulses that can be set up by sexual abuse.
Because the core is our boundary-setting center, when it has been invaded our ability to establish and maintain appropriate boundaries is crippled. It is this loss of a child's internal boundary system that is the connecting cartilage linking all the major losses mentioned in SafeNotes.
Identity and Intimacy Boundaries give our identity its form and description and prescribe the limits, not only of identity but also of intimacy. Form and description have to do with one's activity within relationships - their role - particularly within a family. What is their role as a family member? What expectations come with that role? What are their duties? What can I do or not do? What can I get away with? What can I use of other's in the family and what can I not use? What must I ask permission for and what is not available to me at all? These all have to do with form and description and limits that are prescribed by boundaries. Without a working internal boundary system, identity is either artificially maintained through walls or the role in the family - an external identity - or it is lost in the false intimacy of enmeshment. Enmeshment reflects an absence of boundaries. Since healthy intimacy cannot exist without healthy boundaries, enmeshment is a surrogate, counterfeit intimacy.
Boundaries have to do with where we end and the other person begins. Though this relates to intimacy and enmeshment, it has also to do with control, manipulation and abuse. Boundary handicapped or boundary-less people find it hard to know where they end and another begins. Not only does their identity co-mingle, so do their behaviors. They may try to help others in intrusive ways, violating their legitimate space or privacy needs, often creating more problems than they solve. Others may "borrow" or use someone else's things without permission, never realizing the inappropriateness of their actions or recognizing the difficulties it may create for the other person. More flagrant, is the total disregard for others as manifested in stealing money or other items from family members or destroying their property.
When boundaries are very narrowly erected so that we quickly lose ourselves in another person, we are easy prey to being controlled, manipulated and abused. When our boundaries are very broadly drawn, we tend to be disregarding of others and automatically violate their space. We are usually willfully controlling and manipulative and often our behaviors are abusive. If boundaries are blurred regarding where we end and others begin, not only is enmeshment an issue, we tend to be possessive in our relationships and are often unknowingly in another's space in a stifling or suffocating manner.
Dignity With absent or skewed boundaries, normal behavioral restraints do not exist, and behavior is neither self-honoring nor other-honoring. When behavior is self-dishonoring (where we go against our core values or desires), whether we realize it or not, it undermines our sense of dignity because we have shamed ourselves. Shame is usually at the core of self-dishonoring behavior. It consumes dignity, and replaces it with itself. A shame cycle is then set up: Shaming behavior deposits shame in our core and a shamed core produces shaming behavior.
Value When behavior is other-dishonoring it erodes our sense of worth and value because it is in the marketplace of relationships that our worth is declared. Our value is framed by how we treat others and how they respond to us. When we are self-dishonoring we will almost always wind up dishonoring others in some fashion. Shame collapses our sense of personal dignity and generates dishonoring behaviors. When such behaviors go public our net worth plummets. Personal esteem becomes shame's chief casualty.
Wants vs. Needs When the core has been wounded, the self compensates to try to fill its holes. Compensations will often express themselves either in exaggerated giving or exaggerated taking. The underlying condition for this behavior is a blurring of the distinctions between needs and wants.Wants will often be used by this limping soul to try to meet their needs. When that happens, neither the need nor the want is ever satisfied. For those who struggle with broken boundaries, knowing the difference between their needs and their wants is a difficult, if not impossible distinction. The resulting hunger is one that is never satisfied and never goes away.
Understanding the difference between needs and wants is a crucial component in healing. Counseling serves an important role in helping distinguish the difference.