Our identity is framed in childhood through the responses of others to us.Abandonment is a cataclysmic response of a parent to a child.When both parents abandon, the loss of identity is profound.The place to be is gone.To protect herself, this child will either isolate into her own world or rush to others, desperately seeking the embrace that will tell her who she is.She is dependent, or codependent, on others as her means of defining herself.They will tell her if she is O.K..They will let her know when she is messing up; when she is succeeding; when she is special; when she is competent.This codependency-dependency means her identity will not only be forged by these soulish blacksmiths, she will not know who she is without them.She will not know how she is outside of them.She needs them in order to complete her half-framed dwelling.Her wholeness is to be had within the context of her relationship with them.Because she feels unfinished, only someone, or something, outside herself can complete her. Her abandoned self, her missing half, has left its form in her.It is this hollowed out place that enmeshes with people.It is this empty form that invites anyone in who has a semblance of caring.It is this place that tends to suffocate others and suck the life from them.This life suction has to do with the abandoned child not only trying to complete her identity but, more basically, it is her struggle to survive.“If two halves make a whole in math,maybe another half will make me whole.”So the enmeshed partner fills the form and completes her identity.While seeming to complete the identity of the one, in actuality, enmeshment causes the loss of the identity of both. This clinging to others paradoxically creates further abandonment as people pull away from the invasion of their space and the smothering of their individuality. Repeated abandonment cycles emerge from this dance with enmeshment, creating desperate ruts of forced isolation and loneliness. Chosen isolation prevents further abandonment by others because, by her choice,she has turned the tables and abandoned them.In choosing isolation, she has reclaimed some sense of control by calling the shot.Abandonment is still the issue, but it is she who has chosen this time.Identity remains the casualty in her hiding because identity cannot be well framed by one’s own hand.But the isolationist will still feel the abandonment because no one can get near her.Eventually, her walls will become so thick and intense that any one who approaches will feel threatened by them and stay away. Abuse of any kind skews identity.Sexual abuse demolishes it.Here, not only personal identity, but gender identity can be victimized.When females are sexually abused it is usually frightening and painful. Because the offender is usually male, it easily results in fear of, or aversion to, men that under certain circumstances can be misconstrued as homosexuality.Homosexual impulses do not mean one is homosexual.Sexual abuse skews the normal pattern of sexual responses and thus threatens one’s understanding of their sexuality. The same sexual skewing happens with boys but for different reasons.For the most part, their offender will also be male but the experience is most often pleasurable.If the molestation is on-going and occurs by age 10 or 11, he is certain to experience homosexual impulses by the time he enters his teens.Counseling will be very important in helping understand the nature of these impulses and in working through them to embrace the more likely heterosexual orientation that underlies it all. Click on SafeFocus for a more extending consideration of this aspect of sexual abuse.
Identity is comprised of several essential elements: competency and performance, role and purpose, and belonging and approval as a person.In this capacity,identity is inextricably connected with boundaries.Boundaries build the place for the person to belong...they lay out their niche.Boundaries define roles within the family and society.Roles provide not only a place of belonging, but of expectation.In this niche of expectation, goals and purpose and effort can be established and one’s competency can be gauged. In a dysfunctional family, especially, the prescribed role becomes the child’s identity and assures their belonging. It is in their family role (in the dysfunctional family) that any sense of specialness is also prescribed. Abandonment and abuse attack the boundary-aspect of identity (and distort it); tearing down traditional emotional structures that provide a place of lodging either in the heart or the home.These traditional boundaries have to do with larger roles:the role of theparent and the role of the child.The role of the parent is to parent; to be there for the child, to protect the innocence of the child and provide a safe, boundaried place for his carefree years to play out; it is to mirror for the child approval and affirmation, correction and guidance.Within this framework of healthy boundaries, the child’s position in the family is secured and her place in the world emerges.Her roles gradually and naturally develop. When a parent abandons, this role in any significant way, the child’s development as a person immediately begins to skew because roles are instantly distorted.A parent vacuum exists and the child will immediately, though unwittingly, move to occupy that vacancy in some fashion.The child will begin to fill in for the missing parent by assuming adult-like roles: becoming a surrogate spouse for the remaining parent; parenting herself or younger siblings, care-taking or rescuing the weaker parent.The mirroring of the parent for the child no longer is there. As their role fractures, the sense of who they are distorts, and their sense of value as a person erodes . Acceptance gives us our value, and approval gives us our dignity.Belonging arises from acceptance and approval both.When belonging is ripped from the heart, value and dignity drain from the core and identity seeps through the fissures that have formed in the soul of the abandoned child. As boundaries are essential to belonging, belonging is essential to identity. Abandonment bends and sags these nurturing boundaries and distorts both one’s sense of identity and belonging. Though the walls of identity may still exist, they are fragile because there is no substance to support or independently sustain them.Such people will tend to conform to whomever is available to them because they often use people to fill their empty spaces and shore them up.Others become indispensable to this wounded heart as a sustainer of their core.