Emotional Boundaries & Co-Dependency - Part 1

Sobriety Navigator: Emotional boundaries & Co-dependency. Part 1. 

Definition of Emotional Boundaries: Emotional boundaries are formed early in our life and are greatly influenced by the nature of the bond with our parents. Emotional boundaries protect us like an internal shield, helping us determine which emotions are ours, and letting us deflect emotions that are not ours. When we have healthy emotional boundaries, we can honestly determine our feelings about any situation, person, place or thing. If we take responsibility for expressing our emotions and notice the impact of our behavior on others, we have healthy emotinal boundaries. (Boundaries for Codependents, Rokelle Lerner, author, Hazelden publication 1988)  

Emotionally irresponsible parents often display actions and behaviors that will impact and damage children’s emotional boundary development. These adults may use the children as an emotional surrogate parent, therapist, buddy, or emotional punching bag.  Children in these environments may tune-out or disassociate since they have no emotional support or may not be allowed to express their own feelings. 

There are many ways the emotionally irresponsible parent can exploit the child’s emotional boundaries: 

  • The parents create the emotional climate in the household and, as they go emotionally, so go the children. Such parents rarely allow the child to detach and not take on the negative emotions from the parent.  As a result, the child absorbs the ambient emotions.
  • The parents will make their children responsible for other people’s feelings. This dynamic is done under the guise of being nice and polite.
  • The children are never allowed to have anything for themselves, or may be forced to give up something that is rightfully theirs in order to make someone else happy.
  • The constant over-stepping of physical boundaries can create emotional responses that the parents control through shaming, minimizing or condemning the child.

By being minimized and often forced into the role of a surrogate caregiver (by people who do not need a caregiver), children become nothing more than pawns to the self-centered parent’s emotional theatre. Overtime, as the childhood survival skill of dissociating advances, the children will begin to lose touch with reality and learn to look outside of themselves to try and determine how they are suppose to feel. This dysfunctional process of looking outside of yourself for your internal reality is a prime symptom of someone with damaged emotional boundaries.


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