As we wrapped up Chapter 3, the authors mentioned that most boundaries (and subsequently boundary issues) start with our lives growing up. In chapter’s 1 & 2, the authors showed us an [example of a boundaryless life and what boundaries are]. In Chapter 3, they spoke about [boundary problems] they’ve seen patterns of as experienced by the people they’ve counseled. Check out those articles first if you’re just joining us.
Boundary development starts surprisingly early, long before we could even comprehend the definition of a boundary. We do however learn by the examples of boundaries displayed towards us and around us. Generally, the healthier the boundaries a parent or caregiver models for a child, the better the chance of the child growing up without boundary problems. Chapter 4 discusses in depth several phases an infant passes through to form the boundaries in their life. For anyone reading this, we’re obviously well past the point where these problems can be prevented. However, understanding these phases will help understand any current boundary problems that we deal with today.
Dr. Cloud & Dr. Townsend explain that for children boundary development starts with events happening from the time they were born. There are phases that the child has to pass through in the first 3 years or so of life. The first phase is called “Bonding”. It is in this phase the foundation of a child’s boundaries and character is laid. To this point, a baby is not aware that it is a separate creation from it’s parents. Without the love and support of God and others who love us, we can’t begin to set boundaries and learn our place in the world. Major problems arise out of a lack of bonding when adults don’t know that they’re loved (from not having that bond and relationship). When we don’t know if the love we have is anchored securely no matter what happens, dealing with boundary violations is limited to 2 poor choices. We can either stand our ground knowing that the relationship may be ended or we can continue to let the other person continue the violation as we grow resentful. The authors sum it up perfectly in saying that “Attachment is the foundation of the soul’s existence. When the foundation is cracked or faulty, boundaries become impossible to develop.”
After the child passes through the bonding phase, they’ll do a “180” and distance themselves from their parents in the “Separation and Individuation” phase. All of the closeness that was present in the Bonding phase seems to be left behind and the infant starts to move away from its parents. A boomerang effect takes place during this phase. The infant will start with “hatching” and want to explore away from their parents, but not crawl away too far. There’s still an attachment there. This gives way to “practicing” where the infant can most likely walk and they’ll be walking away from their parent. The warmth and safety of what’s familiar is traded for exploration, discovery and excitement. This lasts for awhile, but eventually reality comes back to them that there is danger out in the world. This is known as “rapprochement” and it’s when the infant comes back to the closeness of their parents although things are different. It’s absolutely vital that the infant proceeds through all of these steps because if not, problems will show up later in life. The goal of getting through all 3 of these steps in this phase comes down to 3 measures of success. First, the infant has the ability to be emotionally attached to other people without melding into them (they’re able to be attached but separate). Second, the infant has the ability to express or say “no” when it’s appropriate without fear of a loss of love. Third, the infant has the ability to receive an answer of “no” from others without withdrawing from them emotionally. So much has to happen in such a little time, but it’s the critical infrastructure that is built and relied upon that moves them into adolescent years and then into adulthood where these boundaries will be tested.