Boundaries revisited; among other things.

 Lately I’ve been wondering where ‘I’ begin. Someone said “Your rights end where mine begin.” But then WHERE is that? It is not a geographic boundary, but it is so definite that it is almost a tangible thing… especially when violated. I often wonder if I ever functioned with healthy boundaries, and I have come to the conclusion that the answer is a resounding ‘NO!’ I know now I do not in fact function within healthy human boundaries- perhaps indicated by the fact that I am discussing my own Family of Origin (FOO) issues ‘out here in public!’ Somehow I feel safe here. Like an ostrich- head down in sand- if I cannot ‘see’ you the reader, then I somehow remain hidden.

But I digress…

Ah- Boundaries. Well, I never formed any. I never had any modeled to me. In fact, as a child, whenever I attempted to draw a boundary it was purposefully and ruthlessly trampled by my mother. (I should say here that I do NOT hate my mother, I love her. I finally am able to be honest about the effect my mother had on me.) A very dear friend of mine just had her parents visit for a few days. As she poured out her anguish to me, I heard echo upon echo of my own, wounded voice. There are very many ways to violate boundaries with children, because they are so vulnerable. I think my mother violated just about every possible boundary with me.

One of the first Duties of parenting SHOULD be to demonstrate how to relate honestly and appropriately to others. As an adult, I should be able to 1) name what I feel 2) know what event it corresponds to and 3) be able to express it appropriately. Appropriately here means that when (not IF) I express an emotion; it does not require anything of anyone else. I am angry AND I am responsible for ‘sinning not’ in my anger. My anger should not endanger anyone. My sadness should not require anyone to buy me things, feed me, or walk on eggshells in order to avoid ‘making me sad’.

 My happiness should not depend on others’ actions, or lack of failure on their part. My peace should not depend upon ‘other people not DOING that to me’. My comfort or self esteem should not depend on others not confronting me with my words or actions. This is a first duty, because the only way you can teach good emotional health is by modeling it. I think every parent wants their child to pick a spouse who supports and edifies them, and the only way that can happen is if the child grows up into an adult with healthy boundaries in the first place.

Now, I have come to understand that spanking is a violation of a child’s bodily boundaries. In the book The Five Love Languages for Kids, the authors describe the devastating effect corporal punishment can have on children whose primary love language is Touch. But there is more to the punitive style of parenting than just the body boundary issues, just as there is more damage done in corporal punishment than just the temporary hurt; especially when the physical punishment requires children to make themselves vulnerable to someone they EXPECT to hurt them; by asking the child to bend over the bed or the parent’s lap, or by forcing the child to remove articles of clothing in preparation for the punishment. Requiring someone to submit to being hurt repeatedly has long ranging emotional consequences.

I asked my mother recently if she remembered making us ‘pull our pants down’ for a spanking. She said that she could not remember specific incidents, but if she HAD, we had to have ‘done something to make me really angry’. I think the worst kept secret in the Christian spanking world is that parents spank when they are angry. We spank BECAUSE we are angry. Dr. Dobson said that you should never spank when angry, but that a spanking should happen right way. I just wonder what amount of total detachment it takes to see your child doing ‘something wrong’, instantly become ‘not angry’ and still issue a spanking.

 This is why Dobson’s technique is so deceptive. He states that spankings shouldn’t be necessary for everything. He says that childish error or genuine mistakes should be dealt with gracefully; but he ALSO says that children are born defiant, calculating, trying to take over and usurp your parental authority. He says that kids are sinful and set to rebel, and that you MUST punish them right away so that the pain is directly connected to whatever transgression they committed. These statements conflict with one another. You end up needing to assume everything is defiance, just in case.

I remember clearly a time when- perhaps my sister and I had not been cleaning our room when we were supposed to be- my mother came charging up the stairs to our attic bedroom brandishing one of her wooden spoons. She told me to turn around and pull my pants down. (I hated that phrase more than any other, I cannot describe the feeling it provoked.) I stood there with my pants and underpants around my ankles, waiting for her to strike my bare bottom with that spoon. The memory ends right there. All I remember is my fear at the first sight of her; the sick shrinking feeling as I exposed myself to her; and waiting for the pain.

I made my mother angry. I made her late for church. I somehow singlehandedly made my whole family late for church the morning we all sat in the car for almost 10 minutes waiting for her to come out of the house!! I made her sick, I made her crazy. I made her hurt me.

It should be no surprise that I eventually concluded that my very existence was an affront to my mother’s sensibilities. There WAS no boundary between me and my mother. She claimed to know everything I thought, felt, and intended to do. She knew WHY I did what I did, even when I did not. I was a convenient scapegoat I suppose. Whatever the punishment was, she HAD to do it to me. I deserved it; I ‘had to pay the consequences’. I had to learn.

This kind of language and the subsequent hurt are much more characteristic of revenge, not discipline. In fact, what my mother had done was to place the entire burden of her emotional wellbeing upon Me. The only technique she had to deal with her own ‘big feelings’ was to take them out on me. My mother taught me that when someone hurts you, disappoints you, betrays you, or embarrasses you, you must hurt them, and make them pay. And you must continue to punish them until YOU are satisfied that they understand what they have done to you.

My mother violated boundaries not just with me, but with my little sister as well. I know this, because my sister has told me about how my mother would confide in her; sharing information that was inappropriate for an 8 year old child. Momma was lonely, and she treated my sister like a best friend. She made my sister the guardian of all of her secrets.

The thing about Boundaries is that they are an inheritable health. Boundary-less-ness is likewise an inherited dysfunction. I never did become whatever it was my mother was shaping me to be. I fought her encroachment until I was almost out of the house. To this day, half of the evaluating voice in my mind is my mother. It isn’t the voice of my mother today, mid 60’s, mellowed momma. No. The voice I retain is the harsh one, the scary one, the Mother I never once managed to satisfy. It is very strange that the memories themselves no longer have the power to provoke deep hurt in me. The fact of the original hurt still remains of course, and I cannot measure the effect that exchange had on me, the young girl. It feels very odd to analyze it so coldly now. The woman my mother is NOW does not hold that kind of power over me either. (Praise the Lord!) That long-ago momma may have been suffering a deep depression or some other emotional ailment- I may never know.

I have many memories similar to this one, and they contain many disturbing blank spaces. Why for instance, can I not remember what I had done wrong? Why does the memory cut out right before the strike? What happened afterward? I know that my mom would have hugged me, talked to me about what I had done, and prayed with me- all according to Dobson’s little formula. But that part is conspicuously missing. What am I not remembering? And WHY can I not remember it?


About greenegem

Wielder of the Pen of Deep Wit.
This entry was posted in Greenegem's Story, Refuting Dobson's questionable logic., Testimony and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Boundaries revisited; among other things.

  1. TealRose says:

    This breaks my heart. For you .. and for me too. My parents knew nothing of Dobson thank goodness [and I pray that his books and teachings fall into the PIT .. yes.. THE pit where they belong]

    For me … I do remember the pain. Mind you .. I am one of those very few odd people who do not seem to have ‘childhood amnesia’ and can remember to back before I was a year old. [Yes.. I proved it !]

    I remember my feelings of fear, pain, anger, hate and resentment. I learned that my parents didn’t love me and lied – no that hug and post spanking pep talk of ‘oh we love you’ meant NOTHING to me as they had just proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they didn’t love me as they had just hit me ! I never respected, loved or trusted them from the first spank ever. I learned that adults lied, and could and would do anything and get away with it. What I DIDN’T learn .. was what it was all about. What terrible thing I had done that was SO bad that I needed to be forcibly spanked. Not that they didn’t TELL me .. but I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t just explain to me .. and I would say sorry and that was the end of it. And I NEVER understood how hitting was ‘right’. I never hit anyone and never have respected or trusted anyone who hits others!!

    I … at 56 cannot wait for spanking aka hitting children to be banned worldwide and not just here in Europe – and for the ‘need’ and ‘want’ to spank/hit a child to disappear from our minds ….. just as beating wives has [generally speaking].

    • -Angie says:

      Except, in many countries and cultures, beating wives is completely expected – beating children is there too, especially the female ones.

      It’s horrid.. no words come but disgust and sadness.

  2. TealRose says:

    PS: Sorry I forgot ! I think the reason most children that were spanked can’t remember the crime is that often it was such a silly small thing, or that spankings were so common that they just blurred together … or worse and more frighteningly .. you have forgotten because your mind cannot bear you to remember such trauma.

    Hugging and praying afterwards doesn’t make you feel great inside .. it often makes children feel very confused – ie .. love and therefore forgiveness means being hit .. pain. I .. strange child it would seem that I was .. wouldn’t do that. I couldn’t and wouldn’t ‘hug/kiss and makeup’ … thank God my parents didn’t follow Dobson or I might not have been here by now as he would have had me beaten further… There was just no way – after being hit and hurt by the two people who professed to love and protect me was I going to hug them. I was furious, seething … and a very frightened little girl. I know some psychologists would disagree – but I really do wish I COULDN’T remember …

    Dear Lord isn’t it just awful what loving parents to to their children, either in the name of God or just to ‘bring us up correctly’ ?? Makes me so sad. I never hit my children .. and they are fine adults.. and my daughter doesn’t hit my grandchildren either… she teaches them gently…

    • greenegem says:

      Teal Rose,

      you are right, I would have been further disciplined(even if not spanked) if I did not allow the hug, and appear peaceful afterwards. that part is the key, I think- to allowing the parent doing the spanking to feel ok about what they have just done. If the child refuses to participate in the deception- it must be dealt with- or the parent must face the truth of hurting their child on purpose.

      Good grief, I get sick to my stomach when I accidentally hurt either boy doing something that MUST be done. I can’t imagine how hard I would have had to work to make myself ok with hitting them all the time on purpose. 😦


      • TealRose says:

        The trouble is you know that these ‘pro spanking’ parents tell themselves that spanking IS something that ‘must be done’ !!! What would they all think, if they were all told to hit their dog / cat / horse all the time ? I bet many of them wouldn’t !!!

      • -Angie says:

        Your words are beautiful, and the clarity of your communication is therapeutic.

        I hope to open dialog concerning this post and the Cortisol that followed, as they are acutely associated with one another, and very relevant to my life and my own experiences.

        I’m exhausted tonight so I won’t delve into anything, but just briefly, I wonder if you might have any suggestions for literature/education on the concept of boundaries both interpersonal/relational and for the self.

      • greenegem says:

        Thank you Angie. I didn’t realise just how theraputic until i was further processign with a friend today, and opened up a huge new realisation for me- which will probably turn into a later post on love languages.

        Its interesting that you bring up cortisol- it is connected to many of the problems I have researched. If you would like- you may email me at if it is too big for a comment. In time I will also be doing a post of stress and what it does to babies and young children.

        Please check out the Resources page here; I add to it periodically. Currently I am reading The Five Love Languages for Kids, which I highly recommend. Boundaries by Drs. Cloud and Townsend, is another excellent one. I have almost finished Codependent No More. These books have been immensly helpful, and have helped me see some things with a truly frightening clarity. :} Also- if you search ‘codependent’, ‘passive-agressive’ and AL-Anon, you should find some helpful information there as well.

        God bless you.

  3. Dawn says:

    Your mom and my mom should have tea sometime. Like yours, she’s not the same woman she was 20 years ago, but retribution was high on her list of “How to Parent Effectively.” I remember her telling me on more than one occasion, “I don’t get mad, I get even.” I also have blank spots in my memories…

    I’m thinking of writing a post on how you cannot affably strike anyone. Just the very act of hitting generates negative feelings, in the same way that smiling when you are sad makes you feel happy. But I want to find some evidence to back it up first, not just simply my experiential anecdotes.

    • greenegem says:

      I have come to the same conclusion myself. I would love to hear what you have to say.

      I think here sometimes needing a ‘scientific’ back up for our own experiences bites us back. After all it was ‘science’ that contributed to behaviorism, and the extinction mehtods of childrearing that have done so much damage. At some point we need to all stand up and say, ‘forget the science folks, it just doesn’t work that way.’ and have it accepted as common exerience, and therefore, as fact.


  4. Pearl says:

    :hug. Thanks for writing so frankly and clearly about a tough topic. I deal with some of the same things every day. Though I have chosen not to spank and have successfully stuck to that so far, I also can see where I still have some of the same boundary dysfunctions operating that keep my from parenting as gracefully and positively as I desire. It’s about so much more than spanking or not spanking. I know you know what I mean.

  5. Jennie says:

    Wow, I could have almost written that post, up until the part about not remembering. I remember trying desperately to sit still, because if I moved during the first 10 swats I would get another 10. I remember sitting on their laps afterwards trying to make my crying sound like repentance instead of anger. It breaks my heart, because I don’t understand how they could have done that to me if they really loved me.

    • greenegem says:

      ((Jennie)) I think I was never struck that many times. 😦 ❤


      • TealRose says:

        My parents just spanked until they felt it was enough. 10 I guess would have been a pre warm up not even worth counting or thinking about …. 😦

    • TealRose says:

      I remember only too well too Jennie. I have no idea about ‘how many swats’ I was getting or got or if there were extras. I do know that there was NO way that I was going to submit. There was NO way I was going to apologise either if whatever the crime was hadn’t been done by me. There was NO way I was hugging with them.. and no doubt I made it worse for myself. But all I do know is that I felt that I had somehow more .. hmm.. dignity, self respect ? than to allow them to do that to me. Sounds petty now – but it is the only thing that kept me going. How do they feel about the spankings now Jennie? Do they KNOW how bad it was for you?? And do they accept that and have they said ‘sorry’ for what it’s worth? Or like my mum… do they have NO idea, telling you like mine did that ‘ You were fine and happy’ – when you know that you weren’t ??

  6. Pingback: Damaging Effects of Punishment on Children | Why Not Train A Child?

  7. Rita says:

    I can relate to so much of what you have written. I am so sorry you went through it. But I am so thankful you write. I think I posted on another post a few months ago, but I still can’t thank you enough for validating me and what I remember. You have managed to put into words feelings that I have struggled with my whole life.

    • greenegem says:

      While I am sad for anyone who shares experiences like mine, I can say that it is always heartening to receive positive comments like yours. ❤


  8. Pingback: Why I will never spank my child(ren)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s