Apr 14, 2022


by Lisa A. Romano

abandonment adult children of alcoholics attachment styles setting healthy boundaries in relationships

In this blog, I will discuss why adult children of alcoholics (ACOA) and those of us who come from dysfunctional homes struggle to set boundaries even with our adult children. 

Setting Healthy Boundaries In Relationships:

One of the most challenging things  we face as adult children of alcoholics or narcissists is the ability to say ‘no’. As adults, we can even struggle to set healthy boundaries with our own children. 

It’ simportant to acknowledge that this is a problem because once you identify a problem, only  then can solve a problem.  In reality,  many of us have this problem, and we don’t even realize it.

We live in DENIAL.

Setting Healthy Boundaries in Relationships is Scary

The idea of setting healthy boundaries in relationships makes us afraid that people might  think we're selfish, or wrong; we fear that people will abandon us if we set them. 

We're afraid that people will say we’re narcissistic because we’ve set a boundary. Thisis especially true if you had parents who violated your boundaries and you were never allowed to develop an ego boundary (which is very healthy!). 

Healthy ego boundaries develop in a child who is roughly 3 to 4 years of age who is permitted to view themselves as separate from others without being punished or shamed. Think of the child who says things like,”this is mine’. the child is developing a healthy sense of self. But for those of us who don’t understand what it means to really encourage a child’s sense of self; we could make mistakes by saying, “Oh no, she’s being silly, she’s being selfish,” and take the toy out of the baby’s hand to give it to another. 

But that is not the way to handle it, folks! 

The baby or child saying ‘it’s mine’ is developing a healthy sense of self. They are requesting that they be permitted to develop an ‘I’.

Extreme Parenting

So what happens if you have an extreme parent who views ego boundaries as a threat?

What happens if as a child, you developed low self esteem in response to being denied the right to develop healthy ego boundaries?

A child that grows up in a home with parents who encourage tindividuality and a healthy sense of self knows that it’s okay to make a mistake, it’s okay to spill the milk, and it’s okay to color outside the lines. This permission is vital to our personal development. 

Identifying Your Childhood Programming

The narcissistic parent  will feel threatened by a child’s individuality. This is really important for us to figure out because you have to identify who raised you to understand who hepled to shape your personality. 

We are all born with a code, and that code is good!

Your base code DNA is the second layer of programming, which is your personality and it is very much dependent on who raised you and the belief systems they have.

Now, in the next layer, you can break through and reprogram. You can recreate your perception of self, but how do we do that? 

“By becoming more self-aware and looking within yourself. 

Only then can we solve a problem.”

Part of what I do in my work with adult children of alcoholics/those raised by narcissistic parents, along with anyone who has been gaslit for so long inside a narcissistic relationship, is help them identify what’s wrong. I want to talk about the stuff that hurt you and that shaped you because if we can identify the problem and deconstruct it, then we can construct a solution.

Prioritizing Self-Care:

By identifying a problem, we can look to understand why we find it tough to set healthy boundaries in relationships and why our energy is drained from not setting these all-important boundaries. For instance, the adult child of an alcoholic will cook a meal for everyone and then sit down in front of the TV with a gallon of ice cream whilst they are in bed (that is not self-care!). It’s about recognizing what will help you on this journey of self-healing.

I love studying the brain, and one of the things we have to get really clear on if we are serious about healing is that the brain is encoded with information no different from the code in your DNA. Your base code gets layered by a dysfunctional code that is not your fault! But as spiritual and conscious beings, we can break that code. But before we can do that you have to identify the problem.

So, for instance, if you grew up in a home where your family never acknowledged the color green, and let’s say you're driving down the highway and there was a green dinosaur, you won’t see it! Your brain wouldn’t pick it up because it has no pattern or code for it. 

I like to take scientific ideas and marry them with emotional ones to see how it affects the adult child of a narcissist or an alcoholic. 

Are You Attracted to Bad Boys?

I often have women ask, “Lisa, why am I attracted to the bad boys?” That’s your code; that’s not your fault. That is what you are encoded with. You are not encoded with compassion, love and patience, especially when it comes to romantic relationships. Just like your body is designed to reject a foreign object, you emotionally reject this foreign experience that love is designed to be kind. If a ‘nice’ guy doesn’t excite you, well, you're not encoded for patience and kindness. Your brain thinks, ‘I don’t get this,’ and we confuse infatuation with intimacy. 

If you would like to learn more about setting healthy boundaries in relationships and sticking to them, look out for Part 2 of this blog or watch this video on my YouTube Channel, where I dive into each step of the process.

Adult children of alcoholics, and children of narcissistic parents, have been programmed to deny their emotions, leads to low self esteem, and codependence in relationships.

Codependency recovery hinges on coming out of denial regarding a dysfunctional family system.  If you resonate with these concepts, please know there is help. 

 Visit my website at www.lisaaromano.com for some more resources, as well as my 12-Week Breakthrough Program and Codependency Quiz.

Namaste everybody, until next time!