Unchosen relationships are relationships with family members who suffer from personality disorders.
Unchosen is a term used to describe those of us who did not choose their relationship to a person with a personality disorder. Some of us have parents with this disorder; others have a sibling, in-laws, or other familial relationships. We did not choose this relationship the same way a person chooses a relationship to a partner with or a friend with a personality disorder.
For instance: someone who grew up with a personality disordered parent will have had a vastly different struggle than someone who had a relatively normal childhood, but ended up with a disordered partner. That doesn't mean the "Unchosen" person's pain is any greater or any less than the "Chosen" person's pain, but very often, the abuse and inappropriate behaviors modeled during his or her formative years will have deeply affected the Unchosen Non child's core sense of being (and well-being), and may have long-lasting impacts on trust, self-esteem and the ability to form or maintain healthy relationships in adulthood.
When the personality disordered individual is a child, the pain and disruption is experienced by the entire family. Adults feel responsible, trapped, frustrated and depressed. Non-personality-disordered siblings feel fearful and neglected as their parents focus on the problems created by the disordered individual.
The Unchosen Relationship
To be in an unchosen relationship is difficult and often traumatizing. We are told repeatedly by society and well-meaning people that we "must," "should," "have to" (fill in the blank) because they - the personality disordered - are family.
We are often asked to overlook continued abuses because the person is ill. In other instances we are expected to “be the bigger person” and stuff our emotions so as not to upset the ill family member. We are asked to parent our parent while still trying to have a life of our own.
People who haven’t been where we have been truly have no idea what we live with. Some of us are constantly torn between trying to protect and heal ourselves and trying to have some sort of relationship with our families, however dysfunctional they may be. Others have decided that they no longer want a relationship with the ill family member. Many of us have been subjected to a lifetime of emotional, verbal, physical, and sometimes sexual abuse. These abuses do not disappear just because time has passed or because we are adults. Sometimes the worst scars cannot be seen.
In this section, you may see terms like NC (no contact) or LC (limited contact). Many people choose one or the other, or drift back and forth between them trying to find a balance with which they are comfortable. Some choose to try and tolerate what they can, when they can, knowing they are unable to completely remove themselves from a parent or other relative. Understand that what works for one simply does not work for everyone.
Everyone who comes to the Out of the FOG web site is at a different stage in their relationship and their personal journey. Here, we try to respect those differences and exercise patience and tolerance. Sometimes we learn the most about ourselves by reaching out to others in similar situations.
An Unchosen Perspective on Boundaries
It can be difficult to maintain or define boundaries when you are involved in a familial or otherwise unchosen relationship. Often, we are taught as children "not to make waves" or to “just get along;” that is, to not assert or define our own boundaries. As children we want to please our disordered parent and get along with a disordered sibling or relative; however, a personality disordered individual lacks appropriate personal boundaries of their own. This can result in inappropriate affectionate gestures and lack of personal privacy for the child.
When our own personal boundaries are routinely broken, the message we learn is that our own needs and feelings don’t count - we are required to accept how others treat us without question. As we grow into adults, these lessons can become our way of life. We often feel taken advantage of, feel used or feel that our desires are unimportant. We become frustrated and angry that our boundaries are violated yet we are unable to express what, exactly, our boundaries are.
Constant yielding to a parent, sibling or relative becomes second nature. We lose our own sense of self and often find ourselves in unhappy relationships, jobs and life situations. The early lessons - that our feelings, views and opinions don’t count - continue to dominate our lives, sometimes subconsciously.
This can result in poor life choices, from entering into careers or occupations that are a poor fit for us, to marrying the person we “should” rather than the person we love. The yielding to others we were taught as children can spill over into every relationship we have as adults. The consequences can be disastrous and painful. It sometimes feels as if we are living someone else’s life.
Learning to enforce boundaries takes practice and patience. Yet it can be done - and lead us to a healthier, happier life. You can read some more ideas on setting healthy boundaries in our boundaries section.