Building on a framework of family systems concepts, I began my study of family dynamics by considering the implications of boundary violations on women--any emotional, physical, or sexual violation of the feminine self. My chief aim was to explore the emotional reverberations of boundary invasions in childhood on the developmental process.
My study was based, not on clinical tests, but on the testimony of women who spoke articulately and candidly about the forces that shaped and shook them, the difficulties and pain they faced in changing negative patterns of denial and dependency. In analyzing their narratives within the context of family systems theory, I attempted to discover the processes at work in the evolution from dependency and emotional reactivity (or undifferentiation of self) to independence, balance, and discipline (or differentiation of self). In my research I have been not so much concerned with the journey's destination as with its valleys, mountains, and streams--the paths that mark the passage.
My focus has never been a militant one, but I write from a woman's perspective--because I am a woman and because women in our society, traditionally and historically, have been trained since birth to be tolerant, submissive, and self-sacrificing. Such characteristics are virtues of the nurturing woman, but unless they are coupled with a healthy respect for the self, they may lead to martyrdom and victimization. When we add to that cultural message of submission, backgrounds of pathology, alcoholism, poverty, and patriarchy, the woman may lose all sense of identity and become vulnerable and insecure. She may even slip into the abyss of mental illness, addiction, or deviant behavior.