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Revisiting the Construct of Boundary Dissolution: A Multidimensional Perspective

The term boundary dissolution refers to a complex set of phenomena involving the loss of psychological distinctiveness between individuals or the confusion of their interpersonal roles (Kerig, 2003a). The breakdown of appropriate generational boundaries between parents and children significantly increases the risk for emotional abuse. For example, Hart, Binggeli, and Brassard (1998) describe the psychologically abusive parent as engaging in an exploitative relationship in which the parent coerces the child into gratifying the parent’s emotional needs rather than providing for the child’s. While the concept of boundaries has a rich history in both the family systems and psychodynamic literatures (Ackerman, 1958; see Chase, 1999 for an historical overview), and might be said to stand at the boundary between the two schools of thought, it also promises to contribute to a much-needed bridge between them (Minuchin, 1985; Slipp, 1991). Attention to family process is central both to psychodynamic and systems theories, as is the idea that family relationships-past or present-are internalized in ways that have important implications for psychological development (Sroufe & Fleeson, 1988; Zeanah, Anders, Seifer, & Stern, 1989).