Boundary problems and early intervention

In my clinical work and with some people I have met socially I have seen how that only incarceration could provide the boundaries necessary for purposeful behavior. I know one man who is now in his late thirties who has functioned very well during numerous imprisonments, at times proving himself to have real artistic skills. But whenever he has been released, he always goes back to drugs, alcohol, and criminal mischief. I had a young male client one time who was court-ordered to a military-style youth ranch due to persistent incorrigible behavior. I will never forget how proud he was upon his return that he had excelled in that highly-structured environment and had won numerous awards. And I saw many clients benefit immensely from the structured therapeutic environment of residential treatment. These young men and women had not internalized a boundary structure so that they could function in the world and had to have it imposed from the outside. And some were so damaged that they will never function without some “external ego” such as a parole officer or a life-sentence.

I often got the feeling with some of these young clients that with their behavior they were basically screaming for someone to set the boundaries their parents had not been able to provide. It is as if they were echoing the comic smirk of Jim Carrey, “Somebody stop me!!!!!” Too many times in our self-indulgent modern world no one will stop them and they are enabled repeatedly, basically rewarded for behavior that can only create severe problems for them in their adult life.

Maladaptive behavior reflects emotional needs that have not been met. As long as the maladaptive behavior is permitted to continue, the “emotional needs” cannot be felt and change cannot be effected. The behavior must be stopped, then the anguish can be experienced, and then new behavior patterns can be taught. But when the intervention is not applied early enough, the behavior patterns become too deep-seated, they become “hard-wired” neurologically, and change is very difficult if not impossible.


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