As a kid, I spent a few summers at my granny’s down the country. One scene always stuck with me. It is my brightest and earliest memory of manipulative “ attempts for parenting” or abuse of control by an adult. I have linked this experience with other events which have affected me in a similar way, one which occurred recently. That recent event yet again highlighted me the importance of healthy boundaries. What it was about was somebody (I had placed) at authority tricking me into loosening my boundaries, just so they could cross them and “punish” me for something someone else had allowed me to do. An analogy to abusive relationships, where the rules keep changing so you never know what they are, which makes it easy for you to break them and to get punished.

I can’t remember precisely, but I think I was about 7 years old. I spent a summer at my granny’s, and my aunty was there too. One day she said she was going to town, and asked if I would like for her to get me something? I kept on saying no, that I’m okay, but she kept insisting, so I eventually said yes. She came back with a small 50g Tupla chocolate bar, which I ate. After I was done ha, she barged in and shouted at me for being rude for not sharing it with everyone else, that being myself and four others. Granny’s then-husband (who was not my grandpa) ran in, threw me over his knee and spanked me in front of everyone. This humiliation has left an unpleasant print in my memory.

Speaking to my great-aunty recently (my gandpa’s sis), she told me a story which happened, when that same aunty, my dad and uncle were little. Always the favourite by her mum (my granny), aunty was in a room by herself as she suddenly started shouting for my granny, screaming that the two boys are bullying her, while they were actually not even in the same room with her. Granny and grandpa ran in and grandpa gave dad and my uncle a beating for being bad, while aunty smirked viciously.

So it appears, what aunty did to me as an adult, was just what she did to my dad and uncle as a child. What was the payoff there for her? What did she gain from this turn of events? The answer to this may not be as simple as these correlated events. But what I learnt from making these connections, was to see the power games and poor self-management of unconscious people, and the importance of self-awareness so that we can sustain healthy boundaries. Maybe there was also a lesson for me to feel empathy for my dad and uncle, to understand their family dynamics. I now also have the clarity to see that in various settings where we go in life, a lot of our family roles and dynamics are constantly being played out. As children, we were powerless to draw boundaries, but as adults, it is our responsibility.