Having a loving family and being close to them is a blessing. It ensures each member thrives and develops a unique personality. But if the family members are too close, and you are always expected to behave a certain way, it may not be so great.
Enmeshment occurs when your family becomes so overbearing that you cannot develop a sense of individual identity. It may also influence your thoughts, feelings, and actions and make you incapable of looking beyond your family or partner’s wishes.
What is an enmeshed relationship? What are its signs, and how does it affect a person? Keep reading to get the answers to these questions.
What Is An Enmeshed Relationship?
Family therapist Salvador Minuchin coined the psychological term “enmeshment” to describe relationships that are so close that individual boundaries become blurred (1). In an enmeshed relationship, a person starts focusing on their family members’ feelings and emotions to such a great extent that they fail to identify their own individual feelings.
For instance, sometimes, parents get so involved in their children’s lives that it can lead to excessive worry and stress. If the parents know that the child is upset about something, it makes them anxious, and they try to fix the problem instead of allowing the child to find a solution for themselves.
What Are The Signs Of An Enmeshed Relationship?
You may be in an enmeshed relationship either with your family or your partner if you notice the following signs.
- You feel like you share the emotional burden of the other person in the relationship. You are often unsure if the anger, sadness, guilt, or any other emotion you feel is truly yours or the other person’s.
- You find it difficult to feel happy or enjoy yourself when you know that the other person or your parents are sad or angry.
- You rarely do anything for yourself, and everything you do is mostly to make other people in the relationship happy. You feel it is your sole responsibility to take care of them.
- You are made to feel guilty for not being there for them because of a choice you made for yourself. For instance, you move out of your house and to a place far from your parent’s house to pursue a good job opportunity
- The other person is always your priority, and your personal needs become secondary for you. You even feel that what they want is what you want too. For instance, you have been saving money to buy a new bag for yourself, but your partner convinces you to use that money to buy fishing reels.
- You are expected to fit in and behave in a certain way as determined by your family. Your perspectives on things are brushed aside, and you are hardly given opportunities to make choices.
- Your state of mind is based on your current relationship with your family or one person.
- In the case of conflicts, you are the one always trying to make up first. You become anxious if you do not solve any differences as soon as possible.
- You avoid getting into a debate or conflict, fearing you might offend others.
- Your parents or spouse needs to know everything that is going on in your life, and there is nothing personal that you can keep from them.
- You change your goals and preferences to meet the expectations of your family or spouse.
- You feel like you attract or absorb their problems, and you need to fix them yourself.
- You feel left out or offended when the other person or your family make plans and do not involve you.
- You are dependent on their opinion for making any decision.
- You feel that overstepping personal boundaries is a form of love and that nothing is wrong in being overly involved in each other’s lives.
- You lack personal time because your family or spouse insists you spend all your time with them.
- You are unable to make any close relationships outside of your immediate family.
What Causes Enmeshment In A Relationship?
Several factors can give rise to an enmeshed relationship, and you need to identify the exact cause. The following are some of the most common reasons.
- Being born into an enmeshed family set-up affects the way a person perceives life. The family dynamics are usually passed down through several generations in a family and are difficult to change or break.
- Sometimes, an untoward incident or some sort of trauma to the child or even themselves can make parents excessively protective of the child. They do it to protect the child from harm but never learn to stop interfering in their child’s life. They even make important choices for them.
- In a relationship, one partner may feel incredibly lucky to be with the spouse and do everything to please them and keep them happy.
What Are The Possible Effects Of Enmeshment?
Enmeshed relationships can affect a person’s emotional and physical well-being. Here are a few possible effects of enmeshment (1).
- Anxiety and fear in kids
- Low self-worth or constant self-doubt
- Fear of being left alone
- Inability to identify one’s true feelings
- Lack of personal goals
- Inability to speak for oneself
- Feeling responsible for or deserving of ill-treatment by someone
- Inability to face difficult situations on your own
- Inability to form meaningful relationships outside the immediate family
- Health issues such as frequent headaches, fatigue, and chronic pain
How To Grow Out Of Enmeshed Relationships?
If you think it is time for you to come out of an enmeshed relationship, here are a few ways to help you.
- Draw personal boundaries: If you have been in an enmeshed relationship with your family since childhood, you need to break out by establishing personal boundaries for yourself. You need to be aware of instances where you think you slip and control your reaction to them. When you feel something, ask yourself if the emotion is stirred up by your actions or someone else’s actions. If it is because of someone else, try not to feel affected and allow that person to deal with it themselves.
- Create a personal connection with yourself: Try to spend more time with yourself and address any uncomfortable feelings you might have. It may be difficult to confront such feelings, but it will help you understand yourself better and tackle any unresolved feelings. Take responsibility for those feelings, accept them as your own, and then deal with them one at a time. Avoid blaming someone else for how you feel, as it will only build resentment within you.
- Spend quality time in nature: Every few days, allot a few hours to spend time in nature. Follow it religiously. Try meditation and observe any sensation you might feel. Ensure you are fully aware of yourself and present in the moment. This will help you build a stronger sense of self and protect you from getting affected by outer energies.
- Do away with any kind of guilt: Thinking for yourself can make you feel guilty, and you might feel you are selfish for doing something only for yourself. But remember that self-love is important, and every individual must indulge in some “me time” to nurture oneself. It is not wrong to think and act for your betterment in life. You deserve happiness, and it is your duty to take care of your mental and physical well-being.
- Get some professional help: After being conditioned to live and behave in a certain way, it can be a daunting task to change by yourself. If things feel difficult, you can always seek help from a professional counselor. A good therapist can help untie the knots in your mind and make you better understand yourself.
Breaking free from an enmeshed relationship is no easy task, but it isn’t impossible. Prioritize yourself, for if you do not love yourself, no one else will. Learn to be firm and strong when it concerns your happiness. Never feel guilty about doing anything that makes you feel happy. Of course, this does not mean you can start trampling on other’s feelings. Be kind and considerate of your family, but not to the extent where you lose your identity or fail to take care of your needs.
2. Enmeshment; GoodTherapy