About Enmeshment

Enmeshment is a term used to describe when boundaries are either very weak or non existent in a relationship, most commonly within a family.  Enmeshed families aren’t simply close.  Closeness is healthy, but enmeshment is not.  It can cause  a myriad of problems for the children.

Enmeshed families share very similar traits.  The children are expected to think & act like their parents, to work in the line of work their parents want them to & basically live the life their parents want them to live rather than what they want to.  Children are also usually the only close “friends” of sorts that the parents have.  The parents demand or guilt trip their children spend plenty of time with them rather than create an environment that would make their children want to spend time with them.  Children, no matter their age, aren’t supposed to do things they want, such as spending time with people other than their parents.  In fact, enmeshed parents don’t want their children to leave home.  Many adult children from these families didn’t leave home at an appropriate age.  Instead they lived with their parents well into their 20’s, 30’s or maybe never even moved out.  These children also feel responsible for their parents, starting at a very young age.  This can cause them to put their parents’ needs & wants over their own, & later also over their spouse’s needs & wants.  It creates a tremendous amount of stress in a marriage.

Children in enmeshed families frequently grow up feeling out of place when they aren’t with their families.  They also lack a real identity beyond who their parents tell them they are.  Their self esteem is usually quite low as well.  Other common problems include a lack of relationship skills & lack of understanding of healthy boundaries.   They also tend to be very distrustful of people who aren’t related to them, yet tolerate any abuse their family members heap on them.  Many of these adult children seek out romantic partners who need caring for, which is a pattern they learned in childhood from their needy parents.

In order to end this dysfunctional behavior, the child of enmeshed parents needs first to recognize just how dysfunctional & harmful enmeshment is.  It can be very hard to do this after a lifetime of believing the lie that the enmeshment means their family is closer & healthier t han others, but it still must be done.

Next, some distance must be set between parent & child.  This is also very hard, I know, especially since most likely the parent will shame the child for wanting some space, but it can be done.  Start small, such as not answering their call sometimes.  If your parent complains, just say you were busy (which you were.. taking care of yourself) & couldn’t get to the phone.  Also don’t spend as much time with your parent as you have.  Pull away a bit.  Don’t be so readily available to your parent.  If they need your help, unless it’s a true emergency, tell them you can’t do what they need now but you can in a few days.  These small ways to start setting boundaries will strengthen you & enable you to set bigger & better boundaries in the future.

Learn who you are, too.  Pay attention to what you truly want, like, think, feel… you may discover you are much different than what your parents always said you were.  Or, you may have some similarities.  Either way, get to know the real you & enjoy who you are.

Recognize the false guilt.  If your parent does their best to make you feel guilty for not taking their call one day or not visiting them, that is ridiculous.  You’re an adult with your own life!  Don’t accept that false guilt!

If you have close friends who understand your situation, discuss it with them.  Let them support you.  And if you don’t, check online for support forums.  No doubt you can find one that helps you.

Mostly, turn to God.  Pray about your situation & let Him help you to heal.  He loves you & will be glad to do that for you!

11 Comments

Filed under Abuse and the Healing Journey, Christian Topics and Prayers, Mental Health, Narcissism

11 responses to “About Enmeshment

  1. ibikenyc

    Just another brick in my wall!

    Thank you for more powerful insight 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Molly hermes

    Thank you for the article. When I started to distance myself from my mother, my sister did her best to try to make me feel guilty. My sister sent the text, “If it makes you feel better, you are intentionally hurting mom and it’s working. Do you think she was intentional in what she did to you?” I’m relieved to break away from the disfunction and enmeshment. My mother would always tell me things like, “we like this, or we are ______.” I know now what that it. She doesn’t see me as separate from her. Even though I am the scapegoat and she seems to enjoy her covert attempts at upsetting me. I look forward to your articles. I can identify with what you write. It is helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome for the article 🙂

      Wow… your sister must be really enmeshed with your mom. What a thing to say! Shows so much dysfunction!

      You are absolutely right.. your mother doesn’t see you as separate from her. Typical behavior of narcissistic parents, unfortunately.

      Thank you so much… I’m glad what I write helps you! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve recently discovered the term “emotional flashbacks” for sufferers of CPTSD. It’s the idea that as children we were told weren’t allowed to have feelings. So to survive, we stuffed them down. But now, as adults, the feelings keep coming back up. The solution, as adults, is to acknowledge the feelings. We don’t have to relive the trauma, we just need to acknowledge the feeling.

    I saw a therapist briefly in the 90s who would repeatedly ask me, does this make you feel “mad, sad, glad or afraid”. It seemed silly at the time. It makes sense to me now.

    For example, yesterday morning, I wanted to smoke a cigarette, and did. I felt a huge sense of dread about it even after the hit of nicotine. I stopped and asked God and myself why the dread? (Mad, sad, glad or afraid?) I realized it was taking me to a bad memory where smokers around. I identified the emotion as “afraid”. Then I realized there was no reason to be afraid now. I am completely safe. It took 5 minutes, and I was able to go about my day.

    I think you do this by going to prayer.

    However, for me, I always second-guess God. I mostly trust Him, while at the same time, He is another parental figure. And I absolutely should not trust my human parents.

    I had a friend point this out to me in college. She said, “you don’t trust God because you never had a dad”.

    You seem to have such a strong faith and trust in God now. Perhaps in future posts and videos, you could describe how you came to have such a strong trust in God?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Emotional flashbacks are pretty rough, for sure. I wrote about them some time ago..

      https://cynthiabaileyrug.wordpress.com/2016/07/03/emotional-flashbacks-sensory-flashbacks/

      https://cynthiabaileyrug.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/january-10-2014/

      Thinking it’s been a long time since I wrote about them & should do it again soon. Anyway onto your comment..

      You handled that situation really, really well! GOOD FOR YOU!!! That’s something to be proud of!

      Having faith in God isn’t really easy for those of us without good earthly parents. I still lack faith that I should have more often than I care to admit. All I’ve done is ask Him to increase my faith. Help me to stop with the unbelief. Doing that has helped tremendously! It’s made it harder to deny His hand at work. I look at things now & instead of thinking that’s cool something worked out that way, I think more along the lines of “God did that!!!!” I didn’t change my thinking. God did, because I asked Him to. Not sure that’s worth a video or separate post, because it really is just that simple.

      Liked by 2 people

    • ibikenyc

      ” I mostly trust Him, while at the same time, He is another parental figure.”

      Wow. This is. . . stunning, but in a REALLY-good way.

      Thank you 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you for the links to these past posts. Very helpful. And thank you also for sharing your faith.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. ibikenyc

    Yes; thank you, and also for the links.

    Maybe THIS is why I’m so exhausted so much of the time.

    Liked by 1 person

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