Most people consider close knit families to be a good thing. And they really can be a blessing! They obviously love & support each other through everything life throws their way, yet everyone still has their own life & a healthy amount of individuality & privacy. Sometimes however, families become too close. These families are known as enmeshed, & they are truly toxic. Families like this have very lax or non existent boundaries, dysfunctional patterns in relationships & they discourage any independence. Children who grow up with such families end up as dysfunctional adults until they break the chains of enmeshment.
Enmeshed parents are overly dependent on their children. They rely on their children for emotional support while offering nothing in return. They also expect their children to share their beliefs, values, to meet their expectations even into adulthood all while ignoring their own & they also expect their children to keep their parents as their top priority during their entire lifetime above anyone else including a spouse, children & even God. These parents believe their children need nothing from the world beyond their family, & looking to that world is discouraged. Parents like this also expect their children to maintain the status quo of dysfunction, & are chastised severely if they don’t. Privacy doesn’t happen between parents & children, meaning any topic is suitable for discussion, any item is considered appropriate for the parents to snoop through (purses, dressers, closets, laundry, etc). Families like this remind me of the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation. The children are supposed to be concerned of nothing beyond the Collective, in other words the enmeshing parent. And, if those children opt to marry, their spouse is supposed to be assimilated, also focusing on the Collective. Any hint of not behaving in this manner is seriously frowned upon & results in shunning, shaming & treating the spouse terribly.
Children who grow up in these dysfunctional enmeshed families have plenty of issues. They have virtually no knowledge of their own needs, often minimizing or completely ignoring them. Their goals aren’t their own, but their parents’. These children never learn how to say no in a healthy way. They have serious trust issues with other people, & a fear of abandonment in relationships. They also feel overly responsible, in particular for taking care of their parents. Possibly the saddest part is children who grow up like this never have the opportunity to make their own choices & mistakes, which are needed to form their own identity. Without this, these children grow up with low or even non existent self esteem.
If you recognize yourself in this information, rest assured you can heal from the damage done. I can’t tell you it will be quick & easy, but I can tell you it is very possible.
I always recommend a close relationship with God because it is of the utmost importance in every area of life. It is also incredibly helpful with healing from abuse. (And, make no mistake about it – enmeshment IS abuse!) Allowing God to help you heal & show you what to do is going to be vital to healing. He knows best what you need to do & how you need to do it, so let Him show you & give you whatever you need to do these things.
There are some basic things that everyone needs to do to break this enmeshment with family. You will need to start by setting boundaries. There is information about this on my website at www.CynthiaBaileyRug.com, so you can start there. Learning what is & is not your responsibility will be extremely helpful for you. And, start small, such as not answering a text immediately. Starting small will help you to gain the confidence to set more & more challenging boundaries in time.
Get to know yourself. Learn who God made you to be, what you truly like & dislike, & how to identify your feelings over what your enmeshed parent told you to feel. To do this, start paying attention to how you really feel about things & don’t judge your feelings.
Accept that there is no shame in not having your parents as your top priority as an adult. People need to have God as their top priority, period. If you are married, your spouse should be your second priority, followed by your children, then your parents.
Your enmeshed parent isn’t going to like these behaviors, & that is your parent’s right. You also have rights, including doing what you need to do to be a healthy, functional person! Don’t let your parent’s disapproval take you off that path!
Do what you need to do to break free of this enmeshment. It won’t be easy but it absolutely will be worth it!
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