We all belong to a family but how the structure shapes us is an important aspect. Many are either conditioned to ignore or live through it without realizing what impact it has on the person. Enmeshment is when in a family the boundaries are not well drawn or have been completely non-existent. In other words, when a family lacks clear roles, boundaries, and responsibilities it is called enmeshment.
What is enmeshment?
In a healthy and functional family structure, members develop common principles, are loyal to one another, and have clear communication boundaries. In an enmeshed family structure, these clarities don’t exist. The shared values and dedication often jeopardize a member’s well-being and associated individuality.
Also known as emotional incest the family relationships are wired with not set boundaries and expectations. Everything’s a mess and members of such a structure often find it difficult to understand what is their share of responsibility and what isn’t.
The functionality is highly disarrayed and parents often are inappropriately dependent on their children in a way that it robs them of privacy, emotions and even causes a mayhem of complex interdependence.
What is enmeshment trauma? When a person from such a complex, disarrayed and unhealthy environment steps out, they will find it difficult to adapt to how the world works. They have a narrow and limited view of how things are having to face reality can get overwhelming.
Signs to look out for: What are the signs of enmeshment?
- There are no physical or emotional boundaries between family members
- You don’t know your roles and responsibilities in the family. It’s always jumbled up and you are expected to always act in a certain way
- Are made to spend time with the family
- Your success is the basis for the parents’ self-worth
- Parents often dictate what a child should be doing with their life
- You have a hard time saying no
- Every detail of your life must be known to the family
- Members of the family overshare personal encounters such that it sets unrealistic expectations and an unhealthy environment of dependency amongst each other
- Fixing others problems is always your priority
- You neglect yourself because you don’t know how to prioritize yourself
- Pleasing everyone is an everyday practice that’s appreciated
- Feeling constantly responsible for how others feel
- Cannot make your own choices without feeling guilty or being made to feel guilty about it
This is how an enmeshed family functions
- Family members have defined roles that are utilized by others in the family to trigger dysfunctional behavior
- The emotional incest usually begins when a member of the family develops a mental health condition or is an addict of sort
- Dissent is frowned upon and is not appreciated by the family
- Everyone in the family is tied together with emotional involvement
- There are unspoken rules, hierarchical order and protocols that must be adhered to all times to maintain the family structure
- Highly demanding family structure that require presence and engagement of everyone regardless of consent and age
- These behaviors are cited to be normal and portrayed to be something that’s followed in other families as well
The Trauma of an Enmeshed Family: How it Grows and Ruins a Person’s Mental Capacity
Growing in an environment that normalizes abuse is traumatic and can hamper mental & emotional well-being of a person. While in some enmeshed family, the behaviour could be a response to death of a close relative or due to an illness.
While the family members come together in a tight knit to protect and safeguard one another, lack of boundaries can root enmeshment.
Such families do not recognize there’s something wrong in the way they function. For example, being abused after a loss in casino gambling is blamed on your bad grades. As if your bad grades cause the family member to lose in gambling. Worst of all, there are chances others in the family too can get defensive about the abusive response you received.
Many times, it can be labelled as a stress induced reaction and on other occasions, it is your behavior, lack of consideration and gratitude towards the family that invited the abuse. In fact, it is not even termed abuse in such families. It is considered an effective way to deal with the situation at hand.
How Enmeshment Influences Adult Relationships?
When a person is devoid of rights to their won emotions and individual needs, they often find it hard to establish meaningful relationships outside the family. In fact, getting emotionally involved with someone outside the family is considered a wrongdoing and can invite punishments to undo the damage the family’s worth might have endured.
How enmeshment affects adulthood relationships:
- The person is often attracted to women who resemble a mother-figure
- Intimate relationships smothers such people and they don’t know what exactly they expect from a relationship
- They are never fully invested in relationships as subconsciously they believe they are betraying their family
- Finding it difficult to let a partner into your life and opening up to them
- You cannot make decisions on your own. You need multiple heads thinking on the same problem
- Have higher regard and priority for the family over your partner
- Find it difficult to commit since meeting demands of an individual and private relationship may invoke fear in you
- Show passive-aggressive behaviour without realizing it
- You are attracted and attract people who look for emotional codependency
- Have a hard time creating and sticking to boundaries
How to Recover from an Enmeshment?
Deciding to move out of a toxic space and reworking oneself is the first step to living a free life on your own terms. While you may feel lost because of the emotional dependency and lack of individuality you had experienced in the past, there’s still hope.
Here’s how you can pave way to healing:
Set Boundaries: Boundaries protect us from unwanted and harmful interactions. They act as a healthy way to limit interactions with others around you. Privacy and personal space are always jeopardized in enmeshed families.
This is where boundaries can help understand when it’s okay to get involved and how much involvement you should look at
Rediscover your true self without guilt: In a family where doing things your way was always frowned upon, it is difficult to know who you are for real.
Do you really enjoy reading newspapers or was it just an everyday practice you had to do (otherwise it would upset people)? You will have this constant urge to make people around you happy but here’s the thing to remember – put yourself first, always.
Figure out what you enjoy doing the most. Is it painting, going out on long walks or just baking a cake from the box. Find what your values are. Do you like helping the community or do you find teaching fascinating? Rediscovering yourself not only helps Identify areas that need work but also helps in developing a malnourished personality.
Let go of the guilt: It can be haunting to do something that’s not from the family rulebook especially when you have been cultured to do so. If you are doing something that’s right for you and guilt tries to prevent you from doing that, stop right there to take a deep breath.
Know that putting yourself first is crucial in the path to recovery and you don’t owe this life to anyone. It is yours and you get to choose how you want to live it
Seek help and support: Moving out of a framework that has dictated your life at some point in time can be exhausting. There will be days when the progress will seem useless and you will find yourself gravitating towards the old methods. This is where a professional can help.
They are trained to handle such situations and they know exactly how to ground you without causing panic. Moreover, having support while you rebuild your true self is anyday an excellent choice than to do everything on your own.
Remember, you are not alone and we are always here to help!