What is enmeshment? Enmeshment is a term used to describe the blurring of personal boundaries in relationships. It usually begins between family members, but it often spreads into other relationships. It involves a lack of individual independence or autonomy. The relationships are too close for comfort. For instance, someone in an enmeshed relationship may be unable to find a balance between being supportive of the other person or be able to do what they want. There is the crossing of an invisible line into a dynamic where the interaction in the relationship is unhealthy.
A healthy dependence on your family as people can you rely on and feel a sense of belonging to, is good. But, if the boundaries become blurred, this can be a problem. For example, if the role of a parent and child becomes reversed. Or, if a child is not allowed to develop their own independence. Enmeshment can also take the form of one person always saving another or being the “fixer”. On the other hand, it can involve one person always wanting to have control over what is said and done. In this scenario, others aren’t allowed others to express their individuality.
Enmeshment in families can be a pattern that has spanned several previous generations. Parents often repeat what they have learned. Alternatively, those who have come from families that were distant may consciously try to parent differently. This can result in overcompensating for a closeness they feel they did not have.
Enmeshment can occur if there has been an event or situation where one person has needed to step in. This may have been the right thing at the time, but this pattern has stuck and continued longer than necessary. Individual family members may then lose their individual sense of self and become codependent. Families with a narcissistic parent or anyone with a narcissistic personality disorder are also at risk of family enmeshment due to unhealthy boundaries and expectations.
People who are in enmeshed families and relationships often do not realize or recognize that this is a dysfunctional family dynamic. They may not understand the harmful long-term effects enmeshment can have on people’s future relationships. Acknowledging blurred boundaries can also be a difficult thing for many people to accept they should change.
Some of the signs of enmeshed relationships include:
If you have an enmeshed family and can relate to many of the signs above, there are steps you can take to try to establish better boundaries. Some of these include:
Close and balanced family relationships where people feel supported and allowed to express themselves as individuals are considered healthy. Enmeshed families and relationships that are too close or controlling, are not. Families can be complicated things. Enmeshment is not always easily recognized or changed if others involved do not wish to do so, but it can be done. If you have recognized it in yourself or in your adult relationships, you may also be seeing how the effects of enmeshment have affected your life as a whole. To make changes start small. Reflecting on what is best for you in life and ways you can start creating and setting better boundaries with those around you.
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