You will often hear family therapists use the words codependency and enmeshment, so it’s good to find out what an enmeshed relationship means. The definition of an enmeshed relationship is that it is a relationship in which personal boundaries are unclear and permeable. All in all, an enmeshed relationship is a problem.
We are going to talk some more about the definition of an enmeshed relationship, signs of enmeshment and enmeshment in marriage, as well as enmeshed family characteristics, so read on to discover all about it.
What does enmeshed relationship mean?
Enmeshment often happens on an emotional level when two people can feel each other’s emotions or seemingly copy each other’s emotions, like in the case where one person becomes emotionally escalated, and the other person does as well.
A good example of an enmeshed relationship is that of a teenage daughter who gets depressed and anxious, and in turn, her mother gets depressed and anxious as well. So the answer to what is enmeshment in a relationship would be that situation where the mother can’t separate her emotional experience from the emotional experience of her daughter, even though they might say that they have clear personal boundaries in their relationship.
Emotional enmeshment between a child and a parent will often lead to being overly involved in each other’s lives. And because of it, it could be hard for a child to become responsible for her choices or developmentally independent.
Do you really have a strong sense of who you are? Do you take responsibility for how other people feel? Do you tend to carry the weight of other people’s issues on your own shoulders?
Creating a sense of self and a strong identity is a crucial part of your emotional, spiritual and mental development growing up. And all children undergo that natural process of attachment to their parents when they are babies and then get disconnected from their parents in the period from toddlerhood to adolescence. And detaching from our parents is crucial if we are to function in a mature and healthy way as an adult.
But it can happen that we are not permitted by our parents to go through that detachment phase because they do not allow us to develop a clear sense of I-AM-ness and an individual identity. Instead, we are undifferentiated and enmeshed, just like babies.
And emotional enmeshment is a problem because enmeshed boundaries are always weak or non-existent. So what could happen if we remained undifferentiated from our family? What could happen if we didn’t develop a strong identity?
The answer is that we wouldn’t be able to function in a healthy way later on in our relationships. We might have to deal with enmeshment in marriage and face problems such as social anxiety, depression, codependency, a toxic or abusive relationship, emptiness, attracting needy or unhealthy friends, low self-worth, neediness, or empathic overload. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
If you are having trouble with relationships and human connection, it might be because you have experienced family enmeshment growing up. And enmeshed relationships are full of manipulation and heartache, but there is still hope for change.
So why did your parents create an enmeshed environment when enmeshed relationships are so dangerous? Of course, the reasons were mostly subconscious and unintentional, so you should know that your parents did not deliberately do this.
One of the reasons could be that your parents became protective of you because you experienced some trauma, a dangerous illness or a significant issue at school. It was hard for them to let go as you grew older because they were afraid that you would become vulnerable if they let go of their protective role.
But the most common reason is that your parents had actually been in enmeshed relationships with their parents. This style of parenting has probably been passed along because the root of it is fear and fear spreads like a virus.
Some of those fears are the fear of a child growing older and moving away, which comes from a fear of being alone, fear of being worthless in a child’s life, which comes from low self-worth, fear of being autonomous and independent, fear of having the role of a parent obliterated and the fear of purposelessness.
This is why it’s important to know enmeshed family characteristics and put a stop to them. Because in an enmeshed relationship, you were raised to see yourself as an entity, as ‘us’ instead of being permitted to be your unique self.
I am going to tell you how an enmeshed relationship could impact you as an adult. You feel the need to rescue everyone, or you feel the need to be rescued yourself. Maybe you take responsibility for other people’s choices, feelings, and habits or you can’t tell the difference between the emotions of others from your own. You may have a problem with giving yourself or others some personal space.
Do you feel like your partner completes you and like you would be nothing without them? Do you get tangled in other people’s drama easily? Do you feel betrayed when your friend or partner wants to do something without you? Do you define your worth by how useful you are to those around you? You probably also confuse obsession with care, and your sense of self is very weak, so you aren’t really sure of who you are.
Being in an enmeshed relationship has probably caused you to now easily lose your identity when you are in the presence of others. You probably also don’t have many hobbies or interests outside of your relationships, and you might make other people responsible for how you feel instead of taking responsibility for your emotions.
Now it’s time to reflect and consider your response to the consequences that I listed. How do you feel now that you have read them? Are you having strong feelings, and if so, what feelings? It is perfectly normal if you are feeling triggered by these symptoms if you have a problem with enmeshment.
So what can you do about it? Read our list of signs of enmeshment later in this article, and if you realize that you have a problem, there are things you can do to help strengthen your sense of self:
1. You should explore your own interests
Keep persisting in finding out what you are passionate about because that truly is an exciting path. Explore interests outside of your relationships because it will give you more personal autonomy, and that means a stronger sense of self and more personal empowerment. Why don’t you research hobbies online?
2. Boundaries are important
You need to set boundaries because it’s necessary to overcome your enmeshment patterns, so you need to respect your right to say, “No.” It’s time to put your foot down and draw the line.
3. Find joy in being alone
You need to learn to enjoy your time alone and not get depressed, bored and lonely like you are now because of having grown up in an enmeshed environment. Set aside time to be alone each week and do something that you enjoy.
4. Take personality tests and read books
Your journey consists of self-discovery and self-awareness, so pick up some self-help books and find some personality tests you can do.
5. Self-love has to be practiced
You have to learn how to accept and love who you are, so practice self-discovery and self-compassion. Take care of your needs and learn to love yourself.
15 Signs That You May Be In An Enmeshed Relationship
1. Doing your own thing, being autonomous or making unique choices were seen by your parents as signs of betrayal
2. There was little privacy in your family because everyone was overly involved in each other’s lives
3. You felt rejected or even shamed for saying, “No,” to your family members
4. Your parents were strict and controlling
5. You felt like you had to be who your parents wanted you to be because you weren’t allowed to be your unique self
6. Your family weren’t individuals who got together to share opinions; instead, they made decisions as one entity
7. If one family member felt depressed, angry or anxious, everyone else would absorb it and feel the same way
8. You felt the need to parent your parents
9. Your failures or achievements were what defined your parents’ sense of worthiness
10. Your family wasn’t built on the foundation of equality and respect but submission and power
11. Your emotions are blurred, and you confuse your emotions with those of a person you are in a relationship with
12. Having different beliefs from your partner or family has extreme or negative outcomes in your relationships with them
13. You don’t create your own perspectives or choices but instead conform to your family’s desires and wishes as an adult
14. Your happiness and self-esteem rely on the status and consistency of your relationships
15. It is usually your responsibility to make things better and when there’s conflict, you have a need to fix things immediately