Having a hard time seeing where you start and your friend/partner/family member end? During the 1970s, Salvador Minuchen introduced the concept of enmeshment and enmeshed families. Enmeshment is a term used to describe the blurring of personal boundaries. Whether it’s a relationship between family members, partners or spouses, limits simply don’t exist in enmeshed relationships, and boundaries are permeable. This type of relationship is often described as “too close for comfort” or a balancing act between being supportive of the person and being able to do what you want.
There are varying degrees of enmeshment. Enmeshed families can limit individual growth and independence which can be critical to family business success. People in enmeshed relationships are defined more by the relationship than by their individuality. setting boundaries, finding your independence and furthering your personal development outside the normative family dynamics are all key to overcoming these negative relational patterns.
How do I know if my family is enmeshed?
Those in enmeshed relationships are often the last to see it. But with awareness you can start to recognize some of the signs:
- If you cannot not tell the difference between your own emotions and those of a person with whom you have a relationship.
- If you feel like you need to rescue someone from their emotions.
- If you feel like you need someone else to rescue you from your own emotions.
- If you and another person do not have any personal emotional time and space.
Common Symptoms of Enmeshment
- You feel the need to keep to yourself and keep your personal feelings to yourself.
- Your parents want you to make them proud so much so that it border on unrealistic.
- You feel like you cannot disagree with family members.
- Your parent may share very personal inappropriate information on a regular basis. For example, a parent may share their personal dating life with their young child.
- If you have siblings, then one child receives more attention than the other.
- Your parent may treat you as their best friend.
- You feel as though there is no privacy in the house.
- If you are a young child, then you feel the need to take care of your adult parent.
- Your parent is overly involved in your personal affairs.
Okay, my family/relationship is enmeshed-what do I do now?
Setting boundaries, finding your independence and furthering your personal development outside the normative family dynamics are all key to overcoming these negative relational patterns. Boundaries are unwritten rules we set for our interactions with others in order to preserve our emotional, mental and physical health. They help maintain our individual identity.
Loose or nonexistent boundaries can indicate that we are enmeshed or codependent with others. Poor boundaries can lead to resentment, anger, and burnout. Boundaries can sometimes mean saying “no” to others or situations. This can cause feelings of discomfort for some but is necessary for individuation and learning to manage others demands on our time, emotions and resources in a healthy manner.
Working with a therapist experienced with family systems theory and enmeshment can help guide you through the process of individuating yourself from you family and realizing your own personal goals and aspirations.