Do you feel guilty or excessively responsible for your parents? And, does this over-concern meddle with your ability to tap into opportunities either professionally or romantically now that you are an adult? Well, an adolescent or young adult who is uneasy about leaving home, or feels less supported upon return is probably growing in an enmeshed family. The same applies to spouses, friends, or colleagues in an enmeshed relationship. If you find yourself in such a relationship, the first step to freeing yourself from this reliance is by understanding how it started and pinpointing its tell-tale signs.
What Is Enmeshment?
Enmeshment is a term used in family therapy circles to define relationships with unclear or intertwined boundaries. It is a disruptive interplay whereby a family member sees the blurriness as a sign of remaining loyal, loving or feeling safe. Simply put, you are a highly empathic person with low boundaries.
Now, two people may become enmeshed following events that force one of them to be over-protective of the other. For example, parents with children recovering from a sudden illness, an accident, or a traumatic experience. They see it necessary to take charge of every aspect of the child’s life.
This intervention is welcome at that time because it promotes healing. However, the parents often get stuck and continue interacting with the children that way into their adult life. Consequently, the young adult becomes trapped, guilty to express any views that will contradict the parent.
An enmeshed relationship may disrupt your spiritual, emotional, and mental growth. This may lead to complications like eating disorders, lack of autonomy and individuality, or becoming an easy target for narcissistic partners.
10 Signs You Could Be in an Enmeshed Relationship
You can tell you are in an enmeshed relationship if you or your loved one depicts any of the following signs: –
#1: Your Lack Your Own Identity
A person in an enmeshment relationship has their identity and worth dependent on fixing others. You hear phrases such as: –
- You need to see things my way for us to be okay
- I need to fix you for me to be okay
- The other person has to be okay for me to be okay
- I need to rescue you from your emotions
- Someone else needs to rescue me from my emotions
- I cannot tell the difference between my emotions and those of others
#2: Feeling guilty when pursuing your interests
Do you love cooking but are now working as a banker or an office employee, to please your parents, friends, or spouse? If you made this decision to avoid shame or the guilt feelings you have, you are in an enmeshed relationship with your loved ones.
#3: Feeling anxious when separated
If the thought of being away from your loved one gives you jitters, you could be over-dependent on them. Here, you are used to the other person to the extent that you doubt your ability to make the right choices when independent.
#4: Pegging your happiness on your partner
If you know what makes you happy, but consciously decide to set it aside for the sake of your spouse or parent, you could be in an enmeshed relationship. For example, a son may forgo a well-paying job in another state to stay close to the parents. Or, a wife may postpone starting a family to free the husband to travel the world and build his career.
#5: Set your priorities to march your partner
Often, partners have conflicting priorities. However, they come to a compromise to maintain a healthy relationship. In contrast, one person in an enmeshed relationship pushes back their priorities, to give room for the other. And, they may even own these new priorities subconsciously.
#6: Compromising your commitments for the sake of your partner
In a marriage where there are no clear emotional or physical limits, a wife may find herself “echoing” what the husband says or feels; with total disregard to her cares. This wife does this subconsciously to please the partner, or try to cope in the union.
#7: Your relationship isolates you from other family members and friends
Persons in an enmeshed connection feel ultimately and exclusively loyal to each other, to the extent of isolating themselves from outsiders. For example, an adult from an enmeshed family may view a fiancé as a threat to their bond with their parents or siblings.
#8: One person oversteps, ridicules, or shuts down the other’s boundaries
The bossy partner in an enmeshed relationship sees no limit to how far they can interfere in their partner’s life. Hence, they ignore any suggestions that they could be overstepping their limits.
#9: You highly value the close-knit relationship
Enmeshed relationships demand unreasonable loyalty. In turn, the parties feel obliged to be extremely close and dependent on each other. For example, a child growing up with a single mum or dad may assume the role of a surrogate spouse to the surviving parent.
#10: You feel trapped, helpless, and out of control
Enmeshed relationships make you feel responsible for the other. Yet, they leave you unable to help yourself. You base your emotions on your spouse, child, or friend. In the process, you become trapped and helpless.
Tips for Setting Boundaries When in an Enmeshed Relationship
Do you suspect that you are in an enmeshed relationship? If so, here are some tips to help you form healthy boundaries: –
- Understand that, it is not your duty to sacrifice your life for the sake of your parent or family. Instead, strive to exercise a degree of caring that allows you to be free to live as a separate person.
- Create your private time and space.
- Learn the art of saying “No”.
- Practice self-care to overcome low self-esteem.
- See a counselor who understands enmeshment.
We all can live our lives with passion and purpose. Yet, when we make life decisions out of obligatory guilt, we miss out on a chance to self-fulfillment. You can also tell if enmeshment applies to you by the way you feel guilty, anxious, overshadowed, or over-dependent on the relationship. Strive to set clear boundaries by prioritizing your privacy, self-care routines, and seeking professional help.