Most people aspire to have a close-knit family. Strong family bonds are a sign of well functioning family, but sometimes we can have too much of a good thing. We want to build strong family bonds by spending time together and support one another through tough challenges. But there is such thing as being too close.
When family boundaries are not clearly defined, it becomes difficult for each family member to develop a healthy level of independence and autonomy.
In an enmeshed family, there are no boundaries between the family members. Instead of the strong bonds that signal a well-functioning family unit, unhealthy emotions bind family members together. Enmeshed parents treat their children as friends, rely on them for emotional support, and share inappropriate personal information.
For example, some parents share all their family related problems with the children, anticipating to meet “their own” wish list, as well as expecting to meet all their unmet objectives and dreams.
The irony is that, these parents do not realize that they are emotionally abusing their children, because every parent longs for their children’s success. Hence, enmeshed family members may be reflexively defensive of one another and view even deeply harmful behaviour as normal and good.
They may feel comfortable or safe among family members, but they are not closely connected to their surroundings; children from enmeshed families unconsciously share all of their friends’ problems and issues with their parents. Gradually they tend to lose all of their friends.
Family enmeshment is all about lack of boundaries! Such family patterns experience role confusion, are obsessed with pleasing others, seek approval or validation for every decision they make, have low self-esteem, co-dependent relationships, fear of abandonment, and are thus burdened with inappropriate guilt and responsibility.
Even when the children form outside relationships, their enmeshed family may intrude and see their family as normal and the partner as the problem. Sharing the least important concern of the family or the spouse’s weaknesses with one’s own parents and siblings is one example of such behaviour.
Enmeshed relationships can extend to involving parents in all family decisions. These parents are burdened and feel responsible for their children’s happiness. Why? Because the culture dictates that the foremost priority of the parents is to take care of the well being of their children. Hence, it often involves a level of control where parents attempt to know and control their children’s thoughts and feelings.
Furthermore, when two partners from enmeshed families get together, they tend to recreate the family dynamics with which they grew up because the experiences are familiar. As a result, their own family suffers and is sandwiched between both families. If necessary, seek advice from both sides of the family. However, we must recognise that the same process or initiatives cannot be applied to one’s own family to solve a similar problem. Listen to their opinions, but only after a rational discussion between the spouses should a decision be made for any matter that is suitable in one’s family setting.
As a result, every family must define who is responsible for what in the family, as this demonstrates respect for everyone’s needs and feelings. Communicate clear expectations and establish what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, as this allows for more autonomy, greater privacy, and aids in the development of one’s own beliefs and values, among other things.
Furthermore, when a family experiences excessive closeness within the family system with no boundaries, one person’s emotional feelings are shared by all family members.
It is important to identify the difference between “closeness” and “enmeshment”. However, because enmeshment is typically a generational pattern, we may be unable to pinpoint its origins in our family.
Therefore, it is more important to identify how enmeshment is causing us problems and work to change those dynamics in our relationships.
Furthermore, parents’ goal should not be to “save” their children from risks and failures, but to assist them in going “through/preparing” themselves to deal with those risks and failures.
Only then will each family be free of enmeshment.