Enmeshment in families occurs when family members are over-involved in each other’s lives. It is an extreme form of closeness which is suffocating for the individuals involved where any move to separate from the family may be interpreted an as act of betrayal. Many of my clients’ mental health issues stem from being enmeshed in their families. Obviously, this is a problem when growing up, but it often continues to haunt them into their adulthood.
In a well-functioning family, each member has a strong sense of identity which is balanced by the feeling of belonging to the family. When this occurs, your sense of self is not compromised by family dynamics. This enhances overall wellbeing by providing support when needed, while encouraging healthy independence.
When you are in an enmeshed family, strong boundaries do not exist between members. Common signs of an enmeshed family are:
Parents who rely too heavily on their children, especially for emotional support
Children who are not encouraged, and sometimes actively discouraged, to separate from their parents in a healthy way to form their own identity
The implications are massive for the enmeshed individual who becomes torn between meeting the needs and distorted values of a problematic family dynamic and simply becoming who they are. A lack of healthy individuality can lead to depression and difficulties regulating emotions, stress and anxiety.
As well as this, the ability to establish the resilience required to meet the challenges and difficulties of a complex world, is severely compromised.
The journey towards establishing greater independence from an enmeshed family can be challenging. And from my perspective, having been through the process myself, working with a trained professional who can walk alongside you to support this process, provides an immeasurable opportunity for growth and well-being.
So, if you are concerned that you are from an enmeshed family which is still making your life hard to live, I urge you to consider reaching out for therapy to learn how to establish the independence, resilience, and sense of self-agency you deserve.
Jacqui Snooks is a counsellor and psychotherapist who practises in Melbourne on the Mornington Peninsula.
She is the Clinical Director of Haven Counselling and Psychotherapy. Click here for more information.