Enmeshed Family: How to Identify and Untangle the Bond

enmeshed family
By Alison OLeary
29 November, 2018

An enmeshed family is one that involves such a close bond between members that the individuals can’t function normally without the others. Having close family members can be a very good thing in life, but being too close can mean that the relationships are infringing upon other relationships outside of the family and keeping members from interacting with others normally. But how do you know if you’re playing part in an enmeshed family? If you think your bonds may be too close, read on to help identify and decide how to deal with them.

How to Identify An Enmeshed Relationship

Clue #1

The best way to identify whether you’re involved in an enmeshed relationship with your family or others is to ask yourself whether you can tell the difference between your own emotions and theirs. In an enmeshed family environment, it’s nearly impossible to determine whether the emotions you’re feeling are actually yours, or whether they belong to a close family member. You have to get real about what you’re feeling and decide if your emotions are based on what you really feel or what you feel for your close family member.

Clue #2

Do you feel like you need to rescue family members from their emotions? This is another prime example of an enmeshed relationship and can keep you from developing meaningful relationships with others outside of your immediate family. Start making a conscious effort to support your family, but refuse to feel guilty about what they’re feeling.

Clue #3

Can you handle your own emotions, or do you need someone else to rescue you? As petty as it sounds, if you need mommy or auntie to help you with your emotions, it’s time to find some degree of separation. Get a therapist, join a group or start reading about how to handle your own emotions without making family feel like they have to rescue you.

Clue #4

Do you have personal emotional time and space that’s separate from your family? If not, or if you feel as if your emotional time and space depends upon your family, you’re likely involved in an enmeshed relationship with them.

How to Get Rid of an Enmeshed Relationship

In an enmeshed relationship, the parent is often overbearing and living through the child’s accomplishments. It’s basically the opposite of abandonment. Some parents in an enmeshed relationship with their children will use their child as a surrogate caretaker, spouse or therapist, and is extra emotional and anxious about the child.

Step One

The most important thing about repairing an enmeshed relationship is to recognize it for what it is and set boundaries.

Step Two

The next step is to stop feeling responsible for their feelings. You must also acknowledge your family member’s needs that you refuse to meet, and realize that they may or may not change. Either way, you have to be happy dealing with them as they are.

Step Three

Now you need to declare your independence! Establish or further develop your own interests and identify your personal needs. Developing your own identity away from your family or other enmeshed relationship is key to becoming independent. It may even feel wrong at first, or your enmeshed partners may feel hurt, but realize this is part of the growth process and absolutely necessary to heal from the relationship. You don’t have to totally separate yourself from your family or relationship, but you do need to stop depending on them for everything and find your sense of worth within the confines of the enmeshed relationships.

Step Four

Accept yourself and all of your faults that come with it, and refuse to blame them on your enmeshed relationships. It’s okay to be okay with everything you are and are interested in, habits you’ve developed over the years and all of the feelings you experience as a result of what happens to you.

Step Five

Remember to recognize your wins along the way, so you can see your progress. Every time you make a decision and accept the consequences without looking to your family or partner for approval or how it makes them feel, this is a big win!

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