The word enmeshment is often used in the world of psychology, therapy and in every day relationships. These could be with family, friends and with intimate relationships.
On the en.wiktionary.org website, enmeshment is described as: The state of being enmeshed; entanglement. And if something is entangled, it means that it is caught up and is therefore - not free.
When I think of something being tangled up, I think of a piece of wire or someone with long hair. This could be wire that has been caught up in a fence or in another piece of wire. And hair that’s long and untidy and has become caught up in other hairs.
Or another example that comes to mind is Christmas lights; Lights that haven’t been put away properly and have ended up being wrapped around the faux Christmas tree branches or decorations.
These are ell examples of something that has been entangled and is no longer untangled and free.
On a physical level, human beings are clearly separate from each other; unless they hold hands, hug or are chained together for example. And so this means that enmeshment is not something that is physical in nature. It could manifest as being physical, but that is purely a consequence of what has come before it.
And if it is not physical, it must mean that is has to do with that is not physical. By this I mean emotions, thoughts, feelings ands sensations.
Because although one can be physically separate from another person, this does not mean that one is emotionally separate from them or that one’s thoughts are their own creation.
It can be that one’s thoughts, feelings, emotions and sensations are completely depended on another person. And this person is defining ones mental and emotional wellbeing.
So instead of their being two separate people or three or four, depending on the type of relationship, there will be one entity. There is likely to be a dominant person within that entity and the rest of the people will be directly affected by this person.
This could be an intimate relationship where two people have no sense of individuality or identity. And are then entangled to each other mentally and emotional. There emotional and mental wellbeing is not self-directed.
Another example is within groups of friends, where people follow the leader of the group and do whatever is suggested. How they would like to behave or what they would like to do; is unknown to them. To follow the other person is normal and all they know.
The Family System
And then there is the family system and this is likely to be where the enmeshment actually started in the beginning. In this type of family, separation and individuality is prohibited at all costs. This does not mean that is literally spelt out or expressed through words. It is likely to be shown in the actions of the primary caregiver.
A man could take this role and so could a women; for it doesn’t mean primary nurturer, it means the caregiver that is in charge.
At the very root of this family system, is not freedom of feeling, thought and action. Whoever the dominant figure in the family is, will be the one who decides what is allowed and what is not allowed to be expressed.
This will mean that a Childs unique expression will be denied, ignored and repressed. And this will relate to anyone else who is part of this family dynamic. What this child: feels, thinks and senses, will not be mirrored or acknowledged; it will be dismissed.
And replaced with the accepted: feelings thoughts and behaviours in that environment. This means that one will learn to distrust their internal processes. What these internal processes are made up of are: feelings, thoughts, emotions, senses, insights and hunches for example.
However as a result of these being dismissed in the early environment, the child will grow up having to look outside for guidance; because the inner guidance is no longer available.
And if this is the case, one is then completely depend on the advice of another person. This will be as a child and as an adult, if one doesn’t deal with this form of abuse. So what at first was met with resistance and frustration, will often be accepted without resistance as an adult
By then, one has probably forgotten about what remains hidden inside. But as a child one was close and connected to their inner aspects. And due to one being emotionally undeveloped, there is likely to be very little choice.
Sense Of Self
If one is out of touch with themselves and enmeshed to another person, it is clear to see that a sense of self is lacking. It was lacking in the caregivers and was then passed on to the next generation.
The caregivers were probably completely unaware of what they were doing. And out of their pain and misery; they perpetuated the same situation in their children.
In the very beginning, ones caregivers needs were likely to have been denied and their emotional and mental development would have been stunted. This means that they would have been needy and were likely to have felt a sense of emptiness and doubt in their resourcefulness as people.
And as a way to regulate those feelings, thoughts, emotions and sensations from their past, they attached themselves to their offspring and to the other people in their adult lives.
This will enable them to regulate their feelings of loneliness, emptiness, isolation, hopelessness, and the absence of their sense of self.
What this also means, is that boundaries are not in existence. In this family dynamic, no one has an idea of where they begin and end and where another begins and ends. It is just one mass, where compromise and abuse is the rule and not the exception.
And as their caregivers where the same and the relationships that came after that; the patterns have simply continued.
For one to break away from enmeshment, it will require awareness. There is likely to be two things that could stop one from developing boundaries and to put an end to being enmeshed. I would like to add that there will be times when one is enmeshed, it is part of the human experience, and it is only dysfunctional when this is the only relationship model that one has.
So, these two aspects will be guilt and fear. If one has only known what it’s like to be enmeshed to other people and has never known what it feels like to be an individual that has boundaries, it will be normal and natural to feel fear about one’s ability to survive as an individual.
And guilt, because, as a child’s ones needs and other forms of expression would have been secondary to those of the caregivers needs. So what could be classed as illogical guilt could appear when ever one puts their needs first or responds to their needs.
Who Am I
The ego mind may also cause one to question who they are and this again is normal as the ego mind has formed an association of familiarity and safety around being enmeshed.
And as the ego minds identity is based on the past and a combination of the past; as soon as the familiar is changed, the ego mind will become unstable.
So although being enmeshed is dysfunctional and detrimental to ones growth as a human being, the ego mind is familiar with it. This will mean that these associations will have to be changed. And this means it would be beneficial to seek assistance through a therapist, healer or whoever one sees fit.
One will also have to realise their personal power. As for so long this would have been based on another person and one would have felt like a parasite. This again is based on the early childhood relationship, where ones caregivers didn’t allow one to realise their strength.
Which means the ego mind would have associated a sense of power and strength as being attainable through another person, when in reality this is something that exists within and within only.
Oliver JR Cooper
Author of 25 books, Transformational Writer, Teacher & Consultant.
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That which is contained within these articles is based on my own empirical understanding and is true for me at the time they were written. However, as I continue to grow, what I perceive as the truth will inevitably change and as a result of this - parts of these articles may not reflect my current outlook.