What is enmeshment trauma?
Family enmeshment is a topic which may not be brought up much but exists, you may also wonder if it is something you’ve previously experienced or feel as though you may be living through it without the realisation of its effects.
So, what is family enmeshment? family enmeshment is when both clear roles and boundaries either don’t exist or are lacking throughout a family unit, and those living within one typically have low levels of isolation. Family enmeshment surrounds having high levels of interaction but extremely low levels of distance, both physically and emotionally. Though most people hope to have a close family, there can still be too much of a “wholesome” thing, potentially heading towards enmeshment trauma.
Childhood emotional trauma has always been linked to neglect, yet the opposite of this is that being “too” close can lead to enmeshment trauma. An example of this can be a child who has been taking on the caring responsibility of a parent and their emotional needs, this is classed as them being emotionally “parentified”, this may look like a parent explaining their issues to their child and expecting them to take their side over the other parent.
The signs of enmeshment trauma
These are the signs you might see in yourself or others dealing with enmeshment:
o Assuming the child will always be their parents’ best friend
o Parents: also classed as “helicopter parents” can be excessively involved in their child’s life to the point of not allowing them to develop by themselves
o Very low levels of privacy between the parent and child emotionally
o The child being praised or rewarded for not resisting the enmeshment
o The parent assuming that the child will always be the one to give them emotional support.
What are the effects of enmeshment trauma?
Enmeshment trauma can end up leading to a range of long-term mental health effects;
Little self esteem
The first and most common sign from growing up in an enmeshed family is low self esteem, because a child has relied deeply on parental approval, this manifests in adulthood with a lack of confidence within ones self and decisions for fear of judgement.
Difficulty in building a relationship
Difficulty in relationships is common for those who have delt with enmeshment trauma as they struggle with forming and sustaining both romantic relationships or friendships. Being used to the smothering of a parent may lead them to expect the same emotional demands from their friend or partner or another extreme can be that they seek out the role of a caregiver again, continuing the cycle they learnt from their childhood.
Those who were raised in an enmeshed family may fear the idea of conflict, as it wasn’t emotionally safe for them to disagree with their parents during their childhood and while growing up and so they expect that disagreeing with a person as an adult will not be safe for them either.
Lack of self identity
Part of enmeshment is doing what you can to always keep others happy and so someone who may be suffering from this may know how to do all the right things to please people but also have no idea on what is actually beneficial to them.
Basing your life off what your parents think is best for you, for example your career, partner or where you live will make it more difficult for you as a person to know who you really are without them.
It’s time to heal
The good news is that it is never too late to recover from enmeshment trauma. Though it may sound scary at first it will be worth it. Here are tips that will help you in finding your own way after growing up in an enmeshed family.
Boundaries will now be classed as your new best friend, a key characteristic of enmeshed families is a lack in boundaries.
Take action on how you are feeling when a family member has done something to effect your mood, for example being called consistently throughout your day, causing you to feel anger over the phone ringing.
This means opening up and vocalising this to your family members, though this may upset them and it may feel difficult for you at first, but you will know if it is the correct boundary for you if it allows you to feel lighter.
Enmeshment can become a form of comfort for you in some ways, because you become conditioned to making less decisions on your own and as a result, you may not have a sense of knowing yourself very well.
Date yourself, as though you would with a new partner. This can mean taking yourself on days out and trips maybe even a short trip abroad, understanding what makes you happy or sad and finding ways to enjoy your own company.
Seek professional help
It can be a lot to handle when coming to terms on changing unhealthy dynamics while also trying to change them. And sometimes working your way through it with the support of a therapist is more helpful as you may struggle to handle it alone.
Patience will always be key
It has taken a lifetime to build your current thought and behaviour repetitions and though it may not take a lifetime to undo them it won’t happen overnight, so be sure to be patient with yourself and your mind.
Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet - Jean-Jacques Rousseau
A word from Ambimind
It is likely your parents did their best to care for you in a way they knew, though some of those dynamics didn’t work out for you, it doesn’t make them bad people and it also doesn’t mean you had a bad childhood, it means you have found a different way in doing things for yourself and you should feel proud of wanting to change this.