Most people consider tight-knit families to be desirable, but there is such a thing as getting too close. Enmeshment is a trait of family dysfunction that involves poorly defined or nonexistent boundaries, unhealthy relationship patterns and a lack of independence among family members.
Children who grow up in enmeshed families often carry similar patterns forward into adulthood, unaware of the cycle they are perpetuating. Recognizing enmeshed family characteristics can help you break the chain.
What Is Enmeshment?
Enmeshment is most prevalent in parent-child relationship dynamics. Parents who wish to exert control over their children create various spoken and unspoken rules that govern children’s beliefs and behavior. These restrictions can follow children into adulthood, and parents may find it intolerable if an adult child strays from this narrowly defined path. Adult children who decide to deviate from established family norms may encounter extreme resistance, emotional abuse, manipulation and guilt from other family members. These issues can compound to create a condition called enmeshment trauma.
Parents in enmeshed families often rely on their children for emotional support, expect them to live nearby and pursue a specific career trajectory. If you grew up in an enmeshed relationship, you may feel like you do not get to make independent life decisions because your parents place unreasonable expectations on you to follow in their footsteps or live out their unfulfilled ambitions. You might also lack a well-defined sense of self or have trouble maintaining stable relationships due to family enmeshment.
Signs of an Enmeshed Family
Enmeshed families tend to look to each other for support and solutions to problems, instead of turning to “outsiders.” This habit may stunt their growth as individuals because they often don’t learn healthy communication or conflict resolution skills.
Parents from enmeshed families might put unfair burdens on their children, starting from a young age. Children grow up with the implied message that they should feel ashamed for wanting to prioritize their needs. Other red flags of enmeshment include:
- A lack of privacy between parents and children
- Parents expecting children to be their best friends and always confiding in them
- Children receiving praise for maintaining the family’s status quo
- Parents being overly involved in the child’s life
Closeness vs. Enmeshment
There are many mental and even physical health benefits to having a close-knit family. However, enmeshment can be toxic because it requires family members to sacrifice their individual identity or self-esteem for the “greater good.” Hallmarks of a healthy family dynamic include intimacy, support and unconditional love that do not compromise any member’s emotional well-being.
In these close families, there is always someone to lean on in tough times, but there is no expectation that one family member will assume responsibility for someone else’s emotional well-being. There is also a lack of manipulation and guilt.
A Safe Space to Focus on Recovery
If enmeshment trauma has caused you to develop a substance use disorder, professional treatment can help you gain sobriety and get your life back on track. However, you’ll need a comprehensive aftercare program to support you through the earliest phases of your recovery process.
Having a safe, sober place to live provides much-needed structure and accountability during early recovery, helping you bridge the gap between addiction rehab and a return to the “real world.” To learn more about the sober housing options we offer at Segue Recovery Support, please contact us today.