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Author Topic: BEHAVIORS: Enmeshment?  (Read 5745 times)
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« on: November 23, 2008, 03:55:05 AM »

Can anyone provide me with a good definition or explanation of enmeshment?  Oddly enough, I've never quite grasped the full meaning of the term.


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« Reply #1 on: November 23, 2008, 01:22:03 PM »

Hi, Bitzee.  xoxo  My understanding would be that someone in my family is enmeshed with my abusive mother when/if I try to make a move to create a boundary with HER and HE/SHE (the family member) starts to punish me for that or take her side on that or escalate the chaos because I am trying to be healthy.  I was enmeshed, TO THE MAX, at one point in my life with her. I bought all the "poor thing" stories she told about herself minutes after tearing into one of us. It was always us apologizing to HER after one of her raids/rants/assaults.

Enmeshment means I might or might not understand that what she is doing is WRONG, but that the price for me to speak up and say something is too high. I am not going to rock the boat.  I am going to go along to get along. I am going to ENCOURAGE OTHERS to do so, like, "You know that's just the way she is, why'd you have to get her all upset at a time like this, YOU really ruined our holiday dinner!" Putting the blame/responsibility on the wrong person for the chaos/outbursts is enmeshment.  Patronizing her and succumbing to her every outrageous demand is enmeshment. Never saying NO is enmeshment. I did all those things for most of my life.  Lying on her behalf is enmeshment.

In a partnership thing, it's looking the other way if your partner is abusing the children. It's never saying STOP when they abuse you.  It's making all those pathetic excuses that many people see right through for her or his behavior that's ruined some type of special event.

Enmeshment means you're way in over your head.  You give this person lots of leeway, lots of opportunity to keep abusing you.  You can't see the absolute disorder and wrongness of what's happening right in front of you.

And you don't ever EVER appreciate anyone else seeing it or labelling it as wrong or making the break. Because the backlash will fall on you. Self-preservation can mean one stays silent or takes it out on the wrong person instead of accosting the bully.  Accosting the bully never really pays off, but you can't blame the wrong party either!

I can't think of much else. Google "enmeshment" and read up on it. I never would've known I was doing this. I thought I was being a diligent, decent, long-suffering Christian child to my mother.  hah.

I did it.  But once I got out, I saw how my siblings responded - certain ones were cool with me doing what I had to do, and the more ENMESHED ones let me have it - how dare I?  :-X

Hope this helps.  xoxo
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« Reply #2 on: November 23, 2008, 05:24:12 PM »

What a great question  Smiling (click to insert in post)  I don't think I've seen this question here before.

Georges explanation is very good.  I would add that enmeshment is the opposite of disengaged in a relationship... .both can be bad, but not necessarily toxic. The scale is something like Disengaged --> Separated --> Connected  --> Enmeshed

A couple can become enmeshed where they don't function independently - such as when one goes into the hospital.  The general thinking, tastes, decision making, happiness all become intertwined and dependent on the other persons feelings.  A little more independence in generally considered healthier in relationships.

Enmeshment on this site refers to the situation when the intertwinement is with a very unhealthy controlling person.  This usually has the effect of getting one partner to accept the dysfunction of the disordered person and having their values, happiness, etc., tied to the other persons self serving impulses.


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« Reply #3 on: November 24, 2008, 02:02:26 AM »

Hi George,

It sounds from your description as if enmeshment and enabling are the same thing.  Is that about right?
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« Reply #4 on: November 24, 2008, 02:45:13 AM »

And, Skippy, you are also saying enmeshment applies to those couples who appear to be attached at the hip... .Siamese twin type couples?  Like John Lennon and Yoko Ono, for instance?  That sort of couple that makes everyone feel slightly sick... .  the soulmates, merged identity type?  Can't even go to the bathroom without each other... .  let alone leave the house... .

These couples seem to be re-enacting a three year old child's relationship with his mother... .or maybe even younger.  A symbiosis thing... .from infancy.
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« Reply #5 on: November 24, 2008, 05:36:51 AM »

Enabling can be a good thing - if I'm a mentor in a school program and I'm helping some young person stay in school, do homework, etc, then I am ENABLING some really good behavior. If I am in an abusive relationship, and I enable destructive behavior by turning a blind eye or actual enmeshed co-dependent support to that behavior, then that's not a good thing.  Enmeshed people enable. Does that make sense? But enabling in and of itself is not good nor bad, it's what it enables that determines that.  I think.  :P Smiling (click to insert in post)
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« Reply #6 on: March 28, 2009, 09:13:50 AM »

Great topic!

Speaking as an ex-BPD who was enmeshed with her controlling, overprotective, needy, emotionally distant mother, here are some things from my experience:

Neither person is aware of the enmeshment, but other family members are all too aware: my brother said, "uh, DUH!" when I told him I finally realised how enmeshed I had been with my mom. This realisation happened only about a year and a half ago... .[I'll be 38 this year].

It's a control issue for both people, though the issues will vary depending on the particular people involved, and the power level often switches between them. For example, I could be very compliant (the "good little daughter" but also very strong-willed (the "disobedient trouble-child" and my mom could be overtly dominating (the "teacher" and vulnerably needy (the "martyr".

It's possible to re-establish a healthy relationship if one of the people can understand - and enforce - boundaries. That's the key to enmeshment: no boundaries. As I've recovered from BPD I have strengthened my sense of self and my self-worth and my boundaries have become much stronger (I've grown a thicker skin, so to speak). I am much less passive-aggressive in my seeking for my needs to be met - I assertively ask for them to be met and take an appropriate "no" as an acceptable answer -  and one of the major needs I never had as a child was for control over my own thoughts and body. Once I was able to begin to establish an inviolate yet flexible self, I could make my relationships more healthy. I've learned boundary-setting, which includes keeping in mind compassion for the other person while protecting oneself emotionally.

My mom and I have a nice relationship now, but it took the past 3+ years to establish - mostly on my part because I doubt she has any insight into her enmeshment issues - and we're still negotiating boundaries now and again. It helps that I don't spend too much time with her and the time I do spend I try to make positive. It helps that I've strived to forgive her and accept her as she is. It helps that I've struggled to forgive myself and accept myself while at the same time ever seeking to grow as a person.
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« Reply #7 on: March 28, 2009, 09:33:00 PM »

My understanding of enmeshment is two individuals who are so intertwined, like those who appear to be attached at the hip.  My MIL and her adult daughter had a relationship that was more like a young child and her mother.  There was a dependence and a closeness with no boundaries.  Even when the daughter was married, the mother would go into the bathroom to wash her adult daughter's back (there was no physical or health impairment that warranted this).  They also had to speak to each other every single day, even when the cost of a long distance call was quite expensive (before the advent of cell phones).  They thought they had the perfect mother-daughter relationship but the rest of us found it to be very odd and unhealthy.  At the time I had never heard of the term enmeshment.  Years later when I read a psychological definition of enmeshment, that was the first thing that came to mind.
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« Reply #8 on: March 28, 2009, 09:37:08 PM »

"enmeshment" when you are so far into the others person business there are no boundaries... nothing can be private
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