By Maria Lebron, July 2020
What are the signs of a healthy relationship?
— Each person is able to maintain their identity outside of the relationship;
— There is support for the other person’s growth, values, and goals;
— There is an overall sense of caring, encouragement, communication, and honesty which creates a sense of safety and acceptance.
— Each person maintains their sense of self and independence while feeling intimately connected to another person.
What are the signs of an enmeshed relationship?
Enmeshed relationships have blurred, weak, or absent boundaries between people. Enmeshment can sometimes be mistaken for closeness and intimacy. There are very clear signs of an enmeshed relationship or family and they include the following:
Over Involvement and Lack of Privacy: There is an over involvement in one another’s lives. There is little opportunity to nurture or explore separate interests or activities. Parents may not give children the opportunity to pursue a separate path from what they want for their children.
Control: There may be a need to control how others think, talk, or act. There is no ability to be a separate person and act autonomously.
Codependence: One person in the relationship is expected to fulfill all of the emotional needs of another.
Guilt: People are made to feel guilty for having their own goals and for trying to get their needs met.
Undifferentiated Emotions: Whatever one person feels, the other person is expected to experience the exact same emotion. There is a failure to accept people can have different emotions.
Rescuing or Enabling: People are unable or unwilling to solve their own problems or take responsibility for their actions. As a result, there is an expectation that someone else is responsible for rescuing them. In enmeshed relationships, love and intimacy is expressed by each person through a cycle of distress and rescue. Rescuers may enable the other’s poor functioning and dependence in order to satisfy their own emotional need to feel wanted and competent.
Isolation: Other relationships may be discouraged. People may also neglect other relationships due to the time, energy, and preoccupations given to the enmeshed relationship.
People who are in enmeshed relationships define themselves more by the relationship than by their own individuality. Self-esteem is dependent on the other person and individuality is given up in order to get needs met. In enmeshed relationships, boundaries are unclear and emotions are undifferentiated.
Healthy emotional and physical boundaries are the basis for forming healthy relationships. In enmeshed relationships, guilt can be felt when thinking of placing boundaries or limits on the relationship. This guilt can lead to trying to stop the other person’s hurt and their own by not putting boundaries in place. When a person is enmeshed with another they may enable the other person’s learned helplessness and inability to take responsibility for their own problems. One can still be empathic and supportive without losing one’s sense of self.
Some ways to begin to set boundaries in enmeshed relationships are as follows:
— Set small boundaries which can begin to change the dynamic.
— Remember that you have the right to say no to things that are inappropriate or uncomfortable.
— You are entitled to feel different emotions from someone else.
— Focus on what kind of person you want to be and what you want in your life.
— Create relationships of your own.
— Do things on your own or have some time to yourself.
— Explore activities or interests.
— Take breaks where you are ‘off the grid’ and not available to others. This can help you begin to realize that others can carry on without you for a while and create some separateness.
— Seek professional help if you’re finding it difficult to mange the enmeshment and set boundaries.
Setting up and communicating boundaries to people who are not used to respecting boundaries can be challenging. People may react badly to not being able to easily get what they want. Remember that in enmeshed relationships, setting boundaries can be seen as a betrayal. Keep in mind though that boundaries are the way we teach others to respect us. If boundaries are respected, this builds trust between people.