There is a term called Enmeshment. Enmeshment occurs when you don’t have clear boundaries that differentiate you from another person. Think of it as a form of emotional fusion which interferes with a clear sense of your individualized self. The boundaries of an enmeshed person are so weak that it’s very difficult for him or her to act in individually differentiated ways. Let’s look at an example…
“Enmeshment in my life today stems from the lack of boundaries in my childhood home. I was so enmeshed with my mother and so preoccupied with making her happy that as an adult I’m totally out of touch with what I like and enjoy. I’ve perpetuated this pattern of clutching onto another person (or organization) at work and in relationships. At work, I have dedicated myself to a project or boss and neglected myself, my health and my social life. My last relationship, which was on and off for two years, was one where I created a sense of purpose for myself by doing things for him that were not my responsibility.”
Enmeshment (the lack of clear boundaries and individual identity) starts in childhood. We get enmeshed living with our parents and siblings. We grow up in a family “system.” The loss of clear boundaries and lack of individual identity happens when we are raised in a less-than-perfect family (as if a perfect family actually exists). A family system must be balanced at the end of the day…it’s how the “tribe” survives. The role each family member takes on to balance the system is often unconscious and dysfunctional because each family member is compensating for the imbalance of another family member.
For example, in response to a drunken father (or mother), the other parent will often be super-responsible. He/she balances the irresponsible behavior of the other. While that parent is being super-responsible to care for the physical and emotional needs of the family, oftentimes one of the children will take care of that parent’s feelings and will try to emotionally compensate for his/her needs that are not being met through the marriage. None of us are super human. No one person can take care of everything. Someone else in the family will pick up on the unmet needs and will balance the system.
What happens as a result is that we grow up and unconsciously rely upon (use) another person (mom, dad, siblings, spouse, boss, etc.) for our sense of identity, value, worth, well-being, safety, security and/or purpose in life. We do this because we were not able to get our needs met properly in the family system. We came out of childhood “enmeshed” which means that our sense of wholeness comes from another person. We try to find our sense of worth by unconsciously taking care of others needs/problems or trying to fix authority figures (parents, bosses, spouses) so that we feel loved and “safe” in the world.
We are all going to be over-connected to some degree with our family members. The question becomes to what degree are you enmeshed? Have you “cut the cord” and developed into a highly functional, emotionally mature, responsible, self-sufficient adult? To what degree are you still unconsciously fulfilling others’ needs? Are you unconsciously using someone else for your sense of value, self-worth, well-being, safety, security or purpose? In what ways do you act in order to fit in and be accepted? Functioning in your own individually differentiated way (a.k.a. having clear boundaries) is the key to achieving genuine emotional fulfillment in your life.
This blog post was provided by Cindy M. Nelson, M.B.A., C.S.L.C. from Anakh Leadership Coaching LLC. We specialize in developing business leaders and professionals by increasing their self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and overall effectiveness thereby increasing professional success and personal satisfaction in their lives. For more information, please go to aleadershipcoach.com.
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