Healthy physical and emotional boundaries are crucial to any successful interpersonal relationship. If a relationship is enmeshed, however, it is likely lacking those vital boundaries. Enmeshment can occur in romantic partnerships, between family members, and even between friends. In enmeshed relationships, boundaries are entirely permeable, and healthy personal limitations simply do not exist. The individual is defined more by the relationship than by his or her personal identity. Those in enmeshed relationships depend heavily on one another to fulfill emotional needs – however, psychological health is often severely compromised. A critical sense of personally individuality is lost, and the enmeshed personalities become mentally and emotionally reliant on one another.
If you are involved in an enmeshed relationship, setting personal boundaries may seem like an utter impossibility. However, it is completely possible to both set and maintain lasting boundaries so long as you attempt to do so with both guidance and support. Setting boundaries is an acquired skill. Below we have provided several tips that will help you to set healthy boundaries, as well as some indicators that you may be involved in an enmeshed relationship.
Are You in an Enmeshed Relationship?
It is usually quite difficult for individuals who are in enmeshed relationships to notice the dysfunction of the connection themselves. In order to recognize that a relationship is detrimental, you must concurrently claim your own emotional issues – and doing so may trigger uncomfortable feelings of shame, helplessness, and anxiety. On the other hand, coming to such a conclusion can be quite liberating. After all, acknowledging the issue is the first step in making a positive change. Once you do so, you will be given the opportunity to focus your energy and attention on building healthy, beneficial relationships – including your relationship with yourself. And few things are more rewarding than that!
Take a look at the followings signs of enmeshed relationships:
- Your happiness relies on the success of the relationship.
- You neglect other relationships to spend more time focused on this specific relationship.
- Your self-esteem rests heavily on the success of this relationship.
- When there is a disagreement or issue within the relationship, you are overcome with fear or anxiety.
- When you are away from the individual, you feel extremely lonely and preoccupied with thoughts of reconnection.
- You tend to feel the ay the other individual is feeling – if they are angry, you feel angry, and if they are happy, you likely feel happy too.
If you believe that you are involved in an enmeshed relationship, it is possible to begin setting boundaries. Over time (and with ample help), you will be able to break free from this damaging enmeshment and begin developing your own sense of individual emotional wellness.
Setting Boundaries in Enmeshed Relationships
- Begin by setting small boundaries.
Baby steps. Begin by setting small, manageable boundaries in your enmeshed relationship – and avoid doing so in a confrontational or shaming way. Practice respecting your personal limits while revering the personal needs of your partner or family member. For example – your mother invites you and your spouse over for Thanksgiving dinner for the third time in a row. Meanwhile, you have inadvertently been neglecting your spouse’s family. Setting a healthy and loving boundary might look like saying, “Thank you for the invitation, mom. This year we’ll be spending time with Rachel’s family, but we would love to visit on Christmas, or come for Thanksgiving next year.”
Or, for example, a young man is going off to college, and his mother calls him several times a day to ‘check in’. Rather than saying, “Mom, stop calling me, you’re driving me crazy,” he decides to approach the issue in a more kind and loving way. “Mom, I understand your need to speak to me regularly, but considering I have to focus on my studies, I will call you twice a week.” Setting manageable boundaries in a nurturing way will help you to break the negative cycle of enmeshment. Saying that you feel trapped or attempting to set boundaries in an angry way may trigger passive aggressive reactions, exacerbating the vicious cycle of guilt and shame.
- Begin creating connections with yourself and others.
One of the best ways to break free from the cycle of enmeshment is to practice spending time by yourself. Get to know yourself a little bit better. Take a look at the things that make you feel insecure and uncomfortable, and find ways in which to make yourself feel better. Find something that you enjoy – something that brings you a sense of happiness. This will likely take some exploring. Volunteer, take a class, join a club, or explore involvement in a religious institution. Reach out to friends, and attempt formulating new, healthy relationships. Go to lunch with an old friend or play a round of mini golf with several college buddies. Reach out, and slowly step away from the detrimental dysfunction of your enmeshed relationship. Try developing and fostering relationships with others – but be weary of letting them define who you are as an individual.
- Seek professional help.
In some cases, setting boundaries on your own may prove to be too difficult – the enmeshment may run too deep, and breaking free of dependency may be more trying than you anticipated. If this is the case, there is no shame in seeking the assistance of a mental health professional. An experienced therapist can help you to better understand the inner workings of your enmeshed relationship, and assist you in setting the boundaries you need to set in order to begin living a fulfilled, independent life.
At Next Chapter Treatment, we explore substance dependency through the lens of interpersonal issues such as attachment and enmeshment. We work to help our clients overcome dysfunctional relationships through employing healthy boundary-setting skills. We understand that developing a stable sense of self is absolutely crucial to long-term recovery. For more information on enmeshment and the importance of setting healthy boundaries, or to learn more about our therapeutic program of addiction recovery, please feel free to contact us today.