Enmeshed relationships
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27-02-2016, 06:01 PM
Enmeshed relationships
Enmeshment is a hard thing to recognize in relationships, mostly because I've noticed lots of people think there's nothing unhealthy with enmeshment. For those who don't know what enmeshment is, it's usually when the dynamic within a relationship (between two or more people) becomes unbalanced. Both parties (two people, or perhaps a matriarch/patriarch and their household) start to merge their identities together so closely, that they are basically a single unit. Healthy boundaries get broken down - there's no tolerance for privacy, secrets, independence in general. One party's problems become the other's problems, and vice versa.

This dynamic, at first, might seem "normal," but is proven to be toxic, especially when the more submissive party is severed from the enmeshment. And I suppose the best way to describe what the side effects of this are is by telling my own experience with enmeshment.

I grew up in a very dysfunctional household. I was closer to my mother, and when she divorced my father, I lived with her. Enmeshment started very early in my life between me and her. This relationship carried on into my adult life - my life became her life. I couldn't picture living without her being a part of all the important important experiences I could go through. We had no secrets - secrets were considered dishonest. Me becoming independent was seen as alienation, even betrayal. Just going to college was a huge battle.

We couldn't be apart - and worse, we had isolated ourselves from both parts of my family because of my mother's issues with either of them. I, of course, sided with her because that's how it was. Her problems were mine. I was unaware of this dynamic for many years, but there would be times where I realized how much it bothered her to know I wanted to have relationships with relatives she felt personally betrayed by. She would even outright try to convince me that these relatives didn't want to have a relationship with me, and would try to disassociate herself from me during conversations with them - just to make ME seem bad. It was frustrating.

I think some people knew something was off, but couldn't pinpoint what was going on. They just kept asking, "Why isn't [caadam] moved out yet? Why doesn't she do this or that?" We had excuses, and we told ourselves that they just didn't understand.

Then my mom died, and my world shattered. I had no idea what to do with myself - my mom was gone, so what's the point anymore? I didn't know who I was anymore without her. It wasn't until I went into therapy that I figured out what was happening to me. I was coming out of a severely enmeshed relationship, one that had lasted for the first almost 30 years of my life. Holy shit.

Worse, it'd not only affected my self-identity (which was cut in half and broken at this point), but had stunted my sense of maturity. I'm like in a weird limbo between being a teen and an adult. It's like in spite of almost being 30, I'm just starting to get on the adult wagon, and it's been both frustrating and at times horribly mortifying. Mortifying because, well... I'm almost half way through my life, and I can barely relate to people my own age. My past experiences have also caused me to have social anxiety and depression, which makes this transition much harder.

It's been almost 2.5 years since my mom died, and I am still trying to figure out who I am. I'm not sure yet, but I'm getting a better idea. I still get scared to do many things, because now, I only have myself to rely on for what will be good for me. Sometimes it feels great, but other times I'm left feeling terrified I'll just mess up my life even more.

I am financially independent now - disgustingly broke, but I'm doing it all on my own. I suppose that's the easy part. Going to therapy has helped, but when I look back at how I've handled realizing what I've gone through for the past almost three decades, I see that I've acted the victim for the past couple of years. It helped in some cases, but now it's no longer helping me. I am starting to gain my sense of independence, and with that comes responsibility for my own baggage. I gotta fix myself now because no one else is going to do it, nor can they do it. I suppose this is a great revelation for me, another obstacle taken down, but it's been tiring. I just want to live a happy and fulfilled life, and knowing that I'm just starting to figure out how to do that has been depressing.

I wanted to share this in a public forum because I feel like this kind of thing happens a lot. It's important for people to know that this kind of relationship is toxic and to look for red flags when they come up. Enmeshment can be life-debilitating, and could even result in people taking their own lives when severed from enmeshed relationships.

It is not "normal," as in healthy - it is a dangerous and abusive relationship dynamic. It ruins lives. I'm lucky to be alive - I'm grateful to say that in spite of my own enmeshment, I was taught to be a survivor in spite of whatever odds I might face, and that's really the only reason I haven't killed myself after my mom died. (Though I've come close many times.) I struggle every day to put myself together and I literally ask myself, every day, "Who am I? What do I want to do with the rest of my life? Who do I want to be?" Because now that my mom is gone, I still don't have answers to these questions.

It's also super important to have patience for people who are in my position. We're extremely vulnerable and fragile coming out of these relationships, and the last thing that helps is being talked down to. Telling us to get our shit together, to get over it, and so on, only serves to isolate us even more in a situation where many of us have no idea what is happening to us because enmeshment is heavily misunderstood in our society. We've just come out of an abusive relationship - be a friend, a loved one, and be sensitive to that. Best thing you can do is be a cheerleader, and be supportive.
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27-02-2016, 06:46 PM
RE: Enmeshed relationships
I was worried my thread had been deleted but I'm glad it didn't. Thanks to the admin for moving it to the appropriate forum. I almost thought about posting my thread in here but wasn't sure if it belonged here. Smile
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27-02-2016, 06:48 PM
RE: Enmeshed relationships
No problem. I was about to send you an email letting you know...guess that isn't necessary now.

So many cats, so few good recipes.
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27-02-2016, 06:54 PM
RE: Enmeshed relationships
I am sorry that you have been through so much...and are struggling still.

Having a dysfunctional family of origin does seem to slow down, and alter, the process of growing up at a 'normal' pace. It sounds like you aren't sure you can trust yourself quite yet. That will come. All decisions won't be perfect but they will be your decisions.

It's a good group here. Lots of people to talk to from many backgrounds and perspectives.

Glad that therapy is helping.

See here they are the bruises some were self-inflicted and some showed up along the way. - JF

We're all mad here. The Cheshire Cat
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27-02-2016, 06:55 PM
RE: Enmeshed relationships
(27-02-2016 06:01 PM)caadam Wrote:  Enmeshment is a hard thing to recognize in relationships, mostly because I've noticed lots of people think there's nothing unhealthy with enmeshment. For those who don't know what enmeshment is, it's usually when the dynamic within a relationship (between two or more people) becomes unbalanced. Both parties (two people, or perhaps a matriarch/patriarch and their household) start to merge their identities together so closely, that they are basically a single unit. Healthy boundaries get broken down - there's no tolerance for privacy, secrets, independence in general. One party's problems become the other's problems, and vice versa.

This dynamic, at first, might seem "normal," but is proven to be toxic, especially when the more submissive party is severed from the enmeshment. And I suppose the best way to describe what the side effects of this are is by telling my own experience with enmeshment.

I grew up in a very dysfunctional household. I was closer to my mother, and when she divorced my father, I lived with her. Enmeshment started very early in my life between me and her. This relationship carried on into my adult life - my life became her life. I couldn't picture living without her being a part of all the important important experiences I could go through. We had no secrets - secrets were considered dishonest. Me becoming independent was seen as alienation, even betrayal. Just going to college was a huge battle.

We couldn't be apart - and worse, we had isolated ourselves from both parts of my family because of my mother's issues with either of them. I, of course, sided with her because that's how it was. Her problems were mine. I was unaware of this dynamic for many years, but there would be times where I realized how much it bothered her to know I wanted to have relationships with relatives she felt personally betrayed by. She would even outright try to convince me that these relatives didn't want to have a relationship with me, and would try to disassociate herself from me during conversations with them - just to make ME seem bad. It was frustrating.

I think some people knew something was off, but couldn't pinpoint what was going on. They just kept asking, "Why isn't [caadam] moved out yet? Why doesn't she do this or that?" We had excuses, and we told ourselves that they just didn't understand.

Then my mom died, and my world shattered. I had no idea what to do with myself - my mom was gone, so what's the point anymore? I didn't know who I was anymore without her. It wasn't until I went into therapy that I figured out what was happening to me. I was coming out of a severely enmeshed relationship, one that had lasted for the first almost 30 years of my life. Holy shit.

Worse, it'd not only affected my self-identity (which was cut in half and broken at this point), but had stunted my sense of maturity. I'm like in a weird limbo between being a teen and an adult. It's like in spite of almost being 30, I'm just starting to get on the adult wagon, and it's been both frustrating and at times horribly mortifying. Mortifying because, well... I'm almost half way through my life, and I can barely relate to people my own age. My past experiences have also caused me to have social anxiety and depression, which makes this transition much harder.

It's been almost 2.5 years since my mom died, and I am still trying to figure out who I am. I'm not sure yet, but I'm getting a better idea. I still get scared to do many things, because now, I only have myself to rely on for what will be good for me. Sometimes it feels great, but other times I'm left feeling terrified I'll just mess up my life even more.

I am financially independent now - disgustingly broke, but I'm doing it all on my own. I suppose that's the easy part. Going to therapy has helped, but when I look back at how I've handled realizing what I've gone through for the past almost three decades, I see that I've acted the victim for the past couple of years. It helped in some cases, but now it's no longer helping me. I am starting to gain my sense of independence, and with that comes responsibility for my own baggage. I gotta fix myself now because no one else is going to do it, nor can they do it. I suppose this is a great revelation for me, another obstacle taken down, but it's been tiring. I just want to live a happy and fulfilled life, and knowing that I'm just starting to figure out how to do that has been depressing.

I wanted to share this in a public forum because I feel like this kind of thing happens a lot. It's important for people to know that this kind of relationship is toxic and to look for red flags when they come up. Enmeshment can be life-debilitating, and could even result in people taking their own lives when severed from enmeshed relationships.

It is not "normal," as in healthy - it is a dangerous and abusive relationship dynamic. It ruins lives. I'm lucky to be alive - I'm grateful to say that in spite of my own enmeshment, I was taught to be a survivor in spite of whatever odds I might face, and that's really the only reason I haven't killed myself after my mom died. (Though I've come close many times.) I struggle every day to put myself together and I literally ask myself, every day, "Who am I? What do I want to do with the rest of my life? Who do I want to be?" Because now that my mom is gone, I still don't have answers to these questions.

It's also super important to have patience for people who are in my position. We're extremely vulnerable and fragile coming out of these relationships, and the last thing that helps is being talked down to. Telling us to get our shit together, to get over it, and so on, only serves to isolate us even more in a situation where many of us have no idea what is happening to us because enmeshment is heavily misunderstood in our society. We've just come out of an abusive relationship - be a friend, a loved one, and be sensitive to that. Best thing you can do is be a cheerleader, and be supportive.

I can see that in myself but without the unequality. My husband and I were pretty enmeshed over the years - just by familiarity and sharing so many years and experiences. When he became ill, I totally lost myself in care taking. When he died, I felt physical pain, a huge part of me had been ripped off.

So, I can relate, but I think you are talking about a different concept because of the dominance aspect. Or is that not central to your writing?

[Image: dobie.png]Science is the process we've designed to be responsible for generating our best guess as to what the fuck is going on. Girly Man
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27-02-2016, 07:32 PM
RE: Enmeshed relationships
Thanks for that. I hadn't really thought about it before in those terms.

Flashback to my longest relationship (14 years)... She expected support from me and I saw that as one of my duties... because, why not?

The odd thing was that when she fell out with a friend of hers or (more often) her mother, I was expected to be angry with them too. Being the appeasing peacenik that I am, my instinct was to analyse what had happened and suggest ways to fix things (yeah, I know... male tendency to probelm-solve rather than empathise Rolleyes ). This, of course, was met with frustration / anger.

For an easy life, and thus adopting a subordinate role, it was just more diplomatic to (pretend to) go along with her opinion.

The hard part was that the following week, she'd change her mind (rinse and repeat) so I could never keep track of who was friend and who was enemy.

Once the relationship ended ... yup ... self-identity and boundary issues.

Can relate.

Hug

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28-02-2016, 10:39 AM
RE: Enmeshed relationships
(27-02-2016 06:55 PM)Dom Wrote:  
(27-02-2016 06:01 PM)caadam Wrote:  Enmeshment is a hard thing to recognize in relationships, mostly because I've noticed lots of people think there's nothing unhealthy with enmeshment. For those who don't know what enmeshment is, it's usually when the dynamic within a relationship (between two or more people) becomes unbalanced. Both parties (two people, or perhaps a matriarch/patriarch and their household) start to merge their identities together so closely, that they are basically a single unit. Healthy boundaries get broken down - there's no tolerance for privacy, secrets, independence in general. One party's problems become the other's problems, and vice versa.

This dynamic, at first, might seem "normal," but is proven to be toxic, especially when the more submissive party is severed from the enmeshment. And I suppose the best way to describe what the side effects of this are is by telling my own experience with enmeshment.

I grew up in a very dysfunctional household. I was closer to my mother, and when she divorced my father, I lived with her. Enmeshment started very early in my life between me and her. This relationship carried on into my adult life - my life became her life. I couldn't picture living without her being a part of all the important important experiences I could go through. We had no secrets - secrets were considered dishonest. Me becoming independent was seen as alienation, even betrayal. Just going to college was a huge battle.

We couldn't be apart - and worse, we had isolated ourselves from both parts of my family because of my mother's issues with either of them. I, of course, sided with her because that's how it was. Her problems were mine. I was unaware of this dynamic for many years, but there would be times where I realized how much it bothered her to know I wanted to have relationships with relatives she felt personally betrayed by. She would even outright try to convince me that these relatives didn't want to have a relationship with me, and would try to disassociate herself from me during conversations with them - just to make ME seem bad. It was frustrating.

I think some people knew something was off, but couldn't pinpoint what was going on. They just kept asking, "Why isn't [caadam] moved out yet? Why doesn't she do this or that?" We had excuses, and we told ourselves that they just didn't understand.

Then my mom died, and my world shattered. I had no idea what to do with myself - my mom was gone, so what's the point anymore? I didn't know who I was anymore without her. It wasn't until I went into therapy that I figured out what was happening to me. I was coming out of a severely enmeshed relationship, one that had lasted for the first almost 30 years of my life. Holy shit.

Worse, it'd not only affected my self-identity (which was cut in half and broken at this point), but had stunted my sense of maturity. I'm like in a weird limbo between being a teen and an adult. It's like in spite of almost being 30, I'm just starting to get on the adult wagon, and it's been both frustrating and at times horribly mortifying. Mortifying because, well... I'm almost half way through my life, and I can barely relate to people my own age. My past experiences have also caused me to have social anxiety and depression, which makes this transition much harder.

It's been almost 2.5 years since my mom died, and I am still trying to figure out who I am. I'm not sure yet, but I'm getting a better idea. I still get scared to do many things, because now, I only have myself to rely on for what will be good for me. Sometimes it feels great, but other times I'm left feeling terrified I'll just mess up my life even more.

I am financially independent now - disgustingly broke, but I'm doing it all on my own. I suppose that's the easy part. Going to therapy has helped, but when I look back at how I've handled realizing what I've gone through for the past almost three decades, I see that I've acted the victim for the past couple of years. It helped in some cases, but now it's no longer helping me. I am starting to gain my sense of independence, and with that comes responsibility for my own baggage. I gotta fix myself now because no one else is going to do it, nor can they do it. I suppose this is a great revelation for me, another obstacle taken down, but it's been tiring. I just want to live a happy and fulfilled life, and knowing that I'm just starting to figure out how to do that has been depressing.

I wanted to share this in a public forum because I feel like this kind of thing happens a lot. It's important for people to know that this kind of relationship is toxic and to look for red flags when they come up. Enmeshment can be life-debilitating, and could even result in people taking their own lives when severed from enmeshed relationships.

It is not "normal," as in healthy - it is a dangerous and abusive relationship dynamic. It ruins lives. I'm lucky to be alive - I'm grateful to say that in spite of my own enmeshment, I was taught to be a survivor in spite of whatever odds I might face, and that's really the only reason I haven't killed myself after my mom died. (Though I've come close many times.) I struggle every day to put myself together and I literally ask myself, every day, "Who am I? What do I want to do with the rest of my life? Who do I want to be?" Because now that my mom is gone, I still don't have answers to these questions.

It's also super important to have patience for people who are in my position. We're extremely vulnerable and fragile coming out of these relationships, and the last thing that helps is being talked down to. Telling us to get our shit together, to get over it, and so on, only serves to isolate us even more in a situation where many of us have no idea what is happening to us because enmeshment is heavily misunderstood in our society. We've just come out of an abusive relationship - be a friend, a loved one, and be sensitive to that. Best thing you can do is be a cheerleader, and be supportive.

I can see that in myself but without the unequality. My husband and I were pretty enmeshed over the years - just by familiarity and sharing so many years and experiences. When he became ill, I totally lost myself in care taking. When he died, I felt physical pain, a huge part of me had been ripped off.

So, I can relate, but I think you are talking about a different concept because of the dominance aspect. Or is that not central to your writing?

I think my focus was more on the toxicity of one party basing their identity on the more dominant party. This happens in more blatantly abusive relationships, too, but as seen in my own experience, the enmeshment can be very subtle and built up after several decades.

I definitely know the feeling you experienced with your husband, in my own way, of course. That's just grief, a terrible loss of a loved one. I think more severe enmeshment takes that grief to a whole other level where it's clear that something is very off. In my case, it took me over two years before I was able to really be on my own; I needed help, and was fortunately surrounded by people who supported me during my transition. But even for them it was hard to understand what was going on with me.
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28-02-2016, 10:54 AM
RE: Enmeshed relationships
(28-02-2016 10:39 AM)caadam Wrote:  
(27-02-2016 06:55 PM)Dom Wrote:  I can see that in myself but without the unequality. My husband and I were pretty enmeshed over the years - just by familiarity and sharing so many years and experiences. When he became ill, I totally lost myself in care taking. When he died, I felt physical pain, a huge part of me had been ripped off.

So, I can relate, but I think you are talking about a different concept because of the dominance aspect. Or is that not central to your writing?

I think my focus was more on the toxicity of one party basing their identity on the more dominant party. This happens in more blatantly abusive relationships, too, but as seen in my own experience, the enmeshment can be very subtle and built up after several decades.

I definitely know the feeling you experienced with your husband, in my own way, of course. That's just grief, a terrible loss of a loved one. I think more severe enmeshment takes that grief to a whole other level where it's clear that something is very off. In my case, it took me over two years before I was able to really be on my own; I needed help, and was fortunately surrounded by people who supported me during my transition. But even for them it was hard to understand what was going on with me.

I have zero experience with dominant partners. But the enmeshment with me was the result of a couple of years of living entirely to take care of hubby, who was very ill and kept sitting at the brink of death, then coming back for a bit, then getting worse again, over and over. My entire life was totally on hold and everything revolved around him, whether and when I slept, whether and when I ate and just everything. When he died, I had no life. And, opposite from you, I did not want to see any people. None. I just wanted to be left alone.

I see how your experience differs, your personality got enmeshed with hers. That's substantially different from what happened to me. Takes it a few steps further, because you had the normal grief alongside with it. I can't even imagine what that would be like.

It has always been difficult for me to understand how an abused person can grieve when the abuser dies. Your experience explains that quite well. I am so sorry this happened to you. Hug

[Image: dobie.png]Science is the process we've designed to be responsible for generating our best guess as to what the fuck is going on. Girly Man
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28-02-2016, 02:04 PM
RE: Enmeshed relationships
(28-02-2016 10:54 AM)Dom Wrote:  I have zero experience with dominant partners. But the enmeshment with me was the result of a couple of years of living entirely to take care of hubby, who was very ill and kept sitting at the brink of death, then coming back for a bit, then getting worse again, over and over. My entire life was totally on hold and everything revolved around him, whether and when I slept, whether and when I ate and just everything. When he died, I had no life. And, opposite from you, I did not want to see any people. None. I just wanted to be left alone.

I see how your experience differs, your personality got enmeshed with hers. That's substantially different from what happened to me. Takes it a few steps further, because you had the normal grief alongside with it. I can't even imagine what that would be like.

It has always been difficult for me to understand how an abused person can grieve when the abuser dies. Your experience explains that quite well. I am so sorry this happened to you. Hug

And I totally wouldn't blame anyone for not understanding why I grieved so badly after my mom died, considering why she and I has gone through together. But really... I had no idea that I had been abused until months later when I went into therapy.

It was a harsh reality because in spite of the pain I'd gone through, I missed my mom. I guess I miss all the good memories, when everything seemed all right. I miss that companionship, but it taught me the difference between healthy and unhealthy boundaries. Letting someone emotionally blackmail you into living a life that appeals to their own insecurities isn't healthy lol.
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28-02-2016, 02:08 PM
RE: Enmeshed relationships
I sometimes suspect I struggle with this a bit with my mother.
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