Enmeshment: Who Really Makes Your Decisions — You or Someone Else?
By Krista Carter Illinois
There’s a closeness some families experience but it might be a little too close. If you are an adult, or near adult and feel like you always must check in with your parents or other family members and friends to make decisions, this might be you. If you find yourself unable to recognize your own emotions for your own natural challenges and achievements, but have deep feelings for others around you, you could be enmeshed.
A Look at Enmeshed Relationships
In an enmeshed relationship, emotions occur without recognizing the separation of people. The boundaries among enmeshed people don’t mark individuality about who is feeling what for whom. Boundaries are those imaginary or physical lines that allow you to own your private space, values, achievements, and losses as a human being. A sister could be overly happy about her younger brother’s achievements and never acknowledge her own. A wife might process her husband’s emotions with and for him, and never know her own successes and struggles and their accompanying feelings. But how does this happen?
Usually, a parent or caretaker is unable to comprehend and process their own emotions. This is hardly a fault, but unfortunately a common experience for many people. Rather than parent their children, they use their children to help process their lives. Many parents do this occasionally, but doing it regularly teaches the child to emote for other people. And if the parent doesn’t know how to teach a child to recognize and process their own emotions, they can grow up feeling for others as an adult and not understanding what is theirs and what is someone else’s. They then inadvertently attract friends and mates for whom they feel, instead of learning to know their own process and feel their own emotions.
The Downsides of Enmeshment
One of many of the downsides to not understanding and owning your own emotions because you are enmeshed with someone else, is that you can’t possibly make good decisions for yourself. You can make logical decisions, but so many decisions that make us happy require understanding how to feel your own emotions. If you don’t know why you are feeling what you are feeling and it has nothing to do with you, it’s tough to know who to love, what career is right for you, or what friends work for you. People who are enmeshed experience a lack of freedom all over their lives and never really understand why unless they educate themselves or go to therapy. Each person they meet becomes someone else for whom they feel emotions rather than each person acting as an individual who gets to know another individual and chooses a relationship of some sort. That requires understanding your own emotions and setting boundaries to sustain what is YOURS, recognizing that you have a right to your own emotions, and that you have a right to leave others to deal with their emotions.
Some of the best decisions are based upon gut reactions, and for the enmeshed person this is hardly noticeable for all of the emotions they experience. People who are enmeshed will often say that they don’t have good intuition or gut reactions. They do, but they are busy feeling a variety of emotions, and are not even aware that many are not their own. A daughter may feel things right along with her mother who repeats poor decision making. Sadly, she may also take responsibility for those decisions.
When an enmeshed person takes responsibility for the decisions of others, they don’t have space to process their own life, and make sound decisions for themselves. This is where you may be getting into trouble. People who make decisions based upon feeling the actions of others aren’t owning their own power. An example of this might be an adult son whose mother has a disability. The mother refuses to seek help outside of her son, even though she is eligible for help. He then feels he must take care of her rather than live his own life, and he might not even have the capacity to do the care. If you think you might be enmeshed, you aren’t alone. There is a comfort in not owning your decisions—you don’t have to take responsibility for them if you feel others emotions driving your decisions. But are you happy? Are you honoring what your heart really wants? Learning to do that will mean unpacking the complications of enmeshment. But it’s not impossible. You can overcome this and feel more empowered in your life.
At Symmetry Counseling, we offer virtual therapy and online counseling services, ensuring that no matter your specific situation, you can find help from an experienced counselor. If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of dealing with enmeshment in your relationships, the important thing to know is that you don’t have to go through your situation alone. Contact us now to schedule a visit.
Written by Kara Thompson-Miller, Licensed Clinical Social Worker: January 2023 “Why is it so hard to like my body?”: A unassumingly complex question that has been asked by many clients in many different variations, but one that, nonetheless, tends…Read More
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