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Enmeshment: The Sticky Interpersonal Cobweb You Can Accidentally Walk Into

Whoops.

You seem to be in a relationship that is taking up A LOT of your energy. And it’s not always, like, fun energy:

  • You spend more than 50% of the time feeling on edge because you’re worried about someone else.
  • You’re trying to figure out what someone else wants so you can then figure out what YOU want.
  • You feel like you are frequently saying the wrong thing and upsetting someone else and you’d really like to figure out how to make them happy.
  • You’re worried about someone’s unhealthy behaviors and you do everything in your power to try to get them to do things differently, and nothing seems to really work, and frankly, it’s ruining your relationship, and if they would just get it together, things would be so much better!
  • You’re considering breaking off a relationship and never speaking to them again, ever, because it’s just too complicated, even though you do love them.

If you’re right now thinking, “Wendy, how are you in my head right now?” it’s because I know what enmeshment looks like. Enmeshment is also known as co-dependency, and also known as “the drug with a down side.”

I also know how hard it is to do things differently. “Doing things differently” can feel pretty much impossible. Which is maybe where you’re at right now.

Let go.

Yeah, right.

Not your circus, not your monkeys.

Doesn’t feel that way. Feels like it’s definitely your circus and without a doubt these ARE your monkeys.

Stop rescuing them. Allow them to fall down.

Easier said than done. DEATH IS ON THE LINE.

Without a doubt, it is a tough job being The Responsible One, The Mature One, The One Everyone Can Count On, etc. But it’s also awesome to be that person, because you are so needed! The world needs more of your kind, amiright?

But then there’s the shadow side…. You have your own problems that aren’t being tended to. Your stomach/head/back hurts a lot of the time. You feel overwhelmed and well, unappreciated. As a matter of fact, you’ve got some resentment and anger that you kind of feel bad for having. But it’s there. You do a pretty good job of stuffing it down to the soles of your shoes (although it’s been known to sneak out sideways).

The smartypants book version for the definition of enmeshment is as follows:

Enmeshment is a concept introduced by Salvador Minuchin to describe families where personal boundaries are diffuse, sub-systems undifferentiated, and over-concern for others leads to a loss of autonomous development.

Let me give it to you in pigs and bunnies: Enmeshment describes relationships where people don’t get to be their own person with their own thoughts and feelings because it doesn’t feel safe or acceptable to do so.

Also known as codependency, enmeshment is super tricky to spot, easy to fall into and can be difficult to get out of. Thus, I liken it to a spider web you walk into because you didn’t see it there, or even better, because what you SAW was a warm blanket and you went right for it.

Enmeshment starts out feeling AWESOME and ends up feeling kind of horrible some of the time, because really, it doesn’t work long-term. Enmeshment is meant for newborns and folks in the “honeymoon” phase of their relationship.

Enmeshment starts out like:

  • We are so alike, you and I. It feels like we share a brain! and a heart! and a soul!
  • I can’t even BELIEVE how we love all the same things and think the same way.
  • You know EXACTLY what to say/do to make me feel good.
  • All I need is to see you smile. That should seriously be a song.
  • Dude. We are a hive mind.

It ends like everything you read at the beginning of this blog.

So, here’s some not-so-good-news: If you tend to get enmeshed in your relationships, there’s a high chance you came from an enmeshed family.

But! There’s also good news: It is totally possible to learn how to differentiate (which is how you get un-enmeshed) and live a happier, fuller life that doesn’t leave you feeling drained and confused all the time.

With or without the help of your family-of-origin, you can do this! We’ll talk about the how-to next time….

 


November 14, 2015