In my previous post, I discussed the importance of boundaries in relationships and families. Boundaries, both physical and emotional, are the foundation for the development of healthy relationships. Generally speaking, cohesion in a family is beneficial to its members by reducing the impact of stress, improving communication, and even increasing life span. However, there is such a thing as being “too close,” which occurs in what we would call “enmeshed” relationships.

In enmeshed relationships, boundaries are permeable, and limits do not exist. The individuals in said relationships rely on each other to fill their emotional needs and determine their self-concept. In a family relationship, a decision by a family member to move and/or take a job in another state can cause a great deal of upset. Rather than being interpreted as a positive step in a career for this family member or a new opportunity, members of an enmeshed family view this as betrayal and abandonment. Conversely, in a healthy family, this decision may cause pain, but it's not seen as a betrayal of family. Family members in enmeshed families may feel obligated or expected to participate, and are guilted if they do not visit, call or attend family events as frequently as their family would like them to.

Enmeshment can also occur in romantic relationships. When this occurs in partnerships, one partner may neglect other friends or familial relationship due to a preoccupation with their significant other. Additionally, their happiness, contentment, self-esteem and sense of security relies on how the relationship is going. Further, your emotions rely on the emotions of the other person, such that if they are angry, worried or distressed, you are angry, worried or distressed.

If this is something that you may be struggling with, a first step toward change is to set small boundaries. This can be done in a loving way, responding to the other person’s needs while respecting your own limits. An additional step to make is to form relationships with others and yourself to build up your community outside of said relationship. Lastly, seeking professional help, with a psychologist, therapist, and/or family therapist can be very beneficial to impact the family dynamic.

As a parent, awareness of your own dynamic with your child can be extremely beneficial for your relationship and your child’s development. This is imperative for a child to learn that they are only responsible for their own feelings, recognize that they can make mistakes and still be loved, and have positive relationships as an adult, in both work and personal life. Parents serve as role models for their children, and need to demonstrate how to independently determine their worth, take responsibility for their feelings and find their own interests. If this is a topic of interest for you or your family, please contact our office at (512)329-8222 or visit us at www.neurobehavioralaustin.com. We are here to help.