Enmeshment: A silent killer of family harmony

A person feels pressure to fill a role instead of being true to his real self
Enmeshment: A silent killer of family harmony
"Individuals in enmeshed families are expected to think, feel and behave in certain ways based upon spoken or unspoken rules."Wikimedia Commons / Eric Ward

Family is one of the biggest blessings; a source of joy and strength. This is what makes house a home, but if there is dysfunctionality in the communication and structure of family relations it create havoc in a person’s life.

A healthy and happy family is free from Estrangement and Enmeshment. The term “Enmeshment” coined by a pioneer family therapist Salvador Minuchin is a psychological concept that describes relationships with blurred boundaries and high co dependency. Individuals in enmeshed families are expected to think, feel and behave in certain ways based upon spoken or unspoken rules. There is no respect for autonomy or individuality; reign of a person’s life is in others hand. A person feels pressure to fill a role instead of being true to his real self.

According to family therapist, Kimberly Panganiban, an enmeshed relationship usually occurs when people are so close that they are not able to maintain their individuality and independence. These are problematic relationships because there is a lack of boundary and attunement to one’s own self, which results in individual needs not being met”. It is quite common in Kashmiri families where parents especially mothers pamper their sons even after marriage and are overly involved in their personal affairs. They want their children to depend on them. From the food to cook to where to go for weekend or whether a daughter in law will work, all decisions are taken by them. If a person decides to go against family’s wishes and desires, he is made to feel guilty and threatened. Many marriages are ruined due to enmeshed family atmosphere. There are many sisters who keep on interfering in the marital life of their brothers. It take a heavy toll on mental wellbeing. There is maladaptive emotional involvement in enmeshed families but absence of family cohesion which is key to harmonious and healthy family functioning.

It is not uncommon to find people complaining about their family atmosphere. In work settings we see workers discussing their issues. Many daughter in laws keep abusing and accusing in-laws for ruining their marital life. Many daughters/sons complain about controlling nature of parents. They feel they have no say; their opinions and preferences don’t matter. Why is this so? The answer lies in blurred and permeable boundaries. There is no respect for diversity of opinions. Family members want each other to see things from same point of view. 30 or 40 year grown up male/female is treated as 10 year old immature child. He is being told what is best for her/him. He is dictated dos and don’ts as a result there is disharmony and conflict in families.

Take Away: Enmeshment in any relation be it parent-child, husband-wife, person-in laws is a silent killer. It destroys emotional and mental well being and creates emotional distance. It is as toxic as estrangement where family members are totally inconsiderate towards each others’ affairs and there is emotional disengagement. A balanced family is healthy relationship. We should show love, care, empathy, and involvement in our loved ones’ affairs but at the same time we should give them space and respect their individuality. Lets not keep hovering over each others’ heads like helicopters. Don’t be over reliant on each other and never use guilt induction and psychological control. Let’s make our families more and more cohesive and tolerant to diversity of opinions. In the words of Khalil Gibran“ Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup...Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone. Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music...And the oak tree and cypress grow not in each others shadow”.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

Greater Kashmir