Enmeshed and Codependent Relationships (Part 1)

So, there’s been lots of thinking about relationships the past few days.. Healthy relationships, codependent relationships, enmeshed relationships, interdependent.. even a little bit of talking on narcissistic behavior.. I’m probably going to have several references in here so stick with me.. But it is good information.

Having a close family is great! Important by all means. It’s good to have a close relationship with everyone in the family, wanting to please the parents and/or siblings, it’s even important to make sacrifices for the family members. But..

Ideally, the children of the family should be being prepped to be handle themselves in this world. Being prepped so that they can leave home and build their own families and chase their dreams. These children are confident in their ability to take on such responsibility..

However this isn’t always the case..

People in enmeshed families generally grow up confused about how they feel or unsure of what they want to do with their lives because they are encouraged to feel whatever the rest of the family feels and strongly discouraged from having their own feelings and preferences. Sometimes this may draw out intimidation tactics by the parents, sometimes it’s using an emotion to guilt (or shame) them into abiding by the unspoken family rules. I think it may even go as far as having the children withheld from knowledge so that they literally cannot depart from their parents/home.

Due to fear, or feeling threatened, families will sometimes unknowingly single out their scapegoat, the child that has a desire to become an individual and might one day like to part from their home. This would create a sense of shame in the child keeping them from branching out, keeping the child rooted at home. Sometimes leading to depression, or some type of addictive behavior.

It’s great when families are close knit, but when you start realizing the fact that enmeshment is taking place, and they are close knit due to trying to discourage family members from outside relationships, expressing themselves, and expressing their life outside of the family unit. There’s a problem and it needs to be dealt with… It isn’t ok for parents or siblings or even spouses to NEED to be needed, not to the extent of trying to keep the child/spouse roped in.

I’ve collected a list of “symptoms” of an enmeshed family”

Enmeshed family traits according to “http://www.counseling4less.com/blog/what-is-enmeshment

“Controlling behavior, distrust, perfectionism, avoidance of feelings, intimacy problems, care-taking behavior, hyper vigilance, denial, physical illness related to stress. It is believed that we become codependent through living in systems (families) with rules that hinder development, flexibility and spontaneity.”

  • It’s not okay to talk about problems
  • Don’t trust your instincts or other people
  • Unpleasant feelings should not be openly expressed (i.e. anger, differing opinions)
  • Keep your feelings to yourself
  • Communication is best when it is indirect
  • Use another family member as a messenger between two others
  • Always be good, strong, right and perfect – or at least act it
  • Make us proud beyond realistic expectations
  • Don’t be selfish
  • Do as I say, not as I do
  • It’s not okay to be playful
  • It’s not okay to shine or excel too much
  • Do not rock the boat
  • Disaster is always lurking just around the corner, so tread lightly
  • Guard the family secrets
  • You should feel guilty or scared to say “no”
  • Pretend there are no problems
  • Nice people are boring (healthy people)
  • If we disagree with each other, we are attacking or abandoning each other
  • Control others by manipulating with threats, fear, guilt or pity
  • If you need attention, be overly dramatic to get it
  • Set off others’ emotional temperatures to see how it is you feel (or should feel)
  • If you control things and people you will be safe
  • Don’t talk to outsiders about what goes on in our family. That is our business and our business
  • only.

Enmeshed family traits according to http://www.mariadroste.org/2013/07/the-enmeshed-family-what-it-is-and-how-to-unmesh/

  • What Mom and Dad say/believe/think/feel about you is what is right, never mind that you are 45 years old and have been on your own for 27 years.
  • It’s okay for you to be a little bit different from us in some ways, but there is a line that you can’t cross in this family and still be accepted.
  • The cost of being different is to be cut off. We cannot accept differences that challenge our rigid sense of who this family is.
  • Even as adults, you will conform to the wishes of “the family” instead of make your own mind up about how, where, and with whom you wish to live your life.

This is where enmeshed starts to clash with codependency and narcissism. Codependency begins with people within the family being manipulated or controlled. People who are codependent are easy targets for narcissists… They can be easily controlled, easily manipulated, they are generally very selfless people. They want to please and are concerned with others feelings, almost to a fault. They forget that they need to take care of their self. When they do (try), it makes them feel selfish even though it is well deserved care that they need. Even when they have a problem they are too careful not to disturb anyone, most of their emotions get bottled up inside them and they wont let anyone take care of them. But when someone is codependent they are searching desperately for acceptance, willing to do whatever it takes to find it. Now, I want to add in here that this is referring to an unhealthy sense of caring behavior…

Codependence is a hard thing to overcome.. I’ve fought with it, secretly…? Maybe? I don’t really remember how long I fussed with it.. but it was off and on for a few years. I don’t know if it ever showed through, but I know there was a certain amount of codependency that came along with some of my relationships with mentors. No matter how hard I tried to get away from my dad who was extremely narcissistic, all I wanted was his acceptance, and I allowed it to damage me very deeply. All he had to do was tell me “I’d love you if…” And I’d jump and do it. Now, I’m an independent person, so I will say, I had my rebellious streaks in which I got sarcastic and decided that I didn’t have to do anything he said because I had no respect for him. I’d flip flop like that where all I wanted was him to care about me, to hoping he (if I can remember how I said it) “Went to hell in a hand basket and died in a hole when he got there”.. If not, that is close enough… Anyway, once I figured that out and realized he was using emotions against me, is when I began learning to shut down.. Simply because I refused to allow him to control me that way. Anyway, all that to say even someone who is fairly independent and strong willed gets sucked into that whole codependency thing, being controlled and manipulated. It takes a strong personality to come out of it. But it is doable..

Now this goes in all relationship. A codependent/enmeshed relationship can happen between friends, between siblings, parents, boyfriend/girlfriend, and spouses. No one person should be controlled in that manner. Each person should be allowed to be their own person. It really is something that has to be watched for, due to the fact that enmeshed relationships have potential to look very similar to healthy relationships from the surface. Even codependent relationships can look healthy till it is made apparent that it is an unhealthy relationship.

This coming week, I’ll address healthy families, interdependence, and how they compare with codependent and enmeshed relationships..

God Bless,



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