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How To Start Healing Enmeshed Parent-Child Relationships

Family relationships can be complicated, and this is probably why there are so many movies, tv shows, and books focused on the complex nature of family. Think about it- our family relationships shape the way people see the world, experience love, develop friendships, and view themselves.

Within the family, parent-child relationships are one of the most important, formative, and challenging relationships a person experiences throughout life.

The relationship you have with your parents shapes your attachment style. This style informs the way you interact in close relationships for the rest of your life. So, what makes a healthy parent-child relationship? And what does an unhealthy relationship look like?

Let’s get into what you need to know!

What Is An Attachment Style?

Attachment is an umbrella term used to describe the ways people navigate relationships based on their earliest experiences. Your attachment style may explain the way you navigate relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners.

There are four primary attachment styles: Secure, Anxious, Avoidant, and Disorganized. Enmeshed parent-child relationships may result in anxious, avoidant, or disorganized attachments. This is the result of unclear parent-child roles and a lack of boundaries.

If you are interested in learning more about your attachment styles and forming healthy adult relationships, you may consider therapy. A professional therapist or counselor focused on attachment theory can help support you.

What Is an Enmeshed Relationship?

Enmeshment describes a relationship where individuals do not have clear boundaries or identities. This can result in over-concern for another’s emotions and a loss of individual identity.

In a family context, this can take many forms. In these cases, the parent and child do not have clear boundaries and are overly involved in each other’s emotional life. This may look like:

  • Helicopter parenting

  • “Parentifying” a child with developmentally inappropriate expectations

  • A parent who lives vicariously through their child’s accomplishments or achievements

  • A child who feels responsible for their parent’s emotional state

  • An excessively overbearing parent

  • A parent who uses their child as a substitute for a close confidant, counselor, or partner.

Unfortunately, enmeshment interferes with a child’s ability to develop their own sense of self. In the scenarios above, the boundary between parent and child is unclear. Each of these relationships is developmentally inappropriate for the child.

How is Enmeshed Different From Close?

You may be reading this thinking, “I want to meet all of my child’s needs, and I never want them to suffer!”. This is an understandable desire, as many parents want to protect their children from any hurt or disappointment. However, children need opportunities to feel the full range of human emotions to develop valuable life skills.

Enmeshed relationships are unhealthy attachments that blur each individual’s boundaries and lessen their independence. For children, this eliminates valuable opportunities to learn and develop important life skills.

The difference between enmeshed and close is in each individual’s identity. Close relationships provide support, emotional intimacy, and connection without taking away independence. However, if you do not know who you are outside of the relationship, you may be experiencing enmeshment.

How Can We Heal Enmeshed Parent-Child Relationships?

Healing enmeshed parent-child relationships can be challenging. Families tend to stick to familiar patterns and keep relationship dynamics the same as they have always been. Healing enmeshment requires you to change a familiar pattern and can take time and work.

Keep in mind that boundaries are key in all relationships. However, they are particularly important when it comes to healing enmeshment. Enmeshed relationships depend on a lack of boundaries and individuality. New boundaries must be implemented to begin new patterns of interaction.

Individual and family therapy can be invaluable tools for healing unhealthy relationship patterns like enmeshment. A therapist can bring an uninvolved, unbiased perspective to the table and help challenge thoughts, patterns, and behaviors associated with enmeshment. If you are seeking therapy on your own to heal from an enmeshed parent-child relationship, therapy may help you to build confidence, explore your identity, and set boundaries appropriate to your circumstances and needs.

Final Thoughts

Healing enmeshed relationships requires time and effort. But, if you recognize patterns of enmeshment in your own relationships, you’re already doing some of the difficult work! Self-awareness is one of the first steps toward making changes in your relationships.

You can heal from enmeshment to form healthier relationships grounded in autonomy and boundaries. Therapy can help challenge behavioral patterns and provide a space to learn new relationship skills. You have the ability to write a new family story and heal generational patterns of codependency and enmeshment.

We are here to support you and your family in building healthier, satisfying relationships. Contact us today to learn more!

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