Enmeshed Family What It Is and How to Break Free

An enmeshed family is a family that lacks healthy boundaries between its members. Family members are emotionally fused together in an unhealthy way, often due to trauma or illness in the past. Enmeshment can have negative effects on the psychological well-being and development of the individuals involved. In this article, we will explore the concept of an enmeshed family, its characteristics, causes, and the effects it can have on individuals. 

Signs of Enmeshment

Some common signs of enmeshment are:

  • There is a lack of emotional and physical boundaries. Family members do not respect each other’s privacy, autonomy, or individuality.
  • As a result, family members feel responsible for each other’s happiness and well-being. They try to fix each other’s problems and feel guilty or ashamed if they fail to do so.
  • Moreover, family members are overly and inappropriately reliant on each other for support. Parents may treat their children as friends, confidants, or therapists, and children may feel obligated to take care of their parent’s emotional or practical needs.
  • Consequently, family members have difficulty expressing their own opinions, feelings, and desires. They tend to please or take care of others at the expense of their own needs and goals.
  • Additionally, family members avoid conflict and do not know how to say no. They fear rejection, abandonment, or retaliation if they disagree or assert themselves.
  • Finally, family members do not have a strong sense of who they are. They absorb other people’s feelings and identities and have trouble forming their own.

Effects of Enmeshment

Enmeshment can have various negative effects on the psychological health and functioning of family members, such as:

  • Parentification. This is when parents rely on their children to give them emotional or instrumental support that is beyond their developmental capacity. This can lead to role confusion, stress, resentment, and loss of childhood for the children.
  • Codependency. This is when family members depend on each other in an unhealthy way, often enabling or reinforcing each other’s dysfunctional behaviors or patterns. This can lead to low self-esteem, poor boundaries, addiction, depression, or anxiety for the family members.
  • Lack of individuation. This is when family members do not develop a separate sense of self from their family of origin. This can lead to identity confusion, difficulty making decisions, and, a lack of autonomy or independence for the family members.

How to Break Free from Enmeshment

Breaking free from enmeshment can be challenging but possible with the help of professional therapy and personal growth. Some steps that can help are:

  • First, recognize the signs and effects of enmeshment in your family and yourself. Acknowledge how it has impacted your life and relationships.
  • Second, set healthy boundaries with your family members. Communicate your needs, feelings, and preferences clearly and respectfully. Learn to say no and accept no from others. Respect your own and others’ privacy and space.
  • Third, develop your own identity and interests. Explore your values, beliefs, passions, and goals. Pursue activities that make you happy and fulfilled. Discover who you are apart from your family.
  • Fourth, seek support from outside your family. Build relationships with friends, mentors, peers, or professionals who can offer you positive feedback, guidance, and encouragement. Join groups or communities that share your interests or values.
  • Fifth, seek professional help if needed. A therapist can help you understand the root causes of enmeshment in your family, heal from any trauma or pain that it has caused you, and develop skills and strategies to cope with it.


Enmeshment is a dysfunctional family dynamic that can have harmful effects on the psychological well-being and development of family members. Therefore, it is important to recognize the signs of enmeshment and take steps to break free from it. Some of these steps include setting healthy boundaries, developing your own identity, and seeking support from outside your family. By doing so, you can improve your mental health and happiness, as well as create more fulfilling relationships with yourself and others.

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