This is the family with fuzzy, haphazard, or permeable boundaries. It is the symbiotic family where it is never clear where one person begins and the other ends. It is the family where one borrows clothes from another without permission, for there is the running assumption that what belongs to one belongs to all, and that “If I want it”, then my child, or parent or sibling would want to give it to me.
In the enmeshed family everyone shares the other’s life-system, like siamese twins. One learns not to look within one’s self for awareness of what one is about, but to the other members of the family. The child who is happy when his mother is happy and sad when mother is depressed is enmeshed. The child who is made privy to all the struggles of the parents and invited into them, often made responsible for them and asked to comfort or give advice to his parents is in the enmeshed family. The child who is relied upon as being “father’s little helper” or “mama’s strong little man” to the point where he begins to define himself as essential to his parents for their happiness is in the enmeshed family.
Enmeshment greatly handicaps one’s sense of individual identity, and consequently the sense of individual effectiveness and responsibility. If one is not “separate”, how can one make a real decision about her place in the family, and, by extension, in the world. Also, enmeshment is very hard to see if one is in it, for the net becomes a part of the self. One shares in the family shame, the family’s inability to be strong in the world, the family’s inferiority feelings, simply because one belongs to the family, not specifically because of anything one has done. The enmeshed family has made the choice to attempt to cope with its frailty and shame by fusing with one another in an effort to find strength in numbers, and in emotion-based reciprocal justifications, blame-makings and affirmations. Unfortunately, this results in the loss of a sense of personal power. Shame shared is still shame.
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