Family relationships can be complex and intricate, often involving a mix of love, care, and conflict. An enmeshed family system is one where boundaries between members are blurred, making it difficult to develop a healthy sense of self.
This can cause confusion and create difficult dynamics. But there are ways to navigate through an enmeshed family system and create healthy boundaries.
What is an enmeshed family system?
An enmeshed family system is one where the family members’ sense of self is linked more closely to each other than to an independent sense of self. They may feel as if they are one being with the other family members, rather than separate individuals.
This type of family system is often characterized by codependency, where one member’s sense of self is so linked to the other family members’ that they lose their own identity. This confusion over who they are and their place in the family system can cause feelings of depression and anxiety, especially when there are relationship problems or stressors in the family environment.
An enmeshed family system can also occur when family members have one or more central characteristics of the enmeshed family system. These include interdependence, where one member’s sense of self is linked to the other family members’, and an inability to take care of one’s own needs.
Identifying and Understanding Enmeshed Family System Characteristics
Identifying and understanding the characteristics of an enmeshed family system can help you better understand why things seem the way they do in your family.
- Interdependence – The sense of self that is linked to the other family members.
- Codependency – The confusion and disassociation from one’s own identity that also occurs in an enmeshed family system.
- Inability to Take Care of One’s Own Needs – The enmeshed family system is often characterized by a lack of ability to take care of one’s own needs, which can lead to feelings of helplessness.
- Difficulty Establishing Boundaries – Enmeshed families may struggle with establishing boundaries between members.
10 Tips Navigate Through an Enmeshed Family System
1. Establish Your Own Identity
It can be helpful to establish your own identity in the relationship with your family members. This can help you feel less desperate and less attached to them, which in turn can create space for you to be able to identify your own needs and wants.
There are different ways you can do this, depending on your unique situation and family dynamics.
A good place to start is to identify what your own wants and needs are. It can be helpful to write down these so that you have them in writing, as well as in your head. Doing this can help you identify your own needs, including things like the need for alone time, quiet time, and time to reflect and process your feelings.
You can also identify your own wants, such as the need for connection with others, the need for connection with yourself, and the need for connection with others in a healthy and constructive way.
2. Set Boundaries
Boundaries are important in any relationship, but especially so in family relationships. Setting boundaries can help you establish a healthy sense of self and separate from your family members so that you can focus on your own needs and wants, rather than on theirs.
Boundaries are clear guidelines that you set for yourself and your family members on what is and is not allowed. They can include what you can and cannot do in your own time, where you can and cannot go, who you can and cannot spend time with, and what you can and cannot say or do. While boundaries are important in every relationship, they are especially important in family relationships.
They help to keep you safe, and they give you a sense of self and independence. They can also help to avoid hurt feelings and arguments with your family members if they overstep the mark.
3. Communicate Assertively
When you are in an enmeshed family system, it can be hard to express yourself assertively, as you may feel as if you don’t belong or have value on your own. In order to communicate assertively, you need to find your voice and feel comfortable in speaking up for yourself.
This can help you to feel less afraid or less anxious, as you are not tied up in defending or trying to prove yourself to your family members. Find your own voice, speak from your own heart, and express yourself from your own mind.
Try to stay away from the words and phrases that your family members use and instead speak from your own values, morals, and beliefs. This is how you will be most effective in asserting yourself and getting what you need.
4. Maintain Your Own Space
One way to have your own space and keep your own identity is to separate yourself from family members. This will help you avoid feeling drained and overwhelmed by them.
Preserving your own identity is important for mental health, and allowing yourself to be overtaken by family members can cause you to compromise that. Strive to maintain autonomy in order to stay connected with who you are as an individual.
When you maintain your own space, you are avoiding internalizing the feelings of stress and confusion that the enmeshed family system causes. You can avoid attaching to these feelings and take care of yourself so that you don’t get overwhelmed or exhausted by them.
5. Setting and Maintaining Limits
Setting and maintaining limits is another way to establish your own space and regain your sense of self. A limit is a boundary that you set for yourself, such as your own time and space or the amount of time that you are willing to spend with your family members.
You can set limits for yourself by identifying what you want and need, and then deciding how much of that you are willing to give up. This can help you to maintain your own space and avoid internalizing the stress and confusion that the enmeshed family system causes.
For example, you may want to set a limit on how much time you spend talking with your family members about their problems. You may want to set a limit on how long you are willing to listen to their troubles.
6. Seek Professional Help
If you are in an enmeshed family system, it can be helpful to seek professional help to help you establish healthier boundaries and build a balanced sense of self. It can be helpful to see a therapist or counsellor who is trained in working with families.
These professionals can help you to identify your own values and beliefs, and help you to maintain your own space and avoid internalizing the negative emotions that the enmeshed family system causes. They can also help to set and maintain healthy boundaries with your family members, so that you can continue to build a balanced sense of self apart from them.
7. Prioritize Your Needs
Another way to establish your own space and build a balanced sense of self apart from your family members is to prioritize your needs. It can be helpful to identify the things that are most important to you and what you need from others in your life.
It can also be helpful to identify what your needs are, and what you need from others, before you start a relationship or spend time with someone else. This can help you to avoid overcommitting or getting overwhelmed by the other person or situation.
8. Take Time for yourself
Taking the time to practice self-care can help you build a balance between your own needs and the needs of others.
This can help to reduce stress and anxiety that comes from enmeshed family systems, as it allows you to reconnect with yourself and get in touch with what is most important for you. It can also be helpful to set aside time each day to engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation.
9. Reach Out for Support
It can be helpful to reach out for support from people who are not part of the enmeshed family system. This can help to provide an objective perspective on your situation and allow you to gain clarity on how to best take care of yourself.
It is important to remember that you are not alone in dealing with enmeshed family systems, and there are people who can provide support and guidance during this time.
10. Remain Open
Finally, it can be helpful to remain open to changes that may occur within the enmeshed family system. Changes in dynamics and relationships can happen over time, and it is important to remain open to new ways of relating with others and building healthier boundaries.
It can also be beneficial to talk through these changes with trusted individuals or a professional so that you can work through your feelings and gain clarity on how to best navigate the enmeshed family system.
By following these tips, you can take steps towards establishing your own space and building a balanced sense of self apart from enmeshed family systems. Remember to be patient with yourself as changes take place over time. We hope this article has been helpful to you in establishing healthy boundaries and building a balanced sense of self.