Enmeshment in Narcissistic Families – Trapped in the Narcissist’s Toxic Web

Enmeshment is a psychological term used to describe a relationship in which two or more individuals are overly close and intertwined. This type of entanglement can be detrimental to all parties involved, as it prevents them from forming strong independent identities and functioning autonomously.

Enmeshment can occur in any type of relationship. It can exist between family members, friends, co-workers, or romantic partners. It is also often seen in interdependent relationships such as those between co-dependents / enablers and narcissists, which is why enmeshment is particularly common in families with a narcissistic parent.

What does enmeshment mean?

Enmeshment is a term that was coined by family therapist Salvador Minuchin and describes a relationship in which two or more people are so closely intertwined that individual boundaries become blurred.

Those affected by enmeshment often feel as though their sense of autonomy and independence is lacking, as they have difficulty distinguishing their own wants and needs from those of the other person. This type of relationship can cause negative effects such as an inability to form healthy attachments, resentment due to feeling stifled, loss of identity, and feelings of insecurity.

Enmeshment can occur in any type of relationship, but it is very common in families with a narcissistic parent.

Signs of Enmeshment

If you think that you or someone you know may be suffering from this detrimental form of entanglement, here are some signs to look out for:

1. Difficulty expressing emotions

One of the signs that you may be in an emotionally enmeshed relationship is if you have difficulty expressing your emotions. You may feel like you have to bottle up your feelings in order to avoid conflict or upsetting your partner. This can lead to resentment and can be detrimental to your mental health.

2. Difficulty maintaining boundaries

Another sign of an emotionally enmeshed relationship is if you have difficulty maintaining boundaries. You may find yourself constantly giving in to your partner’s demands or sacrificing your own needs in order to please them. This can be extremely draining and can leave you feeling resentful and taken advantage of.

3. Fear of abandonment

If you are in an emotionally enmeshed relationship, you may also fear abandonment. This means that you are constantly worried about your partner leaving you or not being there for you when you need them. This fear can lead to clinginess and can make it difficult for you to function independently.

4. Codependency

Codependency is another sign of an emotionally enmeshed relationship. This means that you rely on your partner for emotional support and validation. This can be harmful as it can make you feel like you are not good enough without them and can lead to dependence and dependency issues.

5. Lack of privacy

If you are in an emotionally enmeshed relationship, you may also find that there is a lack of privacy in the relationship. You may feel like your partner is always trying to control what you do or who you talk to. This can be extremely suffocating and can make it difficult for you to maintain any sense of independence.

6. Jealousy

Jealousy is another common sign of an emotionally enmeshed relationship. You may find yourself feeling jealous of your partner’s friends or family members or feeling like they are always comparing you to others. This jealousy can lead to possessiveness and can be damaging to the relationship.

7. Control issues

Control issues are another sign of an emotionally enmeshed relationship. If one partner feels like they have to control everything in the relationship, this can lead to tension and conflict. It can also make it difficult for the other partner to feel like they have any autonomy or independence within the relationship.

Enmeshment in Narcissistic Families

Enmeshment is common in narcissistic families because the parent often needs to be in control and will not allow their children to have their own autonomy. The total lack of boundaries between parent and child can lead to feelings of insecurity, a loss of identity, and resentment towards the controlling parent.

Enmeshment can make it difficult for the child to form healthy attachments with others, as they are so used to being enmeshed with this one individual.

How do narcissistic families become enmeshed?

Enmeshment in a narcissistic family can occur for many different reasons.

The narcissistic parent may be insecure and need constant reassurance from their children. Their family members become a source of narcissistic supply so that they can feel better about themselves.

The narcissistic parent may also want to control their children and not allow them to have any independence. This is because they see their children as an extension of themselves. They want them to do everything that they couldn’t do or didn’t do in their own lives.

The narcissistic parent may also be afraid of abandonment. They may use their children as a way to avoid being alone. This is because they are afraid that their children will leave them if they give them too much space.

What are the signs of narcissistic enmeshment?

Enmeshed parents have an extremely close and intertwined relationship with their children. They often control every aspect of their child’s life and need constant reassurance from them.

Such parents can be difficult to live with, as they often exhibit characteristics such as excessive jealousy, possessiveness, and neediness. As a result the atmosphere in the family is oppressive, with very little personal warmth and no freedom of expression.

The following are signs of narcissistic family enmeshment –

  1. The family is extremely close-knit and the boundaries between family members are blurred.
  2. Family members are extremely dependent on one another and have difficulty functioning independently.
  3. There is a great deal of emotional manipulation and control within the family.
  4. There is a lack of healthy communication within the family and a focus on surface-level issues.
  5. Family members are often afraid to express their true thoughts and feelings out of fear of rejection or judgement.

Family members have different roles assigned to them in enmeshed families

There are different roles that family members can play in a narcissistic enmeshed family.

The narcissist is the centre of attention and everyone else revolves around them. The scapegoat is the child who bears the brunt of the narcissistic parent’s abuse. They are usually blamed for everything that goes wrong in the family. The golden child is the child who meets the narcissistic parent’s expectations and receives their approval. They are often treated better than the other children in the family.

Other common roles in enmeshed families are the caretaker and the lost child.

The caretaker is the person who takes on the majority of the responsibility for taking care of the family. They are trained to believe that they have to put the needs of their family above their own. As a result, they become emotionally and physically drained.

The lost child is the family member who tries to stay out of the way and not cause any problems. They often withdraw from the family and spend a lot of time alone in their room. As a result, they grow up feeling totally isolated and alone.

The impact of enmeshment

The impact of enmeshment can be significant.

In the case of children it can lead to a feeling of being smothered and controlled by one’s parent. In extreme cases, this is akin to emotional incest. This can lead to them feeling trapped and hopeless, and they may have difficulty establishing their own identity. It can cause them to lose their sense of self and become codependent on the narcissist. It can also be difficult for them to form healthy relationships outside of the family, and interfere with the development of healthy relationships in adulthood.

This can lead to a lot of psychological problems, such as low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. Enmeshment can also cause physical problems, such as stress-related illnesses.

What can you do if you are in an enmeshed relationship?

The first step is to recognise that you are in an enmeshed family or an enmeshed relationship. This can be difficult, particularly if the enmeshment is in your family, because it is what you have always known and it feels normal to you. Once you recognise the signs of enmeshment, you can start to take steps to regain your individuality.

The most important thing is to set boundaries. This means that you need to start saying “no” to the things that you don’t want to do. You also need to start doing things that make you happy, even if your family member or friend doesn’t approve.

It is also important to start taking care of yourself. You need to put your own needs first. This can be difficult if you are used to putting your family member or friend’s needs first. However, it is important to remember that you cannot take care of someone else if you are not taking care of yourself.

If you believe that you are part of an enmeshed family, then you should consider getting help from a therapist or counsellor. They can help you to understand the situation and work on developing a healthy relationship with your family. You can start to take back control of your life and regain your individuality. This process takes time and effort, but it is worth it. You deserve to be happy and healthy.

For Further Reading:

And finally, this is my story. I was the scapegoat daughter of a narcissistic father.

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