Tips on Setting Boundaries in Enmeshed Relationships
Healthy emotional and physical boundaries are the basis of healthy relationships. Enmeshed relationships, however, are bereft of these boundaries, according to Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC, a national seminar trainer and psychotherapist who specializes in relationships.
Whether it’s a relationship between family members, partners or spouses, limits simply don’t exist in enmeshed relationships, and boundaries are permeable.
“People in enmeshed relationships are defined more by the relationship than by their individuality,” said Rosenberg, also author of the book The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us.
They depend on each other to fulfill their emotional needs, “to make them feel good, whole or healthy, but they do it in a way that sacrifices psychological health.” In other words, “their self-concept is defined by the other person,” and they “lose their individuality to get their needs met.”
For instance, an enmeshed relationship between a parent and child may look like this, according to Rosenberg: Mom is a narcissist, while the son is codependent, “the person who lives to give.” Mom knows that her son is the only one who will listen to her and help her. The son is afraid of standing up to his mom, and she exploits his caregiving.
While it might seem impossible, you can learn to set and sustain personal boundaries in your relationship. Boundary-setting is a skill. Below, Rosenberg shares his tips, along with several signs that you’re in an enmeshed relationship.
Signs of Enmeshed Relationships
Typically people in enmeshed relationships have a hard time recognizing that they’re actually in an unhealthy relationship, Rosenberg said. Doing so means acknowledging their own emotional issues, which can trigger anxiety, shame and guilt, he said.
However, making this realization is liberating. It’s the first step in making positive changes and focusing your attention on building healthy relationships, including the one with yourself.