Family systems theory gave us the useful term of "enmeshment." Salvador Minuchin first described, "Interpersonal differentiation in an enmeshed system is poor...in enmeshed families the individual gets lost in the system" (Minuchin, Psychosomatic Families: Anorexia Nervosa in Context. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978, p. 30).
When you become enmeshed, you adopt the shared reality of the system that you are in. You can no longer see things as they are. You adopt the fear, guilt, and rules of engagement that the dysfunctional system perpetrates. Once you get enmeshed, you become disenfranchised from yourself to some
The primary incidence of enmeshment usually occurs in childhood. However, the work place or love relationships are prime territories to recreate enmeshed systems. If you have experienced it as child, you are more vulnerable to it. Your salary or financial dependence often ties into survival fears similar to needing your family of origin for survival. This is more common with a struggling economy.
Red flags of enmeshed systems include being closed. Interactions with the rest of the world are diminished. Another red flag includes the enmeshed system demanding loyalty. The system or person needs you to buy into their distorted reality or you become a threat to exposing the distortions.
A related red flag is feeling oppressed and a desire to leave, but fearing the guilt of betraying the system and fear of repercussion. Enmeshed situations also tend to drain your time and energy making it difficult to look into other work opportunities or relationships and friendships keeping you feeling trapped and isolated.
Irrational anxiety is another red flag. Feeling like if I did not get this little thing done, my boss or significant other is going to be upset with me in a parental way.
If you feel like you might be in an enmeshed systems, start to challenge the distortion in your reality. Do some research to see if your workplace or relationship is significantly different than others you know of. Such reality checks and breaking the unspoken contracts are essential to liberating yourself from the enmeshed environment.
Because, it is no way to live and... you deserve better.
About the Author
I, Michael Hoffman, am a licensed psychotherapist, teacher, and author with 25 years experience in counseling and teaching experiential workshops. I have maintained this blog since 2009, and my second book Natural Way of Being will published in 2019.
I offer in-person and video-conferencing counseling, intensive workshops, and online courses to allow participants to directly experience their natural way of being and the life they would have for themselves.