How close is too close?
How close is too close?
A friend once asked, "Why are we Indians always just boasting about how close-knit we are as a family while casting a blind eye to the flip side of this attachment?"
Close family ties are undeniable blessings, they are strong pillars of support. We naturally learn to value these relationships. But sometimes these strings are tied up tight... So tight that it gets difficult to untangle them. Little do we realize that we might be succumbing to the pressure of these emotional attachments.
After several blows, four articles, and a session of therapy later I understood what enmeshed family patterns are. If this strikes a chord, then it’s high time you understand as well.
Enmeshment as described by Salvador Munich in, a family therapist, is a pattern of highly fused and intertwined family relationships where their personal boundaries are blurry. There is an irresistible need to overshare, intrude, and control. It is also characterized by a high degree of dependence and a lack of autonomy. Adding to this is an unsolicited over-involvement in each others' life. In a family pattern like this, the individual tends to feel other family members' emotions like it were their own.
A very common form of displaying enmeshment is through playing little games of emotional manipulation. Some common statements of this would look like - “Things would be bad without you”, “only you make me happy”, “ I need you to decide for me” etc. We receive messages of how the other person is in dire need to have us around always. This pressure evokes feelings of immense guilt, frustration, and anger in us. The huge truckload of emotional baggage we carry weighs us down.
We are raised in a society where we are constantly seeking approval. As a kid, this starts with us looking out for our parents' reassurance. We want to pull off our best self and even the slightest dose of dissatisfaction from our family makes us want to rethink our choices. Indian culture values those family relationships where we put our family’s happiness over our own. The generation gap makes this pattern of enmeshment a lot more complex. With constant changes in beliefs, values, and lifestyle patterns over the years, striking a balance between fulfilling our wishes while also seeking parental consent seems like a distant goal.
While it does seem rosy for parents to claim to be their child's best friend and vice versa, somewhere down the lane we are consumed by this pressure to overshare. We are also expected to be responsible for each other's thoughts, feelings, and actions. This then becomes a two-way problem, both the giver and the receiver follow patterns that do not equip them to live independently.
Being raised in a typical Indian family set up, we barely recognize that this pattern of attachment might be unhealthy. Even if it does catch our attention, we are afraid to acknowledge and give it the tag of ‘enmeshment’. After all, hasn't the Indian culture taught you to value your family relationships the most?
Fortunately, it is possible to bend or alter this pattern of relationship, but there is no algorithm to work it out. There are high chances that we have been in an enmeshed family relationship for a good 15-20 years or even more before we acknowledge it. Wanting to bring a change to this might seem like a mammoth task.
Just as much as we want to amend this pattern, the process might require us to do things we have never done before. This can be painfully uncomfortable. It requires a lot of patience and is certainly not going to happen at once.
The most important prerequisite here is the willingness to change. The process begins with drawing subtle but healthy boundaries and assertively communicating this to your family. For starters, you could begin with taking some time off just for yourself. Tell your family members that you have certain commitments and might not be available always. Try to slowly step back from extensively helping them make their decisions.
As I write this, the feeling of guilt for having written something like this seems to engulf me. But remember it is okay to want some space and doing this doesn’t mean you love your family any less.
The road to change can be long and bumpy, but choosing to walk through this could possibly be the best choice for your family and you!