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What is Enmeshment?

Enmeshment lacks traditional family boundaries, where the adult children (or other relatives) are "caught in the web" of the parents' relationship

Average families have rules and boundaries. Enmeshment lacks traditional family boundaries, where the adult children (or other relatives) are “caught in the web” of the parents’ relationship. The enmeshed person gets identity from parents. 

Enmeshment is when parents deny that they are separate people from their children. They need their children for their emotional well-being. Enmeshed parents don’t view themselves as adults; they see themselves as extensions of their parent(s). They often used the same methods of discipline/reward as their parents did on them. 

The result of feeling trapped in the relationship is depression or anxiety for the enmeshed person and anger from being controlled by someone else.

What is Enmeshment Trauma?

According to Phycologytoday.com, the enmeshment trauma definition is  “A nonsexual example of enmeshment is a son or daughter who feels so close to her mother that she views herself as an extension of her mother. She can’t imagine doing anything without Mom’s consent and often asks for permission before making decisions.” 

What does The Enmesher do?

They can’t imagine doing anything without your consent. They view themselves as a part of you, so they try to control your every move and thought. 

What does Enmeshing Trauma look like?

An intense desire for closeness with one person (could be anyone, even a stranger). For example, they want to stay by their side all day and night and can’t imagine sleeping without that person’s comfort.      

The inability for the enmeshed to live or focus on anything else except their loved one. For example, they might give up friends, hobbies, work, and school for a relationship. The reason why is because they think of themselves as part of you, so losing you would be like losing themselves (usually not in those words, but this is the basic premise). 

What is an Enmeshment in Family

Enmeshed family members experience each other as inseparable from themselves and therefore define their identity in terms of the identity or opinions of others. They often deny vital aspects of themselves by adapting to parents, siblings, and friends’ needs and desires. 

Enmeshed individuals are most likely to have a family constellation similar to that of an enmeshed nuclear family: with one or both parents controlling and emotionally manipulating members while being under-involved in their development. 

Enmeshment is often found within authoritarian, patriarchal, rigid families where children are expected to be seen, not heard, do as they’re told rather than ask why, and successful treatment will involve boundaries between parent and child. 

Parental enmeshment checklist

  • An enmeshed parent displays an excessive emotional dependence on the child where they don’t feel real if not with the child. 
  • Often, they will have a strong sense of ownership over their adult children to such a degree that they do not allow them to marry out of fear that they might lose control over their children’s lives. 
  • Over-involvement by parents in their children’s relationships as being one aspect of an overall enmeshed relationship pattern. 
  • This can also include requests for information about current events in son’s life, how work or school is going, etc.  
  • Parent wants to know why certain decisions are made by their child but then fails to support the decision once it has been made. 
  • There is passive-aggression where rules are created but not communicated (or enforced) in such a manner that, after time, the child doesn’t know what she’s supposed to do. 
  • Enmeshed relationships in adult children often involve behaviors like isolation (not going out with friends), compulsiveness (doing what others want you to do even when you know it is not in your best interest), depression, anger, anxiety, guilt, frustration, or feelings of low self-worth or powerlessness. 

Signs of enmeshment between mother and son

  • Mother is overly protective of son. 
  • She is over-involved in his social work activities because she feels he can’t do these things independently without her help. 
  • She has difficulty allowing him to be independent from her or even hanging out with friends without interference by her. 
  • Oftentimes, she will treat him as if she is a friend rather than a parent. 
  • Enmeshment often carries some implications around the loss of freedom

Signs of enmeshment between mother and daughter

Some signs of enmeshment between a mother and daughter include: 

  • Mother is overly protective of her daughter. 
  • She looks for approval from her daughter and often will do things to please her daughter before herself. 
  • Feels threatened by any male interest in her adult daughters/dating life because she feels that a man might take the place of a father figure in her adult child’s life, which would cause a loss of control over them. 
  • She may even go so far as to get involved with who your children date or are friends with, either directly asking about these people or indirectly showing displeasure at things you say or do involving these people.
  • Mother acts too nice in order not to confront issues head-on 

Therapy for Enmeshment

A focus on strengthening the client’s sense of self. This involves teaching and modeling effective emotional boundaries, encouraging assertive communication, building a repertoire of conflict resolution skills, and enhancing problem-solving and decision-making skills. Parents also need to learn how they have contributed to their children’s problems by overprotecting them and conditioning them not to do things independently.

Enmeshment typically occurs in relationships where there was already an emotionally unavailable parent or parents who had been absent from the family due to their issues. Therefore, the second part of therapy addresses this “absent” side of parenting. This includes assisting parents with mourning what has been lost or damaged in the relationship, identifying parental strengths, and encouraging them to use those strengths in the parent-child relationship effectively.

A final aspect of therapy focuses on “introjective” identification, which occurs when a child identifies with his parents’ negative traits rather than positive ones. This identification may even extend to copying negative behaviors that are repeating themselves in children to protect against abandonment. By understanding their own contribution, parents can heal around this issue and help fix it within their children.


The solution is for people who are not at their center to find that inner strength and learn how to take care of themselves. They need to become self-sufficient to act as a role model for others rather than secret enabler for them.

The changes will not be overnight and are not easy, but they must start with a change in attitude towards self and others. This is crucial because if you cannot love yourself (i.e., have self-respect), then there will never be enough room in your heart for anyone else.

Do not let anyone tell you how you should feel- but also, don’t ignore these critical warning signs! Talk openly about what may be causing this behavior and find solutions together.

It is essential to recognize the signs of enmeshment and take steps to avoid it. If you have any concerns about how your relationship with a family member might be affecting your mental health, please seek professional help from a qualified coaches, therapist or counselor. You deserve happiness!


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About the author

Susanne Ricee

Susanne Ricee is the Diversity and Inclusion Specialist and Researcher at Diversity for Social Impact. Sue brings over 15 years of HR and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion consultation experience.
Sue's previous experience includes Microsoft, Target, and Kraft. Sue is also the manager of Diversity Leadership Directory