What is Enmeshment?

Introduction

Enmeshment is a concept in psychology and psychotherapy introduced by Salvador Minuchin (1921-2017) to describe families where personal boundaries are diffused, sub-systems undifferentiated, and over-concern for others leads to a loss of autonomous development.

Background

Enmeshed in parental needs, trapped in a discrepant role function, a child may lose their capacity for self-direction; their own distinctiveness, under the weight of “psychic incest”; and, if family pressures increase, may end up becoming the identified patient or family scapegoat.

Enmeshment was also used by John Bradshaw to describe a state of cross-generational bonding within a family, whereby a child (normally of the opposite sex) becomes a surrogate spouse for their mother or father.

The term is sometimes applied to engulfing co-dependent relationships, where an unhealthy symbiosis is in existence.

For the toxically enmeshed child, the adult’s carried feelings may be the only ones they know, outweighing and eclipsing their own.

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