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Are You in an Enmeshed Relationship?

Jonathan Riley

“Enmeshment creates almost total dependence on approval and validation from outside yourself.” – Susan Forward

According to Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA), enmeshment occurs in relationships between people who have not developed their own clear identities and/or boundaries. Each person’s sense of wholeness and self-worth is intertwined with those of the other person. When we look to another person to define our values and accept their needs, feelings, or opinions as our own, we are enmeshed. Statements of enmeshment such as, “I’d die without you,” “You’re my everything,” “Without you, I’m nothing,” “I need you,” or “You make me whole” are found in everyday conversations.

Enmeshment often occurs in families and romantic relationships and doesn’t allow for individuality, autonomy, wholeness, or personal empowerment. People in enmeshed relationships are defined more by the relationship than by their individuality. Enmeshment often contributes to dysfunction in families and damaging impacts later in life.

While many families value closeness and intimacy, enmeshment goes beyond the bonds of a close family. As a child grows up, boundaries should gradually shift to allow for more autonomy, greater privacy, and the development of their own beliefs and values. In healthy families, children are encouraged to become emotionally independent – to separate, pursue their goals, and become themselves – not to become extensions of their parents (sharing their feelings, beliefs, values) or to take care of their parents. In enmeshed families, these kinds of healthy boundaries don’t exist. Parents overshare personal information. They don’t respect privacy. They rely on their child for emotional support or friendship. They don’t allow children to make their own decisions and mistakes. Children are not encouraged to explore their own identities, become emotionally mature and separate from their parents (Martin, 2019). Enmeshed parenting robs the child of a chance at developing their own inner voice, confidence, and decision-making abilities.

According to Gibson (2016), enmeshment can be problematic as it can prevent people from developing a sense of self, engaging in peer relationships, and learning to self-regulate emotions. Children affected by enmeshment may feel like they have to take care of the parent, rather than the other way around. People from enmeshed families may also feel guilty if they spend time away from their family members. They may face pressure to remain physically close to home and regularly engage in typical family activities instead of pursuing their own interests.

Furthermore, research shows that enmeshment often leads to difficulty regulating one’s own emotions, but enmeshment can also negatively affect future relationships. For example, those who have grown up in enmeshed families may have difficulty developing appropriate and balanced friendships with peers and trusting people outside of their immediate family (Martin, 2019). As a result, they may guard themselves in intimate relationships, fearing that engaging in a relationship will be overly draining, resulting in a lack of intimacy. Alternatively, they may find themselves seeking out relationships in which they are responsible for caring for a partner, repeating what was learned in childhood.

Finally, in healthy families, all family members are encouraged and supported in making their own choices for their own well-being, even if some family members don’t agree with those choices. However, the roles and patterns of an enmeshed family can be challenging to break. The antidote for enmeshment is developing healthy boundaries, keeping the focus on ourselves, and working to define our unique identities, wants, needs and opinions.


Co-Dependents Anonymous. (n.d.). Co-Dependents Anonymous. Carnegie.

Gibson, L. C. (2016). Adult children of emotionally immature parents: how to heal from distant, rejecting, or self-involved parents. Sydney, New South Wales: Read How You Want.

GoodTherapy. (n.d.). Enmeshment. Retrieved from

Martin, S. (2019, October 28). The Enmeshed Family System: What It Is and How to Break Free. Retrieved from

Rosenberg, R. (2013). The human magnet syndrome: why we love people who hurt us. Eau Claire,WI: PESI Publishing & Media

Tartakovsky, M. (2018). Tips on Setting Boundaries in Enmeshed Relationships. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 4, 2020, from