Enmeshment in Our Relationships

Relationships are tricky things, both partners mature with time and experience. With the advancing concept of boundaries in a relationship, the topic of nonexistent or enmeshed boundaries is also being studied. In many relationships, the idea of being the caring one or the one who satisfies every need is seen as being in love. 

What is an enmeshed relationship?

Enmeshment of boundaries or enmeshed relationships occurs when one person (sometimes both) becomes so invested in the needs of their partner that they forget their own. The compulsion to satisfy the other person's emotional, physical and social requirements is higher than the need to support your sense of self.

Enmeshment in our relationships

Is it the same as being in love?

The symptoms of enmeshment are not to be confused with being extremely in love or even with being extremely caring. The different types of boundaries are present to protect one’s sense of self.

Even if you do not actively think of your boundaries, they are present, enough that you can maintain the idea of who you are, and where your interest lies. It is nearly impossible to care for someone if you have no idea of your being, your limitations and your strengths.

Being in love is a feeling that arises due to your interest in your partners’ habits or ideas, the sense of love is not to be confused with the idea of being their service provider, that if they need anything you rush to obtain it, and this action is what makes up your sense of self-love. 

In simpler terms, being in love is maintaining your reality, while having an interest, a sense of care and an endearment towards the character of another human being. 

An enmeshed relationship will require you to be unavailable to yourself, yet be on your toes to help your partner.

The negative side of enmeshment

There is a high risk of losing oneself to another’s ideas and opinions. What is even worse, is not feeling upset about it, and finding this sort of merging comfortable. As psychologists, the goals made by clients for their lives are seen as essential for therapy. And in such cases of enmeshment, the most important goal is ‘independent thought’ and ‘acknowledgement’ of that independence.

People in abusive relationships, or with a very dominant partner, find it hard to have an independent thought structure or opinion, which represents their individuality. The major goal then is to help them find their authentic sense of self.

A lack of clear vision affects an individual's future aspirations and life satisfaction. Regret and guilt are a few of the negative feelings that start coming up and make that person feel bitter about life.

The positives of enmeshment

There are none. Losing your identity or being consumed by the wishes of others, is never healthy. Even in platonic relationships, being highly dependent on another or making them depend on you is problematic, but so is letting yourself become their shadow. The symptoms most commonly seen in such cases are

  • Being afraid of disappointing your partner.
  • Dislike being away from my partner/family for long
  • A constant state of worry, to fulfil the demands of others
  • Losing confidence in front of people outside the enmeshed circle
  • Not aware of self-interests or goals in life
  • Running away from conflicts
  • Letting other person’s mood define your own
  • Unable to decide on your own
  • Giving up on hobbies to make time for your partner’s interest

Is enmeshment abusive?

There is no clear data on enmeshment being abusive in nature. Yet in a lot of cases enmeshed boundaries are seen as a way of keeping the victim under the abuser’s thumb. By taking away any power they have, the victim falls prey to the dominance of their partner.

But surprisingly, in a lot of enmeshed relationships, the relationship itself is not an abusive one. There might not be any patterns of abuse observed and still, a partner can have a distorted self-image. It has more to do with how we are as a person, or how much value we place on our lives.

Most clients that come up with an enmeshed boundary style, have a partner completely unaware of the problem.

Men and women in Enmeshed relationships

One would assume that women are victims of enmeshed boundaries, but men are as well. In Indian societies, more than 35% of women show enmeshed boundaries, whereas most men do not report the same. Either way, the lack of proper boundaries causes the partner to lose trust in oneself and eventually in their partner as well. This loss is a big reason for unhappy relations or future discord. Most couples fail to find the reason for discord since a lot of these behaviours go unnoticed in the beginning. 

Men show enmeshed boundaries by not caring about themselves and caring more about the family, whereas women show enmeshed boundaries by prioritising the emotions of others before their own. There is not a lot of difference in how men and women deal with or develop enmeshed relationships, but most differences can be attributed to gender roles in their given culture.

There is no one way to live your life, nor is there an existing guidebook to help you make your decisions. The end goal is to be happy as a person. Maintaining an identity is crucial to that happiness. To learn more about your personality or relationships, stay tuned to our website. 



Anuja Sathe 

Counselling psychologist


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