To me, nothing is better on a Friday night than a nice drive, rolling the car windows down, and playing music. The other day on my ride home, I turned on my jazz playlist to an overwhelming volume, put the car in drive, and began filling the cabin with new, fall air.

One thing about jazz music that grabs my attention are the accidental notes. An accidental note is the rebel or odd duck of the music world. It is a note or pitch that is not in the applied key signature and sounds a little, well, off. Accidentals seem to not know when the scale starts or ends, and almost always seem intrusive. Enmeshment, in a relationship, is a lot like an accidental note in a song. These types of relationships do not know where the boundaries start or end.

The term “enmeshment” was coined by Salvador Minuchin, a pioneer in structural family therapy. Enmeshment describes a relationship system where members are expected to think, feel, and believe certain ways, based upon spoken or unspoken rules for interaction. That form of relationship ultimately prevents true independence. Enmeshment knows no age limit. Whether you are 15 or 50 years old, you can experience enmeshment in a relationship system. While the characteristics in a healthy relationship system foster independence, where differences in members are praised and respected, the characteristics of an enmeshed relationship will not. Here are a few signs that you may be struggling in an enmeshed relationship:

  1. Emotions become blurred. You find yourself confusing your emotions with the emotions of individual you have a relationship with.
  2. The cost of individuality feels high. Choosing freely or having different beliefs from the family/partner frequently have negative and extreme outcomes in the relationship.
  3. There is a role for you to fill. As an adult, you continue to conform to your family or close relationship’s wishes and desires, instead of creating your own choices or perspectives.
  4. Your emotional state is other-dependent. Your self-esteem and happiness rely on the consistency and status of the relationship.
  5. It is usually up to you to make things better. When conflict arises, you feel compulsive anxiety to put your superman or superwoman cape on and fix it immediately.

These are a few observations regarding how enmeshment can be seen in relationships. If you are in one, this article clicked with you. The good news is that enmeshed relationships do not have to rule you. Beginning to recognize enmeshed relationships you are involved in is an important first step that can be both terrifying and exciting. Once you identify your enmeshed relationship, you can start to work on setting boundaries, and forming your own beliefs. It takes time to set boundaries and develop healthy relationship patterns and the work can be difficult and challenging.

Individual, couples therapy, or family therapy from a trained therapist can help navigate these relationships, and empower your autonomy, guide you and encourage you as you grow. Utilizing structural family therapy, a professional can help identify unhealthy relationship patterns. A therapist can also provide assistance with helping you be more comfortable and confident with setting limits in your relationships. A trained professional will recognize that your experience is unique and allow time for you to fully express your relationship dynamics and emotions. It is a passion of mine to encourage others as they navigate various relationships.

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