In enmeshment, people feel like their well being is not complete unless they’re meeting their partner’s needs all the time. They worry that their relationship is not “close” if they’re not their partner’s shadow–“if we’re not intertwined emotionally we’re nothing.” Both people feel like they need to constantly be involved in aspects of each others’ lives, but then may resent that fact when they want some individual space.
In healthy relationships with a strong connection, however, each person can pay attention to the other without losing or compromising their sense of self. Neither changes who they are or what they think or feel to please the other person. They can be apart without falling apart and be together without losing their individuality. Love is about the freedom to be yourself and be loved just the way you are, even if it’s different from your partner. [source: Randi Kreger, “Stop Walking on Eggshells” at psychologytoday.com]
Does enmeshment sound unhealthy? That’s because it is.
Unhealthiness is always based on irrational or mistaken thinking.
How many false beliefs can you find in this description of emotional enmeshment?
I found this false belief, most of all: “It’s my job to please everyone at all costs. Most of all, my loved ones. It’s a catastrophe if I don’t agree with, like and understand absolutely everything my loved one does or thinks.”
Here’s another false belief that results in enmeshment: “My identity is incomplete without my spouse/partner. My relationship completes me.”
Actually, a lot of people believe this. But think about the implications. If your relationship or marriage completes you, then what becomes of you if something happens to your partner? Or if he/she, for whatever reason, changed his or her mind about staying with you?
What were you before you were in this relationship? An incomplete self?
So many relationships struggle and ultimately end because of this never-stated assumption on the part of one or both partners.
We’re all responsible for our own selves, our own well-being, identification and management of our own psychological and other needs.
If you decide that someone else is not only responsible for him- or herself, but also for you, that seems like an awful burden to place on a person. Particularly a person you claim to love!
Many people believe that others are supposed to sacrifice for them. The reason they believe this is because it’s what most of them have been taught. Actually, what most of us are taught is to sacrifice for others. “Be like Mother Teresa or Jesus Christ.” OK, most will concede that’s going too far. But they insist this is the ideal.
So when people enter relationships, they tend to project this attitude about self-sacrifice on to their partner. “If sacrifice is good, and if she loves me, then she’d better be willing to sacrifice for me.”
This false belief leads to enmeshment as well. If you’re supposed to meet all of my needs, kind of like the parent of a three-year-old is expected to do, then of course sacrifice will be involved.
If you correct this false belief about others being obliged to sacrifice for you (or you for them), then you can avoid enmeshment in personal relationships. Instead, you can be authentic, independent and have your own identity. And expect the man or woman you love to do the same. In fact, you want it this way!
A healthy relationship consists of two individuals with their own identities who wish to remain together. It’s not a sacrifice. If you discovered your partner was making a sacrifice by being with you, the proper emotional response would be feeling offended and horrified. “I don’t want you to sacrifice. I want you to do what you want.”
When you love someone, you want them to be happy. You sincerely hope that your being with them contributes greatly to their happiness. But you’ll never sacrifice your own identity (or expect the reverse) in order to attain happiness.
A relationship is a choice–a continuing choice. Anything else is worse than loneliness.
Be sure to “friend” Dr. Hurd on Facebook. Search under “Michael Hurd” (Rehoboth Beach DE). Get up-to-the-minute postings, recommended articles and links, and engage in back-and-forth discussion with Dr. Hurd on topics of interest.