Enmeshment Revisited!

An Electronic Mental Health Newsletter from Joel I. Kimmel, Ph.D., P.A. & Associates
Volume 10, Number 8

Summer is almost over and vacations are just a memory. In August, teachers return to work and children return to school. Although the weather remains very hot, Fall will soon be here with, we hope, cooler weather. We hope that you enjoyed the summer and had the opportunity to vacation and change your regular routines. We continue to encourage you to adopt a healthy lifestyle consisting of communication in your family, socialization with friends, good sleep hygiene, healthy eating, exercising, and refraining from all addictive behaviors.

This month’s E-Letter focuses on Enmeshment Revisited! We first wrote about enmeshment in September 2008 and decided to revisit the topic since many of our patients seem to be enmeshed in their families or in other relationships. Our email of the month is a collection of Ponderings or thought provoking questions and our Ask the Doc question is about the empty nest. We hope you find the enclosed information helpful. We also thank you for reading our E-Letters and for the many comments we have received through the years.

Practice News

Depression groups. Our ongoing weekly depression therapy groups meet regularly in our office. A men’s support group and a women’s support group are run by Dr. Jim Kaikobad and meets for one and one-half hours. The group is educational, supportive, and confidential and is limited to 8 people. A third and fourth group will be starting in a few weeks and if you are interested in attending, please contact Jillian at 954 755-2885.

Afterschool Tutoring. We are pleased to announce that we will be offering tutoring for students in grades 1 through 8 after school in our offices. Jill Kimmel, who is an experienced educator, will be helping students to understand and learn their academic concepts as well as provide assistance in doing homework. To find out more about our tutoring services as well as to schedule an appointment, please contact Jillian at 954 755-2885

Handouts from previous E-Letters can be found on our website, www.KimmelPsychology.com. We invite you to read and download them if desired.


Our E-Letter this month focuses on understanding the concept of enmeshment and how it interferes with the development of a person’s unique identity and sense of self esteem. As mentioned above, we first wrote about this concept seven years ago and we find that it is still prevalent in many relationships, especially families. The concept of enmeshment was first introduced by Salvador Minuchin to describe families where personal boundaries were non-existent, porous, or not clearly defined. Family members are so enmeshed in other family needs that there is little capacity for a person to develop their own distinctiveness. There is often no sense of privacy as role boundaries are blurred and every family member knows each other’s business. There is no clear demarcation of where a person begins or ends. What is one member’s problem becomes every member’s problem. Parents often control the child and tell them what to do rather than let them make their own decisions. Parents also often do for their child rather than letting them do for themselves. Rescuing a family member from a problem becomes common practice within the family. The reverse can also be true where the child becomes the emotional support for the parent and can also tell the parents what to do. In some cases, children become the surrogate spouse or parent to their own parents.

In enmeshed relationships, people lose their individuality; they lose their own thoughts, feelings, opinions, and beliefs. One member of a couple may give up their friends and will do what the other wants spending all their free time with them and adopting their likes and dislikes. Members often feel they are not complete without the other member and need to be constantly intertwined in each aspect of the other’s life. Some define this as love…”You complete me” but in reality, it is dependency. Enmeshed people need each other to fulfill their emotional needs but their sense of who they are is defined by the other person. Signs of an enmeshed relationship include:

  • Giving up other relationships to be with your partner all the time
  • Your self-esteem depends on how your partner treats you
  • You are happy if your partner is happy and unhappy if they are unhappy
  • You have extreme anxiety or anger if there is a disagreement in the relationship
  • You feel the need to rescue the other person and solve their problems
  • You are curious to know what your partner is doing, where they are, etc. all the time
  • You feel very lonely when the other person is not around
  • In enmeshed families, children are often psychologically crippled in that they do not develop a sense of confidence in themselves and do not know what their capabilities are. They rely on their parents to make their decisions even when they become adults. It is not uncommon for adult children in enmeshed families to continue to live at home and be emotionally and financially dependent on their parents. They may also feel a sense of shame which can lead to depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, compulsive gambling, and sometimes violence.

    There are several causes of enmeshment. Growing up in a family where these enmeshed patterns may have gone on for generations is frequent. Through the years, family and personal boundaries get lost with the result that these boundaries were never learned by the next generation and “this was the way we always did it” becomes the rule. The reverse can also be true in that if a person grows up in a rigid and disengaged family where there is little family interaction, they may decide to have a much closer family which can lead to enmeshment. Another cause for enmeshment may be due to a significant event that causes a parent to become protective in their child’s life such as being a victim of violence or trauma or an illness. The parent becomes stuck in this role and can become overly involved in the child’s life.

    To overcome enmeshment, it is critical to first recognize and accept that you are in an enmeshed relationship, be it with your spouse, partner, or your children. Understand that protecting, rescuing, and deciding for others can be unhealthy for you and your partner. In fact, healthy relationships allow for each member to have their own thoughts, beliefs, and self-esteem. At first, set small boundaries by making decisions for yourself and sticking to them. Take pride in this accomplishment. Set larger boundaries by deciding for yourself how you feel and what you want to do. Make alone time and pursue activities that interest you. Develop your own friends and spend some time with them. Continue to communicate with family members but recognize that it is okay to disagree. Resist the temptation to help others especially if they can help themselves. Finally, individual therapy can be critical in helping you learn to set and maintain your boundaries and develop your own sense of who you are.

    We offer the following information on Enmeshment Revisited:


    Don’t smother each other. No one can grow in the shade — John Bradshaw


    • The concept of enmeshment was introduce by Salvador Minuchin to describe relationships where individuals have no personal boundaries or sense of autonomy
    • Enmeshed individuals do not know where they begin or where they end
    • Enmeshment will result in an over involvement in each other’s lives so that people will not become independent and responsible for themselves
    • Enmeshed individuals depend on each other to make them feel good, whole, and safe
    • Enmeshment is not true love but the loss of identity, freedom, and self worth
    • Typical descriptions of enmeshed people include: “joined at the hip”, “momma’s boy”, “they finish each other’s sentences”, and “they can’t live without each other”
    • “You complete me” or “I can’t go on without you” are common enmeshment sayings
    • Enmeshed behaviors include: smothering a person with too much caring and attention, talking for others, telling others what to think and how to feel, and rescuing another person and solving their problems
    • Enmeshment often comes from family patterns that are passed down, from a genuine need to protect which becomes a pattern, or reacting to growing up in a cold, disengaged family
    • Enmeshed people look to their partner to fix them, to solve their problems, and to make them happy
    • Enmeshed people will often text or call their partner many times a day and need to know where they are at all times and who they are with
    • In enmeshed families, everyone knows everyone else’s business and triangulation among family members often occurs
    • As in codependence, in enmeshed relationships, there is a great fear of abandonment as that would be similar to losing part of oneself or one’s identity
    • Although they may look similar, enmeshed families are different from healthy families where children are respected and have a clear sense of their own identity
    • In enmeshed families, boundaries are completely blurred between parents and children so that the children become extensions of the parents and the parents make up for the disappointments in their own lives through their children
    • Enmeshed parents try to be friends with their children or hover over them to rescue and protect them but actually deny them the opportunity to develop their own strengths
    • Enmeshment can lead to shame which often leads to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, addictions, gambling, and violent behaviors within the family


    • Recognize that you may be in an enmeshed relationship if you don’t have a sense of your own identity, your thoughts/ feelings depend upon others, you are frequently rescuing others, and you need to ask permission to make your own decisions
    • Take responsibility for yourself and give yourself permission to establish your own identity and let others do the same for themselves
    • Start setting boundaries by deciding how you feel and what you want to do
    • Develop your own identity by making alone time, finding your own friends, pursuing activities independently, and refraining from rescuing others
    • Seek professional help with a therapist who can help you learn to set appropriate boundaries, develop your own sense of identity, and increase your self-esteem
    • We Can Help!

      Call us at (954) 755-2885 or email us at drkimmel@kimmelpsychology.com

      Joel I. Kimmel, Ph.D., P.A. and Associates 5571 N. University Drive, Suite 101 Coral Springs, Florida 33067

      Copyright © 2015; by Joel I. Kimmel, Ph.D.

      As always, we would like to welcome new readers to our e-Letter. We hope that you find it informational and enjoyable. We invite you to share this e-Letter with others. If you have received this from a fellow reader, please send us your email address to include you on our list.

      Ask The Doc

      KR writes: I have been married for 25 years and have raised 2 children who are both in college. My husband and I now find ourselves alone together and I realize that we are not close. He has been busy building his lawn care business and I have been busy raising our children and volunteering in all their activities. Now it is quite lonely at home. We hardly talk or do anything together. When he is not working, he hangs out with his friends and usually drinks. I find myself with a lot of time on my hands and nothing to do. I would like to find something to do and to also be closer to my husband. Where do I start?

      Dr. Joel Kimmel replies: KR you seem to be experiencing the empty nest syndrome. Your children have left home and what remains are you and your husband. It seems like your job was to raise your children and now it seems to be over. You have been successful as they are attending college and living on their own. You ask, now what?

      The answer really depends on you. In a sense, you have to reengineer yourself and your marriage. You have become virtually “unemployed” and now don’t know what to do. This task is easier for your husband than you as he seems to not have been as involved in their upbringing as you have. Your task seems to me to be twofold: improving yourself and your marriage.

      Regarding yourself, I think you need to take a look at who you are and how you have been living. Have you been taking care of your health? Have you been exercising and eating properly? If not, now is the time. I would also suggest that you consider what activities or classes interest you and participate in them. What have you always wanted to do but couldn’t? Now is the time that you can do it. Have you considered volunteering at a local agency where you could get great satisfaction out of helping others? Your focus needs to be on you and if you have difficulty figuring out who you are outside of being a mother, consider seeing a therapist who can help you explore your identity.

      Regarding your marriage, the easy answer but somewhat hard to do is to communicate with your husband. Try to get him to talk with you about your relationship and the future. Remember that his world has changed less than yours with your children leaving. You will be asking him to make bigger changes to improve your marriage. If there is a strong bond between you, he will talk with you and agree to do more things with you. Try to identify new activities or interests that both of you can do. For example, perhaps both of you can play golf or tennis. Discuss things both of you have wanted to do but couldn’t. Make plans to travel together and see if you can strengthen your bond. Develop friendships with other couples to socialize with. In short, your new job involves commitment and action to developing yourself and your marriage. You will always be there when you children need you but you will be filling the empty nest.

      Email of the Month

      We thank Sheri H. for sending us the following email:

      A Ponderings Collection

      1. Why is it called a “building” when it is already built?
      2. Why do they call them “apartments” when they are all stuck together?
      3. Why is there an expiration date on SOUR cream?
      4. If you keep trying to prove Murphy’s Law, will something keep going wrong?
      5. Why does flammable and inflammable mean the same thing?
      6. How can someone “draw a blank”?
      7. Shouldn’t there be a shorter word for “monosyllabic”?
      8. Why is the word “abbreviate” so long?
      9. Why did kamikaze pilots wear helmets?
      10. What is another word for “thesaurus”?
      11. Why are there 5 syllables in the word “monosyllabic”?
      12. Why do they call it the Department of Interior when they are in charge of everything outdoors?
      13. Why do scientists call it research when looking for something new?
      14. If vegetarians eat vegetables, what do humanitarians eat?
      15. Tell a man that there are 400 billion stars and he’ll believe you. Tell him a bench has wet paint and he has to touch it.
      16. How come Superman could stop bullets with his chest, but always ducked when someone threw a gun at him?
      17. If “con” is the opposite of “pro,” then what is the opposite of progress? Congress!
      18. Why do we wait until a pig is dead to “cure” it?
      19. Why doesn’t Tarzan have a beard?
      20. War doesn’t determine who’s right, just who’s left

      Till September…

      The information provided in this electronic newsletter is not a substitute for professional treatment. It is the opinions of the writers and is provided solely for educational purposes. For mental health care, seek a qualified professional.

      If you no longer wish to receive future E-Letter reminders, please send an email to DrKimmel@KimmelPsychology.com requesting to be removed from this list.

      If you find this information interesting or helpful, please forward this E-Letter to your contacts and friends. Copyright © 2015 by Joel I. Kimmel, Ph.D. P.A. and Associates.