Unfortunately, many people live in an enmeshed family environment. Although the closeness of family members cultivates love, it hinders the growth of individualism.

An enmeshed family may not seem all that bad at first. In fact, having a close-knit family unit has many benefits for its members. However, an enmeshed family can stunt the growth of individual family members by seeking to weed out individualism.

It’s much easier than you think to become the controlling force over your family unit, and it’s easy to create an enmeshed family. It’s just as easy to blend into the enmeshed family as well.

Was my family normal or an enmeshed version?

There are healthy families and then there is the enmeshed family. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference between the two. I must confess, I created this same enmeshed environment at times while raising my children. I always wanted my offspring to develop certain characteristics from me.

As a result, I have even pushed my children to become what I thought was a healthy version of themselves. I have to check myself over and over to make sure I am not winding them into an enmeshed family dynamic once more.

If you’ve ever wondered if your family was enmeshed, there are a few indicators you can use. These will help you redirect your purpose for your own needs and desires, subtracting the hold that your family had over your own free will.

1. Controlling and strict parents

During childhood, you may have experienced an extremely strict upbringing. Speaking from experience, my father was so controlling that I wasn’t even allowed to attend many school functions. He was so afraid that something negative would happen, and so he kept a tight reign on my entire life.

As it turns out, he was an integral part of my enmeshed family. He was never happy unless he controlled me – my behavior, my clothing, my hairstyles, and even the things I did in my room. I wasn’t even allowed to lock my door.

This strict parenting is common in an enmeshed family. The reason is that enmeshed families desire a close relationship between parents and children, so close that parents see their children like themselves and this is why strict rules must be followed to decrease the likelihood or destroying that bond.

The healthy family

A healthy family has a whole other take on controlling and strict behavior. While there must be some rules made by the parents, the home should not feel like a prison. Healthy families believe in healthy boundaries including the allowance of freedoms and free will.

2. Caretaking

My aunt told a story many times about having to take care of her elderly parents. Each time I hear the story, I feel terrible for her. In short, she felt obligated, after she had become an adult, to return home to do things for her mother and father.

In fact, her boyfriend at the time was moving away and wanted her to come with him, but she chose to move back home instead. Needless to say, her life was never the same after that pivotal point.

Caretaking of this nature is seen in enmeshed families. Parents, like my grandparents, will say and do things to create guilt in the mind of their children. These adult children who have already moved away from home will sometimes come back to live with parents who have grown old or sick.

If they do not, they are often ostracized or “excluded” from the family unit. They are bound by caretaking, and not free to choose their own path during their parent’s declining health. Other arrangements for ailing parents are seen as barbaric compared to adult children providing family-oriented caretaking.

Healthy families

Caretaking is different for healthy families. Although it is important to see that elders are protected, there is no rule as to how it must be done. Healthy families share responsibilities and discuss options of caretaking. No one is forced to carry the entire burden in a healthy family.

3. No privacy

There is no privacy in an enmeshed family. I must admit, I have even acted in toxic ways about privacy. An enmeshed family detests privacy because it shuts members of the family out of other member’s personal business. Since the enmeshed family believes the family unit is one, literally, privacy will be seen as an evil act.

Although there are some things which should always be public knowledge in the family unit, there are also things which should remain in the sanctuary of one’s own mind. Not everything that one person does should be known by the entirety of the rest of the family.

Privacy is important in its basic form, and the enmeshed family will stop at nothing to eliminate its existence.

Healthy families

Privacy is important in a healthy family. In fact, privacy helps build character and teaches a person that not everything has to be shared or discussed. A healthy family will also be able to tell the difference between information that should be shared and facts that should be kept by the individual.

4. No identity

Now, as an adult, you may have characteristics that came from an enmeshed family. After all this time, you still have no clue of the origin of such feelings. If you’re having a problem connecting with your true identity, it might be because of your relationship with your enmeshed family.

An enmeshed family thinks of itself as one unit, so much so that individual feelings and identities are eventually lost. You may have spent much of your life caring for others in the family unit and neglected your own needs and wants.

You may have entered a marriage later in life that caused you to do the same thing. If an opportunity arose where you were finally on your own, say a divorce or death, you will struggle terribly with finding yourself.

Healthy families

In a healthy family, parents will encourage their children to find themselves. They will allow certain freedoms in order for the child to identify their personality and discover what makes life worthwhile. This will be completely separate from the family dynamic.

5. Smothering and clingy

If you came from an enmeshed family, you will notice how clingy you are towards those you love. You may have even destroyed a few relationships because of your smothering style of behavior.

This also comes from the idea that loved ones are supposed to be one. While this was always meant to be a positive sentiment, many people use the “one” idea as a way to shower way too much attention on their partner in relationships or their close friends.

There’s also an almost symbiotic attachment where if your loved one is angry, then you can absorb these same feelings as well. This works the same way as with happiness or sadness. Smothering is seen as normal because of the almost supernatural sharing of these emotions.

Healthy families

In a healthy family, there should always be space. While it’s important to spend time with loved ones, there has to be a healthy balance of both space and attention in order to grow a healthy union. Families that know how to keep this balance often stay together much longer. They also become better equipped to have feelings and emotions all their own.

Breaking free

Growing up in an enmeshed family can make it difficult to live a normal adult life. While you feel like your actions are normal, others will find them overwhelming. You mean well, but you are also living with a toxic mindset.

So, this is why it’s so important to become educated on what a normal healthy family should be. With this education, you can start taking steps to change your toxic behavior. Let’s help spread understanding with learning.


  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com
  2. https://psychcentral.com
Sherrie Hurd, A.A.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    So much truth here. I was not raised in an enmeshed family but my grandmother was through caretaking. At a very young age she was forced to virtually raise her siblings and had no childhood. My grandfather told me he talked her into marrying, they had four children and she wanted neither the marriage or children. She had not tasted life. As a consequence, my mother told me they had no love from her, she simply did her duty. I could tell growing up around her that every act by her was spoken of and performed as a duty. I guess it was all she knew.

    1. Sherrie

      This is so sad to me. I do believe that everyone should have the chance to do what they want either before they marry or instead of marrying at all. Marrying out of duty or tradition or such is just wrong. It is damaging and then it causes others to see you differently, as her children saw her as distance or detached.

      Something for everyone to remember….do what makes YOU happy and not what you feel obligated to do.

  2. Avatar

    my father totally is. my second big brother is very dependent on HIM and afraid to do anything by himself. even useful things. well not literally everything, responsible things. now i grew up became responsible and independent. he is grateful that i was rebellious. rebellious like not always obedient. not like BAD BOYS doing totally unhealthy things rebellious.
    he even turned my sweet caring mother against me. now i have cold relationship with my mother too.
    him = father

    1. Sherrie


      It’s always so unfortunate when the family is divided this way. I believe it is so important, despite differences, that everyone can come together. As humans, we have a short time here on earth, and we must try and make peace with as many people as we can. Even if we feel that we have done nothing wrong, it’s still honorable to be the one who steps forward and asks for peace in the family. I don’t understand your situation completely, but I do know that love has the ability to heal any wounds and unhealthy relationships. I wish you well on your journey.

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