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

Copyright © 2012-2024 Learning Mind. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint, contact us.

power of misfits book banner desktop

Like what you are reading? Subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss new thought-provoking articles!

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Don

    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. Abdur-rahman

    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.

  3. Aileen

    So I am intrigued by this, as I don’t quite fit the mold, yet my family had some of the traits and my mum definitely was and still is a raving Co-dependent to the point that she views the “care” she takes of others (wanted or not), including the rest home job, and watching her new husbands health (which he could do better, for sure) as her own personality. I love her, but still don’t think it is ok to try lean on a child emotionally as a replacement to a spouse, or overshare your child’s private stuff to all and sundry that we’d certainly not have shared, such as late age bedwetting. Yet she’ll act helpless and try to be dependent on me in things where she needs to just adult up. I rebelled against all of it and refuse to just assist her in stuff she could do if she actually tried, as I always just felt smothered and frustrated by the role reversals, but it’s tough, how do you get out of them??? I would climb trees from the age of 7 just to have my own personal space where no-one else could go and as an adult moved to a different island because of it all and eventually married at 29 as I could not bear the idea of marrying without having done or experiencing more of life, like she had complained of having had, instead going for my own dreams first and later encouraging both her and my siblings to do the same- plus I’d seen more unhealthy relationships than healthy, so I was only going to be sucked into a relationship if the guy met some very high standards… (and I am glad I stuck to my guns there, twice as it turned out, as number 1 Mr Right died early. It was truly worth my while being picky, as my current husband agrees- though we both were starting to wonder if it was, in the long wait before we met.) But seriously, in order to be able to live away from home after the age of 19, for several years I would get my friends to go board with her- so the bills were paid and she couldn’t guilt me as to having cause the situation of not being able to afford to feed my younger teenage siblings after I moved out! I chose to emotionally disengage and self-exclude myself from family in my mid to late teenage years, though living at home, as it felt/ was under duress- I’d expressed a wish to live with my dad and that I never did before he moved overseas is one of my few regrets. I had an identity crisis after becoming pregnant, having drawn too much of my identity from my job, then later again when my first husband passed away and family members of his attacked both his and my character, saying things that were foreign to both of our true identities, when I had no defenses and was most vulnerable- for some reason, because it was so important to me to connect with his family, I took on board that we were both horrible people, when it was all based on this persons perception from a mix of total lies, attempts on this persons part at mindreading and playing G_d – seeing and saying the worst sort of intents were ours over some stuff, when they barely knew either of us, but I found out from his brother who repeated it all to me as if it was true, which was devastating, yet I have now put it into it’s proper context, so it does not have that power anymore… I have recovered parts of myself that I thought were lost for good, but am not as outgoing since then… Moving away from that, before & after that imbroglio, I had always regarded behaviour I see as smothering or clingy as an allergen and the biggest turnoff to be fled from fleetly in any sort of setting or relationship! I can also go months without seeing friends, often it has happened due to my health, but most of my friendships are of the sort where you just click together and we can continue on from where we left off anyways, though sometimes I wonder if there is a problem with or if this is an abnormal mode? Occasionally a newer friend will get upset with me over it, but life is busy and I don’t expect to live in anyone’s pocket- my first husband was the first friend that I had ever felt comfortable being that close -though in my teens I have had best friends I’d see several times a week and I have really enjoyed a long family-moon with my new husband as we both only worked part time… As he was around all the time before, especially with lockdown cutting our jobs out, now that he has F/T work I find that sometimes, maybe once a week on a day that is dragging out a bit more than most, I will miss him in the last few hours of the day. I like it that way- not too much or too little, for me it is just right, any more and I’d start to wonder if our relationship was healthy or if I had some sort of unhealthy dependency. And I didn’t mind it before when we had our p/t jobs, he’d go away for a few nights maybe once a month to a men’s group event in his home town, as I trust him and on occasion would want the same freedom myself. Sometimes I also wonder if maybe despite the majority of my growing up environment of having a very co-dependent and extroverted plus a slightly narc introverted parent, then later just living with the solo mother who left the marriage to save her life and help her children understand that some of the stuff we’d lived with and the combination of emotional neglect and bulldozing that came with it was not normal, I went with my gut and because of it I managed to be more emotionally healthy than if I had accepted everything spoon-fed me? My parents must have done something right, even if it was to get people to talk to us around the time of the split in my early teens and highlight that what had been our families dysfunctional normal, was not actually healthy. I have had to work on what I have looked at as being like the family’s emotional thermometer, ie having my emotions affected too much by those of the loved ones around me. That is probably the biggest thing, but it has improved with maturity and the brush with toxic family after the passing of my first husband… It nearly killed me, voluntarily, (Ie I came to the darkest point possible in life because of it) but I came to a point of recognition that if any relationship makes you feel like that, it has to be let go of, even if it is family and at one point meant a lot to me… and now I think I am more resilient there and would run screaming from anything smelling similar to that, just like the (actually quite healthy) clingy person allergy!

Leave a Reply