Later, as I entered a relationship with Mateo, I felt myself become consumed in the fires of romance. But this was not a healthy type of romance for me: it was a matter of life and death. I remember thinking, very early after leaving my fundamentalist Christian family that if Mateo were to leave me I would kill myself. I couldn’t stand the idea of not having him in my life. Thankfully I have done a lot of inner work and soul-searching since then. I no longer see him as “completing me” but as complimenting me. Thanks to my intentional process of individuation, I now have a much stronger sense of self (although I still do struggle with taking responsibility for other people’s mess – but that’s a work in progress).
Enmeshment has far-reaching and profound effects on our lives.
Here are 14 ways enmeshment may impact you as an adult:
1) You feel the need to rescue everyone around you
2) You feel the need to be rescued
3) You take responsibility for other people’s feelings, habits, and choices
4) You can’t tell the difference between your emotions and the emotions from those around you
5) You struggle to give yourself (or others close to you) personal space
6) You feel like your partner “completes” you and without them, you would be nothing
7) You get tangled up in the drama of other people’s lives easily
8) You feel betrayed when someone close to you wants to do their own thing without you
9) You define your worth by how useful you are to others
10) You confuse obsession with care
11) You don’t really know who you are (your sense of self is weak)
12) You easily lose your identity in the presence of others
13) You don’t have many interests or hobbies outside of your family/friend/romantic relationships
14) You might make other people responsible for your emotions (rather than taking responsibility yourself)
Stop and reflect. What is your response to the list of symptoms above? How do you feel when you read them? Take a few moments to breathe and tune into your body. Do any strong feelings emerge? If so, what are they? It’s normal to feel triggered by these symptoms if you struggle with enmeshment.
How to Step into Your Power and Overcome Enmeshment
Here are a variety of practices you might like to explore to help strengthen your sense of self:
1. Be a detective: explore your own interests
Finding out what you’re passionate about is an exciting path. Yes, you might feel a little confused or dazed at first, but keep persisting. Exploring interests outside of your relationships will give you more personal autonomy. More autonomy = a stronger sense of self = more personal empowerment. Try researching hobbies online. Pay attention when anything catches your interest or when you would secretly like to do the same thing as another person. For example, I discovered my passion for alcohol ink after stumbling across a few beautiful pieces of art online. I then decided to invest in a small course and learn the basics, and later bought my own inks to experiment with.
2. Set boundaries and respect your right to say “no”
Boundaries are an essential step in learning how to overcome your enmeshment patterns. You absolutely need to focus on how you feel around others and what is okay vs. not appropriate. Putting your foot down and drawing a line can feel uncomfortable at first. But don’t worry, everyone experiences pangs of discomfort when learning new skills – and that is what boundary setting is: a skill you hone. Read more about setting clear boundaries.
3. Learn to enjoy being alone
Growing up in an enmeshed environment can make it hard to spend time alone in solitude. You may feel lonely, bored or depressed when alone because you have not learned to enjoy your own company. To strengthen your sense of self, try setting time aside each week to be alone. Make your alone time enjoyable by setting yourself tasks that you love doing like gardening, painting, cooking, writing, reading or anything that relaxes you. You might like to dedicate your alone time to practicing self-care, such as making yourself a soothing bubble bath, listening to music, doing yoga, or sitting outside in nature. I also recommend some form of journalling which involves keeping a private journal in which you record your thoughts and feelings. This is a wonderful way to differentiate yourself from others. (Note: you don’t have to be a writer, write long paragraphs or be good at spelling – even just a few words or sentences will do.)