Family Ties that Bind

Family enmeshment is a dysfunctional family dynamic that is passed down through generations. We tend to recreate the family dynamics that we grew up in because they are familiar. Most often, family enmeshment is a result of trauma or illness, like addiction or mental illness. 

Some signs of family enmeshment are:

  • You want to please or take care of others, often neglecting your own needs
  • You feel responsible for the happiness of others
  • You are guilted and shamed when you try to set boundaries such as making less contact with family (talking once a week on the phone instead of everyday) or making a decision to benefit you (moving to another state for a job opportunity)
  • Your family’s worth hinges on your accomplishments or success
  • You have little personal space or privacy in your life
  • Your family does not encourage you to follow your dreams and imposes their ideas about what you should be doing
  • Your parents treat you like a friend and overshare inappropriate personal information
  • You have difficulty developing an identity apart from family or partners
  • You have intense fear of conflict or abandonment
  • It is unacceptable to have beliefs, views, or opinions that differ from family norms

Families need boundaries to create the safety to have an identity separate from your family. It helps establish respect for one another and encourages pursuit of individual goals for self rather than the family’s wellbeing. 

There are ways to stop passing down family enmeshment. You can set boundaries in relationships. This allows you to communicate more openly about what you’re comfortable with regarding physical and emotional boundaries, not what you feel you “should” be comfortable with. Also, discovering interests outside family or relationships can create change. Try to become more aware of when you feel guilty and why and ask how this creates barriers to exploring your self-identity.

Lastly, seek support. Healing from family enmeshment can be overwhelming and can often cause conflict within families. It’s important to have support through this process as well as a safe place to learn how to set boundaries and explore self-identity. 

At Rapha Center, we have a skilled team of specialists ready to address a variety of issues related to family issues. If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the symptoms above consistently, please consider making a change for the better today.



Devon Crisman

Devon Crisman

Devon Crisman is a therapist specializing in trauma informed care, utilizing DBT, EFT, and somatic interventions. She works with adolescents and adults and is passionate about empowering clients to feel they have options and a life worth living to help them process difficult events and better understand their emotions.

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