WHAT IS ENMESHMENT TRAUMA?
Enmeshment trauma occurs when two or more people in a family dynamic have unclear boundaries between one another. Consequently, individual feelings, needs, and expectations become unclear. Although this may seem harmless, someone with enmeshment trauma loses their sense of identity, sense of purpose, and tends to have repressed feelings of guilt and helplessness in their adult life.
Moreover, people tend to rebel against enmeshment trauma in adulthood. Often, rebellion comes in the form of rage or anger, and creates a very challenging family or relationship dynamics.
ROOT CAUSES OF ENMESHMENT TRAUMA
One way that enmeshment trauma can be caused is by caregivers who had incredibly high expectations for their children. When a parent does not hold space for their child’s individual needs or positively reinforce their emotions, it becomes unclear to the child where their ambitions begin and their parents’ end. Moreover, since the child is punished if they do not perform in accordance to their parents’ expectations, they sacrifice their needs to satisfy their caregivers’. Ultimately, the child ends up believing that they are who their parents want them to be, rather than who they truly are.
Enmeshment trauma can also occur when a caregiver is personally struggling, and their child watches it. The most important thing to understand about this form of enmeshment trauma is that, as children, we are hardwired to rely on our caregivers for survival. Therefore, when a parent is struggling, the child will often become hypervigilant towards their parent, and sacrifice their needs to help their parent. They will essentially feel as though if their parent is not okay, they will not be okay. Therefore, if a child notices emotional fragility in their caregiver, they will consciously or subconsciously go out of their way to attempt to fix the problem as a means of survival. As a result, the child will lose their sense of self as they overcompensate to support their parents’ needs.
The last common trigger of enmeshment trauma occurs when a parent is highly self-involved or narcissistic. This form of enmeshment trauma is similar to the parent who has high expectations for their child in that they project their needs onto their child. The net result of these three forms of parenting styles is a child who has abandoned their sense of self to satisfy their caregivers demands. Consequently, the child will be highly self-sacrificing, and will experience volatility in their adult relationships.
HOW TO REPROGRAM ENMESHMENT TRAUMA
- Learn How to Reconnect with Yourself
The first step to healing enmeshment trauma is recognizing your needs and boundaries – particularly where other people are involved. Ask yourself how you truly feel in certain situations, regardless of the expectations of those around you. For example, if a friend of yours is making a joke at your expense – ask yourself if you find it funny, or if you feel hurt by it. If you feel hurt by it, express that you prefer your friend does not make jokes like that in the future. By doing this, you can begin to get in better touch with yourself, and help to, over time, develop a better sense of self.
2. Treat Your Needs Equally to the Needs of Others
Often, those who suffer from enmeshment trauma continuously people-please. This is because, on a deeper level, you are fearful of being rejected or abandoned if you cannot meet the expectations of others. This is where you must remember: your needs are equal to the needs of others.
3. Actively Avoid Self-Abandonment
Ask yourself what matters to you. For example, if you value alone time or sports, do not give those things up to manage your relationships. Yes, you must have balance in the relationships around you, but you must avoid abandoning what matters to you in order to satisfy the expectations others. Keep in mind that there is a massive difference between compromise and sacrifice in relationships. Compromise is finding a balance between two different needs, whereas sacrifice is completely abandoning your needs for an indefinite period of time. Be clear ahead of time about what gives you a sense of self, what you enjoy, and what you should actively give your energy to.
4. Learn How to Get Your Needs Met
Once you recognize what your needs may be, connect with yourself to find how to get them met. If you realize you need comfort, ask yourself: what does comfort look like to me? How can I express that I need comfort from someone else? Ask yourself what the need is, and how specifically you will get that need met. Make sure that your thoughts are framed in a strategic, and action-oriented way.
5. Express This!
Whether it is your need or boundary, you need to express and communicate in your relationships. If you realize you need comfort, tell your partner.
This will enable you to begin building your personal boundaries – it will allow you to be attuned with your partners needs, while eliminating your tendency to self-abandon. Once you have recognized, strategized, and communicated your true needs and feelings, you will begin to find the sense of identity that may have been lost in your childhood.