Are your family holding you back?

Family is one of our first experiences of acceptance, rejection and everything in between. It is our first experience of who we are in the world and how the world responds to us. It is often where we get feedback that informs our identity and what we “should” do.

When we come from an enmeshed family, when I say enmeshed, I am referring to a family in which interdependence is stunted and the family remain at the center of the individual’s life, ambitions and future. Examples are where we take up roles and responsibilities that our not ours, while we outsource responsibilities that are ours such as our anxiety, identity and independence.

Enmeshed family dynamics insist we put the family’s way and needs before our own, not on occasion but as a rule. We are entangled in histories, identities and rules that we inherent, so it isn’t always obvious or easy to see. It can become the rules we were raised by and often continue to live by, unconsciously.

If we do not address this dysfunctional way of relating, we tend to remain entangled with people, our family and others. This entanglement becomes restrictive for us and others, unless we work at untangling it and becoming inter-dependent.

Enmeshed families often have co-dependents within it to sustain the enmeshment and a falsity, a falsity meaning a lie, a rule, a belief that keeps everyone stuck together so tightly, that individuals don’t see a life in which family is only an aspect of their experience, not the center of it. Falsities I have seen played out are “we won’t survive without our mam/dad” or “we are responsible for how our brother/sister do” or “they need us” or “it is my responsibility” or “that’s selfish” and so on.

Untangling these enmeshment requires us to break inherited rules that no longer serve us and risk being unseen, rejected or disconnected from the original enmeshment dynamic, which can feel like and could be an experience of rejection from our family. This is why so many people do not do it or those that do feel a great deal of rejection, loneliness, guilt and confusion in the beginning of the process.

It isn’t easy to de-tangle, and it creates so many confusion and hurtful interactions. That can result in a person feeling guilty for having needs outside of the family’s norm and to no longer wish to connect in the way the family rules suggest is “normal”.

One of the first steps to dis-entanglement is to understand our own needs and find sources to meet those needs, internally and externally. To find dynamics with others that are set up with strong boundaries and we are seen as an individual in our uniqueness and not simply within a role.

Families don’t hold us back as such, it is often our way of relating to them that does!

Waiting for your family to be different, trying to show them the light or to explain everything you have learned will not work. It is another way of sustaining the entanglement or justifying your current way of relating. You are responsible for your life and each family member for theirs! This doesn’t suggest you cant support them, however it does suggest that when you do support a family member more than they are helping themselves or at a cost to yourself, then you are enacting a dynamic that keeps you enmeshed!

OK so what can you do to help yourself and your family? The short of it is to get a life that belongs to you, however that takes practicing untangling. Here are somethings I have seen work for my life coaching clients previously.

Ways to untangle.

  • Practice doing what you need to do for you.

  • Attend support groups such as CODA or a personal development group in your area to build relationships based on healthy needs and active relating.

  • Seek support such as life coaching or counselling.

  • Set goals that are simply about you and your interests

  • Stop trying to please them or seek their validation.

  • Figure out who you are and who you want to be.

  • Give yourself permission to let people down.

  • “grow up” step into your adult ego self and make choices that sustain you as an adult, not a dependent child ego state.

  • Be compassionate with yourself, practice self-acceptance.

  • Get support.

The changes are simple, however they are very challenging to so. I couldn’t recommend getting support for anything as much as I do for family enmeshment!