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Enmeshment - Breaking Free from Unhealthy Family Bonds

Updated: Feb 24, 2023

First Step Men's Therapy helps men across Ontario, Canada develop healthier relationships with themselves and others. We offer individual, couples, and group counselling to men and their families online using our secure telehealth platform.

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In families with loose or weakened boundaries, enmeshment can often develop into a blurred, intertwined relationship within members of the family. At times, there is no clear distinction or awareness of any boundary, which can lead to problems and difficulties as an adult. The most common one is mother-son, however other enmeshed relationships could form between other members of the family. Often, these relationships emphasize loyalty and compliance (parental/familial) at a cost of individual autonomy and personal freedom. Some statements to consider about whether enmeshment has impacted your life:
  • I have difficulty saying no to mom (or another enmeshed family member)

  • I share personal/intimate details with my mother

  • I find relationships overwhelming/overburdening

  • I am preoccupied with my mother’s needs

  • After talking to my mother, I often feel guilty

  • I have a hard time setting boundaries with others

  • I find it hard to be intimate with my partner yet have little difficulty being sexual with strangers

  • I have a hard time making decisions on my own

  • I have a poor relationship with my father yet can share anything with my mother

  • I fall in and out of love quite easily

  • My relationship with my mother is often a source of conflict with my partner

  • When in a relationship, I take care of others with relative ease yet fail to take care of myself

Enmeshment is caused by many different reasons, and is often rooted in intergenerational patterns. Some other potential roots of enmeshment include:

  • Trauma - a traumatic experience of the parent leads to a deep desire for closeness, loyalty, protection, and safety.

  • Response to situation that perpetuates a belief - for example, if a child is bullied at school, the protective parent may try to shield the child from further injury or harm, however, this protective role continues onward into adulthood.

  • Cultural - in some cultures, the lines become blurred between family/cultural values and the individuality of the child.

  • Intergenerational - it may be that your family members suffered from either an enmeshing parental relationship growing up, or received the opposite and seek closeness and fusion as a way to feel "whole" or safe in the relationship.

Therapy can often help to understand the impact of enmeshment on your relationship with yourself and others while striving for healthier boundaries, autonomy, and freedom. First Step Men's Therapy offers help for men struggling with enmeshment and behaviours that often coincide with enmeshment, including sex and porn addiction, anger, grief, anxiety, and relationship conflict.

Often, men who struggle with enmeshment also struggle with sex addiction or porn addiction as a way to cope with feelings associated with enmeshment.

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We offer virtual counselling sessions to men across Ontario including Toronto, Brampton, North Bay, Windsor, London, Barrie, Kingston, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catherines, Hamilton, Burlington, Oakville, and Mississauga.

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