Boundaries: Enmeshment

Mom, we're going to talk about boundaries and enmeshment in this blog post. Remember everything that we talk about here at Dr. Leslie Inspires is something that I see often and a lot of the things that cause this problem, which is mothers enabling their sons, we are really trying to deal with the mother so that the son and the father and ultimately the whole family can be impacted as a result. Because we understand if mom is not happy, nobody is happy. 


But anyway, let's talk about boundaries first. So, we understand that boundaries are a big deal when it comes to abusive families because they can be distorted in so many ways. The type of boundary problem that most people recognize as abuse involves neglect. So, when the boundaries between parents and children are so marked that the children feel unloved and ignored. A more misunderstood boundary problem is that of something called enmeshment. 


But before I talk about that, I want to talk about what boundaries mean to you. If you can think about that for a second. So really boundaries should tell you, who you are. Without a clear sense of boundaries, you really are not going to know who you are because people can really walk all over you. Boundaries and a sense of self go hand in hand. Somebody that actually has boundaries, you know, you can walk up close to them. They might say, Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey, you're getting too close or don't touch me. And somebody that doesn't really have boundaries established, that might be your doormat type of person. 


So, our boundaries are like maps. They help us find our way down the road of life. And they show us where the unsafe places are in relationships so that we can avoid them. They also show us how to protect ourselves in all other areas of our lives. A boundary violation occurs when another person trespasses on another person's personhood. When one crosses the line and tries to control the feelings, attitudes, behaviors, choices, and values of the other. These violations can cross relational, physical, spiritual, sexual, or emotional limits of another. It can be difficult for some people to actually make the distinction between the two. And so, when we talk about enmeshment, the boundary problem of enmeshment is often misconstrued as an enviable closeness. Like people might think, "Oh, they're so close, they have such a great relationship." 


But in reality, the person is actually struggling to assert their autonomy. They're struggling, trying to be their own person. So, when we talk about enmeshed families, they completely blurred the boundaries between parents and children. Sometimes the children become extensions of their parents. And I hate to say this, but in some ways, it is viewed as a type of emotionalized sexual abuse. Now keep following me here. 

Enmeshed families are not allowed to maintain reasonable boundaries. What do I mean by that? It's actually seen as cruel treatment of parents and a type of betrayal. Why? Because enmeshed in their eyes is proof that the parent loves you. And when one parent loves another child, and of course in this case we're going to be talking about Mom. Mom loves her son so much that she does so much for him. She may love him in a way that looks unnatural, that may even be unnatural. And it seems like the son should be grateful for it because he's got a mother who loves him, right? But the mother may be talking to him about how ungrateful he is for the love and the attention that she gives to him. 


It's also reinforced by society because they're on the outside looking in. That's why you can't let everybody in your business. And you can't just look at things the way they are without having the full picture. But loving parents are interested and involved parents, and this is what enmeshed parents appear to be on the surface. They appear to be loving and interested, involved in every area of their children's lives. And so, the thought that that interest and involvement could be excessive usually doesn't occur to people who are on the outside looking in. But people up close might say, "Oh wow, that's too much. That's over the top." So, enmeshment can be a way for parents to extend themselves and make up for the disappointments in themselves and even in their own lives.


Many mothers can accomplish things that they never could themselves, but they can accomplish them by living vicariously through their daughter or son or perhaps that son can be the husband that she never had. So, enmeshment can be a way for that mother to either finally have the husband that she finally wanted because she has more control over him.


So, if you can just give that a thought for a second. Do you hear yourself maybe? Do you hear somebody else you know, your sister, a colleague, or neighbor? Some enmeshed parents may grow up with distant egocentric parents and they want to show that they're completely different by being too involved in their children's lives. Many times our parents do the best that they can. And then there may be a certain way that you are that once you became of age and once you had children, you decided that you were going to raise your children completely different. 


There was one mother who was raised by a narcissistic mother who completely evolved her whole life around her during childhood. She did it in an effort to be completely different from her mom. And she involved herself so much in her children's lives. It was to the point of obsession. Some children grow up to think this is completely normal. And some children grow up to actually resent the parent and they try to break away in different ways.


One price that's paid for enmeshment is confusion over the identity, meaning your son or daughter may really be confused about who they are. We identify with our abuser's thoughts, beliefs, feelings, needs, and desires to the extent that they can't always figure out which thought, feeling, belief, need, or desire actually belongs to them and which one doesn’t.


When a mother is completely enmeshed in her son, and if you have a daughter and you're listening, you can think of your daughter or were you the daughter or do you have a daughter or son that you're actually doing this to? So we have to really think about the role that we are playing in our son's lives as the mother. Are we enmeshing ourselves into our son's life to the point where he doesn't like green beans and he probably really does like green beans, but he doesn't like them because you don't like them?


Then when you're talking about intrusiveness, intrusiveness can also be a part of enmeshment because those parents are constantly in the face of their children. Mom is constantly in the face of her son. She gives advice for every choice he makes. She has something to say about everything he says, everything he does, everything he wants to do. She has an opinion about everybody who's involved in his life. And she believes that she's acting as a wise guide. She believes that she's doing the role that she's supposed to be doing as his mom. But again, she's not really giving him the opportunity to grow up and experience things. And granted there's a fine line right there because she's trying to save him from attending the school of hard knocks. Although we all have to attend at some point, but the magnitude, whether you got a little bump or bruise or whether you just got a big old knot upon that head. 


As they get older, we realize that the guidance needed from mom changes. So, when her son was three, she might've been very aggressive even then, she might not have even wanted him to fall on the ground. She might've had challenges with him actually being a boy. And that is when the balance of a man comes in. You let that boy go, he's fine. He'll be all right. And somehow, she's still keeping him under the same guidance when he turns 23, then 33, 43, and 53 and she still doesn't want her baby to fall down. 


When we talk about enmeshment and intrusiveness, they are a little different, but they play off of each other. In enmeshment, the parents or the children are actually seen as an extension of the abuser (in this case, the enmeshed parent). They're an extension of their parents or they're an extension of Mom. That's a hard pill to swallow to be considered or to be labeled or to be even in the same category as an abuser. But I'm telling you, I see this all the time. And what happens is if your child is 12, if he's 22, if he's 32, if you haven't recognized it yet, by the time he gets married, you will recognize it. Because there will be some instability there about how he views you and how he views himself. So, they may still feel the same, think the same and believe the same things that you did. And if you're more intrusive, that's more about control. So, we do understand that there are a lot of controlling mothers out there and we do it not necessarily because we just want to control our children's lives or we want to control our son's life, but we just want the best for them. But we have to be real with ourselves. We have to be real with who we are and the type of parent that we are because we are continuing to evolve as parents.


You shouldn't be the same type of mother at age 16 and 26 and 36 as you were when your son was six. And you have to realize that. If more than one person is telling you, you need to stop, and you need to leave that boy alone. Or if someone is actually telling you the things that you are doing to your son are an issue, mom it is time to listen. Nobody is trying to keep you away from your son. But I think it's also a time to really examine yourself and examine the type of boundaries that you have for yourself. 


Everybody has to grow up. Everybody has to do for themselves. Everybody has to think for themselves. The son can always come to you for advice, but there's a point in time where your advice should be solicited, and you can keep the unsolicited advice or guidance to yourself until they ask for it.


I'm kind of reminded of Waterboy right now and one of the things that his mother did to the young lady that he liked, she didn't like it at all. She didn't like it one bit that he was interested in a girl and he bought the girl home and mom actually sabotaged his relationship with her. I see that same scenario so much where mothers actually sabotage the relationship that her son has with a female, whether it's his girlfriend or wife. 


That's something that you have to pay attention to. And if you're doing that mom, think about why and you may want to even seek some counseling about it which is okay. I hope I'm not stepping on your toes, but if I am, you really might need to get some counseling on it. Just understand that I'm speaking from this platform to help women and not to hurt at all because my belief is once we help you, then you can begin to help your son. And as a result, your son will be able to help himself and he'll be able to help his family. He'll be able to become the leader, the man that he's been called to be, and then he will also be able to help his community. 


So, I don't know you. I don't know you at all and I'm not picking on anybody in particular. This is an open forum. You're here because you want to be, and I'm so thankful for that. I don't believe that it's happenstance that you're here. I believe God sent you here. Every woman that's reading this blog post, I believe that the Lord sent you. So, I'm very grateful and I pray that you continue to come back and connect with the Dr. Leslie Inspires community.


Mom, I invite you to check out the Dr. Leslie Inspires Podcast where I share different topics every Sunday to help Moms like you transform their relationship with their son. You can listen and subscribe here on iTunes.


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