One-child families have a higher than normal incidence of what is sometimes called ‘emotional incest’, which can lead to an enmeshed relationship. When there is no other child to dilute the intensity of the parent-child bond everything about the only child is watched closely, including their health, physical development, school performance, talents, weaknesses, and achievements to an extent that can be obsessive. Parental enmeshment is more common because there is only one child to focus upon and more detrimental as there is no other child to dilute this attention. The power and intensity of the relationship can be overwhelming and prevent the child from developing a sense of who they are as a separate individual.
How does enmeshment occur?
Enmeshment is literally – giving yourself away to another – living outside of yourself.
Enmeshment occurs when a mother or father’s wounded-ness contaminates their ability to parent their child because their own unmet needs get confused with the child’s. The healthy psychological distance, necessary for conscious parenting, is difficult to achieve when the parent experiences the child as an extension of himself or herself. This leads to the parent seeing their child through the lens of their own emotional life and experience. The child instinctively begins to fulfill these unconscious emotional needs, because they need the care giver, and these are usually for love and closeness.
What affect does enmeshment have on the person?
If you are enmeshed with someone or the idea of someone it is impossible to know who you are. If you don’t know who you are, you feel as though you do not exist without the other person. It is as if they define you. It can leave you without a sense of self and makes it difficult for you to have relationships with other people because you are trying so hard to be what you think they want you to be. It can be very self-defeating pattern to get locked into and one that in my research appeared quite common in adult only children.
Next week I will offer some questions to help you decide if you could come from an enmeshed family and more importantly what you can do: “Do you need to seperate psychologically from your parents?“