Why are only children more prone to enmeshment than sibling children?

by on May 20, 2011

in Bernice's Posts

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.


The Enmeshed Family Unit

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?


  • CourtneyC12354

    This is truly amazing, a question that i do have for you is. Is it more common for those that are emeshed to almost ‘Train’ their children to feel that way as well? For instance lets say that my mother was an only child and was very emeshed would you say that its possible for her to have my brother and i feel emeshed because of it? I hope i worded that corectly.

  • Bernicesorensen

    Hi Courtney,
     Sorry i have not quite followed your argument. However if you have been enmeshed buy a parent as a child it is likely that you will unconsciously carry an enmeshment pattern with you and enmesh your own children. Is this the answer you were looking for? Bernice

  • Romain

    This is a very good article ! The website in general is so helpful, it has answered so many questions and eased so many fears I had about being an only.
    The last section of this article about the affect of enmeshment is exactly how I feel. I’m 28 yo and I’ve spent almost all my life feeling different, feeling stressed in group situations. I was never relaxed as I was always trying to fit in whatever kind of group of people I was with : I never was myself. The only times I can relax (even now) is when I’m on my own.

    I often about how only try to compensate the fact that there are seen as selfish and I’ve been told a few times that I’m a little bit selfish but the ironic and sad thing is I’m always thinking of other people before me as I’m trying to be “what you think they want you to be”.

    This situation of not knowing who you are and thinking of other people first brings a lot of stress and guilt and a lack of self confidence and self esteem.

    It’s not other people’s fault nor my parents in my case but it’s hard to change the way you’ve been thinking for so long.

    Although, thanks to this website, I’m getting more and more answers about those issues. I feel I’m getting closer and I’m trying real hard to keep hope to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

    Thanks again for all those great articles, I’ve had more answers in the past 3 months of reading all the articles than in the past 10 years.

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