An unhealthy relationship between child and primary caretaker. The child’s identity and motives are merged with the adult’s, which leads to extreme dependence on approval.
There is a lack of separation between the child’s identity and motives and those of the primary caretaker, which creates an extreme dependence on that person’s approval. The adult regards the child as a means (or a hindrance) to their own goals and not as a potentially independent, real person. The adult teaches the child to contribute to the optimization of this parent’s circumstances, instead of honoring her own needs and wants. This way the child is conditioned to be about the parent instead of being about herself.
An enmeshment is an extreme entanglement/lack of differentiation of values, psycho-emotional conditions, motives, and goals – indeed, of a sense of being distinctly different people – between what would, in healthy circumstances, be two separate units: the parent and the child. One could say that the umbilical cord hasn’t been cut. It is the parent’s responsibility though to initiate and not hinder that process.
This Enmeshment develops because to the parent the child is not a real person, but a pawn in their own subconscious emotional need-games, a means or a Hindrance (!) to their own neurotically-driven goals/motives/ends.
Over the course of childhood, this lack of separation gets “installed” in both persons and becomes their “dance of life” together (with respect to the child, see Black Hole).
For the caretaker, the enmeshed child exists only as a sort of extension of themselves, not as a real and distinct, autonomous human being whose own nature and needs should be taken into account, respected, and supported. The latter attitude would enable the development of a Natural Healthy Sense of Self.
For the child, the caretaker exists not as a living person with their own needs and wants either, but only as a means to the end of getting the positive reflection back (approval) that it so desperately needed to fill its inner Black Hole with “Feel-good-about-self”. That state enables the child to feel some fleeting, superficial version of “I am allowed to be”. In this method, this kind of relationship is called Enmeshment.
The existence of an Enmeshment indicates that the child’s very sense of existing as a person, as a being, is developing in a stunted, distorted, neurotic, suffering-inducing kind of way. It means that the growing person will forever be dependent on what the other part of the Enmeshment (the primary caretaker) thinks or feels about him or her, about her or his behavior, at any given time.
What the child has learned doesn’t change when he/she grows up: they are and stay ‘enmeshed’ with their primary caretaker lifelong, whether that person is still alive or not.
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"Choosing therapy" is a mental health resource site and national therapist directory, that offers more insight on the topic of Enmeshment Trauma.