Pathological enmeshment is a term used in psychology to describe a dysfunctional and unhealthy form of attachment between individuals, often within families. It occurs when there is an extreme and unhealthy level of emotional involvement and dependency between individuals, where boundaries between them are blurred or non-existent.
In pathological enmeshment, there is a lack of individual autonomy and independence, and personal identity may become fused with that of another person or group. This can lead to an unhealthy and symbiotic relationship dynamic, where one person’s emotional needs or desires are subjugated to those of the other person.
Pathological enmeshment can result in negative outcomes for those involved, including a lack of healthy emotional and psychological boundaries, difficulty in separating from others, and an inability to form healthy relationships outside of the enmeshed dynamic. It can also lead to feelings of guilt, anxiety, and emotional distress when attempting to establish boundaries or assert independence.
Pathological enmeshment is often associated with dysfunctional family dynamics, particularly in families with overprotective, controlling, or narcissistic parents. It can also occur in romantic relationships or other close relationships where one person dominates or controls the other’s emotional well-being. Therapy or counseling may be helpful in addressing pathological enmeshment and developing healthy boundaries and relationship dynamics.
The best treatment for emotional abuse will depend on the individual and their specific situation. However, some common treatments and strategies that may be effective for emotional abuse include:
Therapy: A mental health professional, such as a psychologist, counselor, or therapist, can work with the person who has experienced emotional abuse to identify the effects of the abuse and develop strategies for coping with those effects. Therapy can also help the person develop healthier relationships in the future.
Support groups: Joining a support group for survivors of emotional abuse can be helpful for those who feel isolated or misunderstood. Support groups can provide validation, encouragement, and a sense of community.
Safety planning: If the emotional abuse is ongoing or has the potential to escalate to physical violence, it may be important to develop a safety plan. This may involve seeking help from a domestic violence shelter or hotline, informing trusted friends or family members, or taking other steps to protect oneself.
Education: Learning about the dynamics of emotional abuse can be helpful in understanding and recognizing it. Educational resources may include books, articles, videos, or online courses.
Medication: In some cases, medication may be prescribed to address symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns that may result from emotional abuse.
It’s important to note that emotional abuse can have long-lasting effects, and it may take time and a combination of different treatments and strategies to heal. It’s always best to consult with a qualified mental health professional to determine the most appropriate treatment approach for your specific situation.
Perspecticide is a neologism used to describe the act of deliberately and systematically destroying or distorting another person’s perspective. It is often used in the context of political or ideological debates, where one party attempts to discredit the other’s point of view by attacking their beliefs or values.
Why do people use perspecticide?
Perspecticide is a term used to describe the intentional destruction of another person’s perspective or point of view. It is often used to describe the actions of people who are trying to control or manipulate another person’s thoughts and feelings. It is a form of psychological abuse and can be used to manipulate, control, and intimidate another person.
Examples of perspecticide in families?
1. Alienation: When one family member is isolated or excluded from the family unit, either through physical or emotional means.
2. Gaslighting: When one family member attempts to manipulate another family member into questioning their own reality or sanity.
3. Emotional Abuse: When one family member uses verbal or emotional abuse to control or manipulate another family member.
4. Financial Abuse: When one family member uses financial control or manipulation to gain power over another family member
The current study found that 95% of participants experienced some form of emotional pain that they attributed to being exposed to parental alienating behaviours. Eight sub-categories were identified: shame and guilt; self-esteem; loneliness and isolation; helplessness; anger; abandonment; trust issues; grief and loss. Grief and loss were the most frequently described experience (60%). These findings are consistent with previous literature demonstrating an association between emotional pain and exposure to parental alienating behaviours in childhood [5,11,16,17,20]. Participants in the current study described feeling invalidated, invisible, and unrecognised by greater society. Recent research conducted by Harman, Matthewson, and Baker  focused on the losses experienced by alienated children. Their research explained how alienated children exposed to parental alienating behaviours suffered a gradual “cascade of losses” including: loss of individual self; loss of childhood and innocence; loss of a “good enough” parent; loss of extended family; loss of community. These losses lead to disenfranchised grief, especially in relation to time lost with the targeted parent . Participants in the current study had difficulty describing the origins of their grief. Harman and colleagues’  explanation of ambiguous loss leading to disenfranchised grief may help to clarify the grief and loss experience of adults exposed to parental alienating behaviours in childhood. Some participants were informed about disenfranchised grief and loss during their interview for this study. The researchers observed that these participants reacted to this information with a profound sense of relief, stating that the information had validated their experience.
Let us look at what happens in the Child in the run-up to Splitting. The childhood experiences between the Targeted Parent and the Child are disrupted through lack of contact. At the same time the Alienating Parent continues presenting the Child with views of the Targeted Parent which emanate from putting that Parent into the Narrative of the Alienating Parent’s subconscious delusion. The descriptions of the Targeted Parent’s self and actions do not match the Child’s own memories of the good enough loving Targeted Parent. Instead the Targeted Parent is portrayed as Unloving, Unsafe and Unavailable. This causes a horrible Cognitive Dissonance in the mind of the Child. This is horrible for the Child
Barber and Buehler (1996) defined enmeshment as “family patterns that facilitate psychological and emotional fusion among family members, potentially inhibiting the individu-ation process and the development and maintenance of psychosocial maturity” (p. 433). Barber and Buehler contended, further, that enmeshment is a culprit in chil-dren’s stifled development of skills to deal adequately with common social stressors. Enmeshed families are character-ized by levels of emotional closeness that are often seen as constraining. These families use manipulation, usually in the form of overly excessive, but superficial expressions of love and unity to demand loyalty from their members. Conflicts are blanketed under the guise of solidarity and great effort is expended in maintaining the status quo. Members of enmeshed families typically describe their families as conflict free, while at the same time, these very units are characterized by high demands for conformity (Barbarin & Tirado, 1985; Williams & Hiebert, 2001). Enmeshed families depend on each other excessively. Paradoxically, members of these families tend to have a limited sense of their own identity, and therefore make deci-sions based on emotions, and as a reaction to the perceived wishes of other members of
Dr. Pat Love wrote a book about this phenomenon calledThe Emotional Incest Syndrome: What To Do When A Parent’s Love Rules Your Life. She describes the cost to the child, “If the parent represses the girl’s (or boy’s) anger not just once but over and over again, a deeper injury occurs: the girl will eventually dismantle her anger response. Ultimately, it’s safer for her to cut off a part of her being than to battle the person on whom her life depends.”
There’s the setup for perfectionism and depression. You begin to feel that your life should be devoted to the well-being of that parent. And you better be really good at it—or something bad could happen.
Dr. Love’s point? In order to emotionally survive, you cut off the anger as you feel more and more pressured to meet the expectations of the parent on whom you depend—at least as a child. And even shame yourself for any feelings of resentment that might try to seep into your awareness.
A serious illness, natural disaster, or sudden loss may cause a family to become unusually close in an attempt to protect themselves. When this pattern persists well beyond the initial trauma, enmeshment loses its protective value and can undermine each family member’s personal autonomy.
Overinvolvement of parents with their children can create serious difficulties for all family members. The most extreme example of such overinvolvement is termed enmeshment; this is a situation in which the ego boundaries among individuals are so poorly defined that they cannot separate or individuate from one another without experiencing tremendous anxiety, anger, or other forms of emotional distress. The preconditions for overinvolvement include intergenerational patterns of overinvolvement, insufficient separation and individuation of parents from their own parents, parental disharmony, situational or developmental crises, perhaps temperamental predisposition, and other related factors. The primary characteristic of these families is the extreme emotional closeness that exists between parents and children. Although this may be a normative aspect of parenting during infancy, as the child begins to separate from the parents, they usually respond by “pulling back” emotionally and allowing the child to become a separate individual. If parents feel threatened by the child’s move toward autonomy, they may undermine this process by focusing all their attention on the child, conveying to him or her the message that it is not all right to be a separate individual.
In some cases, the parents may continue to perform functions long past the age when the child is capable of self-care, such as feeding or dressing. In other situations, the child may withdraw from facing normal developmental tasks (e.g., going to school, sleeping over at friends’ homes) and may exhibit overt signs of separation anxiety. As with other forms of dysfunction, this ranges from minimal to severe.
Children whose parents are overinvolved also do not experience and learn normal family roles. Anxiety about normal developmental tasks and preoccupation with their parents’ emotional well-being leads some children to avoid developing friendships or to resist going to school. In the most severe cases, children can present with anxiety disorders, depression, and somatization disorders.
The physician’s approach to overinvolved or enmeshed families is outlined in the section on overprotective families. The most important function the physician can perform is to challenge firmly the parents to invest their emotional energy in areas other than their children. Emphasizing that the children need to separate from them to become healthy, independent, and self-reliant adults can help parents to relax their grip and to allow their children some emotional freedom. If discussion of these issues fails to result in change, the family should be referred for psychotherapy. Continue reading “Dysfunctional Excess of Relationships within the Family: Overinvolved or Enmeshed Families”
Stahl (1999) reports that the children who are most susceptible to alienation are the more passive and dependent children, or the children who feel a strong need to psychologically care for the alienating parent. The child and alienating parent share a sense of moral outrage and there is a fusion of feelings between them. While noting that there is a plethora of research studies in this area, Stahl suggests that the clinical descriptions which have found their way into the professional and legal literature offer some useful guidelines for consideration in custody decisions. Long-term effects of alienation left unchecked may lead to various pathological symptoms, which include but are not limited to:
splitting in their relationships
difficulties in forming intimate relationships
a lack of ability to tolerate anger or hostility in relationships
psychosomatic symptoms and sleep or eating disorders
psychological vulnerability and dependency
conflicts with authority figures
and, an unhealthy sense of entitlement for one’s rage that leads to social alienation in general.
It is also important to understand something of the family process of enmeshment. While the literature does not often incorporate discussion of this topic into descriptions of parental alienation, it would appear that enmeshment and overidentification of the child or children with one parent may significantly contribute to the level and intensity of observed alienation processes. The term enmeshment has been widely used in the family therapy literature since it was popularized by the work of Salvador Minuchin (1978). Describing psychosomatic families, Minuchin and his colleagues outlined the impact of four disruptive family dynamics: enmeshment, overprotectiveness, rigidity, and lack of conflict resolution methods. The offspring in these families included anorexic girls who were so caught up in the family pathology that they were unable to differentiate themselves and were locked into an illness that reflected the family disorder. They were trapped in rigid roles with their other family members and they were treated in such an overprotective manner so as to make a virtual moat around the family system which blocked out the outside world. Attempts to penetrate these protective walls were rebuffed, leaving no opportunity for corrective feedback, new learnings, or breaking the suffocating mold that held the members captive.
“Enmeshment refers to an extreme form of proximity and intensity in family interactions…In a highly enmeshed, overinvolved family, changes within one family member or in the relationship between two family members reverberate throughout the system…On an individual level, interpersonal differentiation in an enmeshed system is poor…in enmeshed families the individual gets lost in the system. The boundaries that define individual autonomy are so weak that functioning in individually differentiated ways is radically handicapped (Minuchin, et al, 1978, p.30).”
Minuchin described the lack of clear ego boundaries between family members which produced a form of fusion, a condition that interfered with a clear sense of self as apart from the family while still being a part of the family. Taken with the family failure to have suitable means for conflict resolution, Minuchin traced how the family system contributed to the production of psychopathology in the members and how it was unable to move forward to more healthy and adaptive roles. From this seminal work, a large body of literature has emerged which has been most influential in the family therapy world. As with parental alienation described above, varying levels and degrees of enmeshment may occur, ranging from mild and isolated elements of enmeshment to more pathological and pervasive features. In divorcing families, the impact of enmeshment can become more pronounced as the normal balancing influence of the other parent is gradually diminished. Much like parental alienation, the phenomenon of enmeshment may be found in varying degrees of intensity, with corresponding degrees of negative impact on child development. Continue reading “Parental Alienation And Enmeshment Issues”
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