4 Toxic Signs You're In An 'Enmeshed Family'

Identify when your family is an enmeshed, too-close mess.

Family Enmeshment Lais Schulz, Lightguard | Canva

Family enmeshment is a dysfunctional family dynamic where you are not allowed to become emotionally independent usually due to generational patterns that have difficult origins to identify.

Here are four signs you're in an enmeshed family, according to YourTango experts:

1. You were/are a people-pleaser 

In my work with people on the ways they sabotage themselves, being a "pleaser" is very common. This is where the child decides on their own or is encouraged or expected by their parents, to put the needs of their parents (or another family member like grandparent or sibling) before their own needs. In this way, the child hopes to get attention and love


The problem is if parents expect their child to meet their expectations instead of supporting the child to discover what they want and how they feel. In some cases, the pleaser finally starts setting boundaries with the family or others in their life as an adult after they are exhausted from putting everyone first and resentful they never get what they want and family members took advantage of them.


Marilyn Sutherland, Relationship & Communication Coach

RELATED: 4 Phrases People Pleasers Can Use To Set Boundaries With People Who Take Advantage Of Them, According To A Therapist

2. You have difficulty balancing parenting and a healthy life outside of parenting

For people whose parents did not maintain appropriate boundaries and centered their emotional (or entire) lives around the children, it is extremely challenging to figure out how to parent as well as work, exercise, see friends, or have an intimate relationship with a partner.


If your parent acted as a martyr and as though their entire universe was bound up in the parent role (even if their behavior didn’t align with this act, e.g., an alcoholic mother who falls asleep on the couch every night at 7 but says she has no social life because of the children), it can be hard not to fall into the same patterns yourself.

Samantha Rodman Whiten, Clinical Psychologist and Author

RELATED: The Difference Between Being Devoted To Your Partner & Being In An Unhealthy Codependent Relationship

3. Your family is a mess of tangled lines

Enmeshed family dynamics can manifest as:


Communication breakdown: A lack of open, honest, and respectful communication can lead to misunderstandings, resentment, and frustration.

Unresolved conflicts: Lingering conflicts, whether recent or historical, create tension within the family and put a strain on healthy relationships.

Unhealthy boundaries: Some families struggle with blurred boundaries, where individuals may feel smothered or overly responsible for others' emotions.

Emotional neglect or abuse: Emotional neglect or abuse can cause long-lasting psychological scars and make it challenging to build healthy relationships.

Co-dependency: Family members may be stuck in a destructive pattern of justified “neediness” that keeps each person dependent on the other.


Cultural or religious extremism: The traditions of a family carried down through culture or religious beliefs may be unhealthy, with little flexibility to shift towards positive change.

Carolyn Hidalgo, Spiritual Coach

RELATED: 5 Common Reasons An Adult Child May Become Estranged From Their Parent, According To Experts

4. You've had to cut family ties for self-preservation

Remind yourself of the fact that mental health experts universally agree about identifying people who are toxicly enmeshed with you and cutting ties with them is a healthy choice.


Aline P. Zoldbrod Ph.D., Psychologist and Trama Expert

Humans crave closeness. As children, we can have closeness in our families but haven't learned to tell the difference between healthy and exploitative closeness. This can create an inability to regulate emotions without being codependent.

Clear boundaries with an enmeshed family are needed so responsible roles can develop into healthy support where making mistakes is OK, and each person has autonomy and emotional independence within the family.


throw away tangled string as concept for healing from family enmeshment Dmitriev Mikhail via Shutterstock

RELATED: 3 Ways To Grieve A Parent Who Will Never Be What You Need Them To Be

Will Curtis is a writer and editor for YourTango. He's been featured on the Good Men Project and taught English abroad for ten years.