Enmeshment Trauma and its impact| 6.22.2022
In this episode, Kristen talks about enmeshment trauma and its impact on your relationships, and how you can heal from it.
- What is enmeshment trauma
- Effects of enmeshment trauma in families
- Signs of enmeshment and how to set boundaries
- How to heal from enmeshment trauma
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Welcome to the Close the Chapter podcast. I am Kristen Boice a licenced Marriage and Family Therapist with a private practice Pathways to Healing Counselling. Through conversations, education, strategies and shared stories we will be closing the chapter on all the thoughts, feelings, people and circumstances that don't serve you anymore. And open the door to possibilities and the real you. You won't want to miss an episode so be sure to subscribe
Welcome to this week's close the chapter podcast I am so excited you're here joining me on your healing journey. There is so much value in you becoming more self aware. Wanting to explore with curiosity, your triggers your places in your life where you feel activation, and to come back to centre and calm. So thank you for being here with me, I am grateful that you are sharing these podcasts with your friends and family and neighbours and co workers to help them also have this hopefully awakening that you are on, the more support you can have along the journey. It makes such a difference. So thank you so much. I'm really excited about today's episode, it's not talked about a lot. And I want to bring and highlight more of a conversation around it, we're going to be talking about a measurement trauma, I did do an episode on 128 around a measurement and why it matters, we're going to focus on a measurement trauma, and the three different types of a measurement trauma. Because if you had parents that their needs took priority, we want to take a look at that and how that impacts your relationships now. So this is an important conversation, grab pen and paper if you can, if you're walking, exercising and doing things around the house, what are driving, don't worry about it, you can come back and listen to this later. So it's going to be jam packed with helpful information and hopefully some aha moments for you to look within and be able to name what you went through as a kid. This isn't to blame our parents, this isn't to dwell on how terrible they are. Because there's no such thing as perfect parents, we don't want to get in that trap where we don't want to blame anybody, and then not take a look at the impact that it has on you now because if you don't go back, you're not going to figure out why you're having some of the reactions that you are in the present. Now, it doesn't always go back to our childhood. But oftentimes there is a link and a connection. So thank you for your willingness to take a deep breath, and sit with the discomfort. And stay curious if you need to hit the pause button hit the pause button and come back. Listen to this as many times as you need to and binge listen to the episodes to help you start naming what happened to you and create some insight that around the belief you might have that you're unlovable or you're defective or something's wrong with you, you're gonna go, it wasn't me. It was a lot to do with what my parents went through their own childhood neglect and trauma, and they didn't get the help they needed. So let's dive in. But before we jump into today's topic, if you find this podcast helpful, please share rate and review. That's how other people find the podcast and we build a community. Secondly, if you're not on the mailing list, you will want to get the free journal that will help you work through this enmeshment trauma. You can get that for free. It'll be emailed to your inbox at Kristen k r i s t e n, d Boice b Oh ice.com forward slash free resources. And then you're on the mailing list for future programmes. Other content that I put out for free. I don't overspend things. So usually it's once a week at the most. So feel free to sign up for that. And then you'll get the free journal that you can use over and over and over as you're looking through at your own enmeshment trauma. So what prompted me to dive deeper into this even though I've covered a measurement, and why it matters on episode 128 is an article by Rachel Annika, that is called a measurement trauma. And I really felt like it was a powerful enough summary to share with you because I work with clients on this pretty much every week. This is an ongoing topic that isn't named and so people don't know why they feel the way they do in relationships. This is an important thing to know about yourself and be able to heal it and work through it and identify it when it comes up. So let's jump into the topic. The effects of a mesh bid trauma are perhaps less well known than the effects of more overt traumas like abandonment, trauma, neglect and physical abuse. The term a measurement comes from family systems theory and is based on the study of interactions between family members. This is my background. So I'm a licenced Marriage and Family Therapist. So I am systems trained. I love it, I believe it makes such a difference. And I can look at work systems, family systems, neighbourhood systems, cultural systems, and look at the impact that they have for generations and how people are interacting. So I'm a systemic thinker. And I believe this impacts how you see yourself and then how you show up in a relationship and a system. So a central assumption of family systems theory is that interdependencies among relationships within the family are governed by boundaries or implicit rules for accessing materials, resources and support within the family guided by the concept of boundaries. Family Systems theorists have consistently identified three qualitatively distinct profiles of family interactions characterised by harmony, disengagement, and a measurement. So this is important. This comes from typologies of family functioning and children's adjustment during their early school years. Let's keep going because this is where we're going to get into the juicy stuff. Okay, healthy and harmonious families demonstrate healthy boundaries between family members, there is emotional availability, adequate nurturing, is so important and emotional support while at the same time allowing autonomy and separation. I did a podcast on individuation and separation. If you want to go back and listen to that one, between family members, they can tolerate that it's not threatening to them. disengaged families are cold, unsupportive, withdrawn, isolated and have very rigid rules. Whilst a mesh families are the opposite of disengaged. This is important because people think we're just a close family. Let's dive into that they're inflexible with closeness. They're overly involved in each other's lives. with hardly any boundaries between family members, there was a lack of autonomy and widespread codependency very often there is a lack of privacy. Parents may search their children's possessions regularly read diaries and to be intrusive, there was a general intolerance for differences in opinion, this is very important. There's an intolerance for a difference in opinion. This can be very traumatic. When you really look at your own history, were you allowed to have a different opinion or belief. So in a mesh family that's not tolerated that's threatening. The parents do not know how to navigate differences and therefore fear that it will lead to loss, which is typically driven by under met needs and unprocessed grief and loss and abandonment from their own childhood. Attachment. Trauma is perhaps more difficult for people to recognise as they might feel they had everything they ever wanted during childhood with plenty of attention and affection. One study indicates that around 23% of families that's almost one in four are enmeshed the circumstances that lead to a family becoming a meshed or varied, but in general, there are three different types of a meshed parents. Let's go through the three main types. This is where you can start recognising do one of these three types fit for you? So I want you to take this in and I want you to start exploring do any of these descriptions and it doesn't have to fit everything. But in general, do any of these descriptions fit your family system? So let's go through number one. Is the romanticised parent okay, what is a romanticised parent? It's also known and this can be a little I think activating for some people is covert incest. So let's define it. This is a parent who uses their child for companionship and intimacy which they are not capable of finding through other adult relationships. They're too afraid they're too scared or too threatened by other adult relationships, it's safer to do it with your own child in their minds. If you had this type of parent, they in effect made you like a surrogate partner often idolising and putting you on a pedestal with this type of parent you will have had to remain in close physical proximity, accompanying your parent or on adult activities, and will have often listened to their adult problems providing them with emotional support. I romanticise parent does not have adequate social connections or support, therefore their child becomes their source of happiness, who I want you to take this in because if you feel like you're a person that's responsible for everyone's happiness, start just exploring whether this fits for you. And again, it's not an all or nothing, or just looking at patterns that may fit for you. And this isn't to blame anyone. So I don't want you to get stuck in that I want you to explore was this a pattern for me and My childhood It's very liberating and self awareness starts freeing you to say it wasn't me, instead of carrying the shame and guilt that has plagued you. So the romanticised parent uses guilt to get their own way and sometimes manipulation especially in the form of favouritism, they're more possessive. When their children grow up. They often dislike anyone that they will date as they see them as competition for attention. romanticised parent will require very frequent communication. So how often do you feel like you have to or should communicate with your parent out of obligation out of fear out of not wanting to feel shame and guilt, they may also cause jealousy issues with the other parent and quite often the other parent will take out their jealousy on the child by the way of anger or withdrawing from the child rather than confronting the romanticised parent because they feel almost afraid of the romanticised parent because the romanticised parent has so much power and control and they feel so threatened from separating or separation or perceived differences that they will turn kind of shift blame. We can even call it gaslighting, but they can shift blame on to the child or the other parent and blame them. So here is someone's experience. Just to give you an example, they say quote, I don't think my mother wants me to get married, she wouldn't have liked any girlfriend I had, she never liked my girlfriend's not even when I was a little kid, she wants me to take care of her for the rest of her life, unquote. So that's somewhat of an example yours might not fit exactly like this, but start to peel back the layers and see maybe you had elements of a romanticised parent. So let's go to number two when it comes to a meshed trauma parent types. Number two is a helicopter parent, you probably have heard this one before. So let's get more granular. And define what does that mean exactly when we're looking at it from an A meshed trauma perspective, this is the critical parent. This is the type of parent who watches very closely or directs their child moves attempting to protect them. This is the key attempting to protect them because they're so anxious from any harm or push them to achieve. So they don't want to anything bad to happen to their kid, or they're kind of living vicariously through their kid. So they want them to be super successful. Rather than helping their children learn the skills to resolve issues or handle obstacles. They try and do it for them. If you had this type of parent, they would have been over involved in your school friendships and hobbies. They are over protective. And one client told me that his father got into a physical fight with his football coach when he was not picked for the starting lineup. Oftentimes, they will have pushed you into activities that they wanted to do themselves rather than allowing free choice. If of the critical type, they will use criticism to control their child's moves, helicopter parents subconsciously seek to control their children as a way to manage their own anxieties. So it's so important. It's a way to manage their own fear and anxieties. Sometimes this type of parent also has narcissistic qualities, they will use their children's achievements as a source of self worth and self esteem. And I think it's really important to note here that you might not have ever recognised that your parents had anxiety because we didn't even name that as children. We didn't look at our parents and go, Oh, you're anxious. Now we have that verbiage. And it's more commonly used, but I invite you to look in now. And one of the things I invite you to do is write down what each of your parents are primary caregivers. What do you think their fears were? I know, my mother's fear was abandonment. Her father travelled all over the world. He helped him that crest and so it was very well known. He travelled all over. And so she has vivid memories of not knowing if he was going to come back. So his workaholism and he was a wonderful man. And it landed for her as abandonment. So she struggled with that and that came through in her parenting or fear of abandonment. And my father's fear was success, being successful and providing for his family and having enough where he grew up with a father who was in World War One. And so that was part of his like that whole trauma. PTSD was part of his childhood. And so he was afraid of not having enough because they didn't have a lot growing up. And so those are some fears you can start identifying with each of your I'm just giving you some examples of your primary caregivers. I have had to work on my fear of repeating patterns. And I have to watch that because you can swing into these pretty easily without really you're think you're being more are helpful or you think you're doing it differently than your parents and you're somewhat recreating a different wound. And this isn't to blame or shame anybody this is just to go, Hey, I'm with you, I see you. I'm not a perfect parent. And even me doing this research and I know tonnes about measurement still brings up things for me that I'm willing to explore. But the key is I'm willing to do that. So here's someone example, someone's experience of a helicopter parent, quote, helicopter parenting signals to kids that their parents will make all of major life decisions for them, including planning for their future and monitoring their performance. So this is a study, okay. Over time, kids will feel like everything they do is for parents, so they lose any personal motivation to succeed. This is from a research study, kids with helicopter parents more likely to burn out have a harder time transitioning to the real world. Okay, so that was more from a research study. So let's go to number three. The third type of mesh trauma parenting, it's the incapacitated parent. This is a parent with a long term illness. This is a parent who is unable to care for themselves fully due to physical mental illness or addiction or relies on their family or for some or all of their basic needs. Whilst sometimes it's unavoidable for children to become a care giver for an ill parent for financial or other reasons, there is still room for a child to have needs. This enmeshed example is more extreme, there is no flexibility for the child's needs, and they may turn down outside support as I think it's better for the child to become the main caretaker. This frequently is the eldest child or child that spends most time at home. Have you had this type of parent you will have had to take on a little adult role, which is also known as a parental FIDE child or parental education of a child, I did an episode on 14 signs that you are a parental FIDE child on episode 121. If you want to go back and listen to that episode, it's episode 121 14 signs your parental FIDE child because I also work quite frequently with this and have dealt with this also in my own life, you would have been required to be alert to your parents need needs, often taking on household adult responsibilities not to say like normal chores, this is beyond your emotional and physical developmental timeline. So you're going beyond that, and if you had siblings will likely have been required to help raise them. If your parent had untreated mental illness or addictions, you would have also had to deal with the stress of extreme unpredictability. The child of an incapacitated parent I know that sounds extreme. So just work with parts might have been incapacitated, but not all of them. So try to get out of all or nothing thinking just to start allowing yourself to explore this, the child of an incapacitated parent will not be able to spend as much time away from home and they live with their parents much longer than the typical timeline. So this is from when kids have to act like parents and affects them for life. Laura was only six years old when she became a parent to her infant brother at home. His crib was placed directly next to her bed so that when he cried at night, she was the one to pick him up and sing him back to sleep. She says she also remembers being in charge of changing his diapers and making sure he was fed every day. For the majority of early childhood. She remembers she tended to his needs while her own mother was in the depths of a heroin addiction. So that's a parental fi child. These are sound extreme. These can sound extreme. Again, you're taking bits and elements that resonate with you and you can apply to your life and start naming Did you have any three of these types of parents and the first type was the romanticised parent. The second type was a helicopter parent. And the third type was the incapacitated parent. So take a look and see if any of those were part of your experience. So let's break this down a little bit more into two I would say common patterns that happen in a meshed families and I talk about family roles and episode 34 was one of my early episodes. Because I'm a marriage and family therapist I work a lot with roles and the roles you grow up with. So if you're interested in learning more about that and getting more in depth listen to episode 34 and enmeshed families it is extremely common for there to be favouritism in the form of the golden child and another child gets assigned the role of bad child which is called the scapegoat and family systems. There are a few things happening here. favouritism is another way parents can control their children. So this is really important to note. The children see that there are more rewards for pleasing the parents and may now compete for the golden child spot. The golden child is also often a projection and I do another episode on projection that you can go back and listen to I don't know the number off the top of my head. So the child the golden child is often a projection of all the good things that A parent believes about themselves, so they overlook anything that does not fit in with that idealised image, whilst they project all the bad aspects of themselves onto the scapegoat. And meshed families also use scapegoating as a way to relieve the high levels of anxiety. So they want to feel relief from their anxiety and tension in the family that result from their childhood unmet needs. So you can see if parents do not do their own healing and trauma work unconsciously, and sometimes consciously, it gets displaced onto the children and they become the carriers of the trauma, they can insist instead blaming the scapegoat rather than face their own pain of their unmet needs and trauma. So this is from the book The emotional incest syndrome. Quote, David's relationship with his mother can be broken down into two separate roles. He was part surrogate spouse and part scapegoat, he was expected to satisfied his mother's needs for romantic attachment and absorb retention and disappointment. When she was lonely. She had someone to talk to when she was angry, and she had someone to yell at when she felt like a failure. She could project her unhappiness onto him. When she wanted more out of life. She could harp on his shortcomings. Poof, this is so powerful, they really want you to take a look at your own patterns as it relates to any little thread here that might have happened to you. And then how have you dealt with that? How have you healed that? Has it laid just kind of dormant there and attended to has it been like a leaky boat or has it manifested in your life somehow, now is the time it's never too late to start this work. Here's the relational effects and impact of a measurement. This is really where the rubber meets the road in therapy. The negative effects of a measurement trauma are many. They include kind of a general anxiety and relational anxiety. Many clients report a sense of feeling like they are constantly being watched and judged by the outside world. feeling pressured to perform or people please, as an MS child is often not allowed to express a full range of emotions. Only those that the parent is comfortable with. This is so important. If your parent was not comfortable with sadness, you are not allowed to express sadness. If your parent was comfortable with anger, you weren't allowed to express anger. If your parent wasn't comfortable with fear or happiness, you suppress those unconsciously, feelings are effectively numbed, which can lead to depression in adulthood or addictions. Often the impact includes guilt and shame. It's a thread it's a deep component of enmeshment, trauma, offing feeling inadequate, that you have not lived up to expectations, you have a lack of identity and you're very indecisive. And it's the result of being used to doing or conforming to what the parent wanted. You were just like, I'll just go along with what you want. Because it was too threatening the parent got too dysregulated and there was a price to pay so you didn't rock the boat. People who have experienced a measurement trauma often have dysfunctional adult intimate relationships. This isn't always the case. So don't panic if this is you. Just take this in and just it's not an all or nothing. So take a deep breath and just be open to what this might be showing you. They did not feel loved for who they were as children more what they could do for their parents. So it felt very conditional love. This can create a core belief of being unlovable and lead to self sabotaging behaviours. So Adams who is a researcher finds general emotional unavailability and adult intimate relationships which can manifest and seeking distance and relationships are chasing after unsuitable and unavailable partners love points to a denial of having any emotional needs as they likely did not have the space or opportunity to develop needs. As they were always focused on their parents. They're more likely to have preoccupied anxious or dismissive, avoidant attachment styles and an adult relationships and are vulnerable to abuse or codependent relationships. So this is from an interview understanding covert incest with Kenneth Adams. That's what this is taken from, quote, I see a lot of covert incest survivors who just don't regulate themselves very well. When it comes to romance. They move in too quickly or they're ambivalent right from the start. Or they go so quickly and become ambivalent. They just don't have a sense of who they are. I'm adding that in. So that wasn't part of the quote, it's not uncommon for covert incest survivors to become serial monogamous, one relationship after another because in the early stages of romance when the neuro chemicals are surging and making it seem like everything is great, they're able to bypass their sensation of feeling burdened, they're able to connect and be sexual with another person. But when the neurochemical rush of early romance dies down, the old feelings return and they're out of there. Those with a romanticised parents are particularly likely to feel suffocated and trapped in intimate relationships. Doesn't that make sense? Because that wasn't their role they were supposed to be a child. No, we're not supposed to be a surrogate partner for your parent, right? So oftentimes you people will feel suffocated and trapped. Not always the case. By the way, this isn't so just all or nothing. Just keep that in mind. This is just some general research. They cannot get adequate space from the parents so they will project this on their partners seeking physical and emotional distance. This is also true if you've been sexually abused or physically abused. You can insert this as well into that because it fits here sometimes too. They're often commitment phobic as there used to be an idealised by the mesh parent they expect to be fond over by their partners with minimal effort on their part with the other types of the measurement there is frequently preoccupied anxious attachment driven by the fear of rejection and abandonment. As so often attention was only given when pleasing or doing something for the parent. Fear of rejection and abandonment and adult relationships can lead to behaviours like controlling, cling prematurely leaving relationships when you feel rejected or avoiding relationships completely. An immense child has difficulties shaping a sense of self and identity separate from their parent. This can result in codependent relationships and adult life in which it's almost as if they take their partner's personality. And there's a complete merger with partners. There is often low self esteem with negative view of self in a positive view of others. They can't communicate. A codependent has a hard time understanding their own wants and needs and giving them themselves permission to have their own wants and needs. They almost are so immersed in the other person in making sure they're happy and they're okay, so if they're okay, then I'm okay. They've lost themselves just like they were the last child in childhood. It's why it's so important to know what role you played. It's so important to deconstruct a meshed trauma to see if it fits for you in any little way. So you can say that fits in this part of my life or this piece fits in this piece doesn't fit beautiful. That way you're understanding yourself and how you're showing up or in relationships, lots of people show up or in relationships without a voice. Well, that's because they came from an A meshed traumatic family system. Those with incapacitated parents are especially likely to be attracted to relationships where they again become a caretaker they may find themselves even though they don't like it, they may find themselves in a relationships where they are required to rescue their partner or over give to others in general, they were often in the caring professions. So just kind of note that as they do not know how to set healthy boundaries, they are often left feeling emotionally exhausted and resentful for being taken advantage of. So this is from what a daughter needs from her dad. Okay, evidence from a sample of 500 adult women recalling their childhood experience with their dad suggests that many experienced parental education the maladaptive process wherein a child begins to take on typical parental caregiving responsibilities, and feels responsible for meeting their parents own psychological needs such such as validation. For these women, adult romantic relationship satisfaction and relationship security may significantly lower their counterparts who grew up without feeling parental fide. And this can be it doesn't have to be a father figure. It can also be a mother that you felt prettified with. Okay, so we've deconstructed enmeshment trauma, we've gone through the three types of parenting that you might have experienced, we've gone through the impact of relationships. And now let's talk about recovery. My favourite part because the truth of the matter is, you can heal from any wound, I promise you do, we will be forever healed, it might not permanently go away, because it's part of your story, you have the ability to tend to it, nurture it, acknowledge it, offer yourself compassion that you might not have gotten, and then you freely can give it to other people. That's the beauty in this when we can't get away from rigid thinking all or nothing, very cemented beliefs and where other people can have difference of opinion. And it's not a threat to you, as long as it's not harming anybody. There is health in that that you can tolerate that that's a secure sense of self. So when we're recovering from a measurement, trauma, there's a couple of things we're going to talk about number one, breathing. You know, I love that learning to breathe. And number two is learning how to set healthy boundaries. They can start with small request tried to not over explain to the other person why you're unable to do something as simple thank you for asking. And unfortunately, I can't simply state why you're not able to do it in non defensive judgmental way. And I'm going to even say you don't even have to offer an explanation. Thank you for the invite. Unfortunately, I can't I wish you all the best. I hope it goes well. Instead of feeling trapped and ignoring calls from a parent set some boundaries for yourself of when you're going to pick up the phone call, or maybe you decide we're going to talk once a week, once a month, or maybe you limit it to other modes of communication. And sometimes there's what we call separation from that, and you're no longer able to be in relationship with somebody that's up to you to decide. That's why number three, therapy is so important. When you're recovering from a domestic relationship. There's also 12 Step groups like codependents, anonymous, I really believe in therapy because you get the connection and the insight and the acknowledgement that you might need. And I would highly encourage you to get an EMDR or brainspotting, or somatic experiencing, therapists, somebody that has trauma experience, and that understands family systems. That's very, very helpful. So I want to encourage you, if you can, therapy is I know it's hard. And then you know, I, I'm big into therapy, and it can make all the difference and read books about a measurement. Homecoming is not specifically about a measurement, but it's about family systems and how along the human developmental continuum, where did your wounds happen, and then how they impact you and how you feel about yourself and how they impact your relationships. That that's by Dr. John Bradshaw. And it's called homecoming. I've mentioned that book many times before, I think it's a great one to begin the family systems piece, and start really taking a look at healing that and then we look at journaling, you know, I'm all about write it out to get it out. That's why I'm offering you this free journal on Kristen D boice.com. forward slash free resources, start journaling. Start writing this out if you get some aha was listening to the podcast. I call them all Ha's write them down and start exploring them. When you write it out to get it out, you're not suppressing it back down into your nervous system, you're actually taking a look at it, naming it tending to it. And you're getting some more insight into what might be patterns that have developed over generations and mindfulness. So we've heard about mindfulness. This is kind of observing your thoughts, rather than you are your thoughts. So the benefits of meditation are extensive, and you can look up there's so many YouTube videos on meditation, that can be really helpful. There's apps, the calm app, headspace, there's lots of apps that work on meditation to help with the thinking about yourself. And then lastly, we've got to name and process emotions. And the book I love for that is it's not always depression by Hilary Jacobs handle. She's been on the podcast, you can go back and listen to it's not always depression on the podcast. If you've been binge listening to the episodes, thank you for showing up today. I know I went through this pretty quickly. But I know there's a lot to cover here. And it's important we're naming enmeshment trauma, instead of personalising it like there's something wrong with you, our parents did the best they could with the information they had we know this are our primary caregivers. What this does is it's for you. It's not for them. It's for you. It's not about changing somebody else because we're powerless over to overdoing that it's about taking care of yourself, understanding yourself and ultimately empowering you to find the healing. Let me know what you think of this episode. Was
it helpful? Did you get a couple of nuggets or two, that might have been another way to look at things? I would love to hear your feedback, because when you show up, and you decide that this work matters, it changes your life. And I know that sounds so big, it's just true because I've walked the walk. So I'm proud of you. And I'm supporting encouraging you all along the way. I hope this episode was helpful, and I can't wait to be with you again next week. Have a good week. Thank you so much for listening to the close the chapter podcast. My hope is that you took home some actionable steps, along with motivation, inspiration and hope for making sustainable change in your life. If you enjoy this episode, click the subscribe button to be sure to get the updated episodes every week and share with a friend or a family member. And for more information about how to get connected visit Kristen k r i s t e n d Boice BO ice.com. Thanks and have a great day.
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