What is an enmeshed relationship between parent and child? Enmeshment between a child and a narcissistic coparent refers to a relationship dynamic characterized by blurred boundaries, lack of individual autonomy, and an excessive emotional or psychological reliance on one another. The parent and child become overly involved in each other's lives, thoughts, and emotions, often to an unhealthy extent.
Here are some common signs of enmeshment:
Over-involvement: The parent may have difficulty recognizing and respecting the child's boundaries, often intruding into their personal space, decisions, and relationships. The child may also feel obligated to involve the parent in every aspect of their life because if they don’t then they will receive passive-aggressive backlash for not having the parent dictate their lives or decision. This may be choosing the child’s friends, hobbies, etc.
Lack of Independence: The child may struggle to develop a sense of individuality and autonomy due to the parent's overbearing presence and control. Their personal desires, preferences, and goals may be overshadowed by the parent's wishes and expectations. The more the child matures and strives for independence, this will provoke abandonment within the overbearing parent.
Emotional Fusion: There is an excessive emotional dependency between the parent and child, where the child's emotional well-being is closely tied to the parent's emotions and vice versa. The child may feel responsible for the parent's happiness or distress. This limits the child in developing their own voice and needs because they have learned to suppress them to meet the parent’s emotional needs.
Limited Boundaries: Boundaries between parent and child are blurred, with little differentiation between their identities and personal space. The parent may have difficulty recognizing the child's need for privacy or personal boundaries. If the child tried to exert boundaries the parent may see it as rejection. This will bruise the ego of the parent and they will often become even more overbearing.
Emotionally Underdeveloped: Enmeshment can hinder the child's emotional growth and ability to develop a strong sense of self. They may struggle with self-esteem, decision-making, and establishing healthy relationships outside the parent-child dynamic. At times, the child may be made to feel guilty if they begin to develop other relationships, as the parent will feel betrayed.
What about the narcissistic parent causes them to become enmeshed? They can often become enmeshed with their children due to a combination of factors related to their personality traits and psychological dynamics.
Here are a few possible explanations for this enmeshment:
Need for validation and admiration: Narcissists have an excessive need for validation and admiration from others to maintain their fragile self-esteem. They may see their children as an extension of themselves and use them to fulfill their own unmet emotional needs. Enmeshment allows them to control and manipulate their children to obtain the desired validation and admiration.
Lack of boundaries: Narcissistic parents often struggle with establishing and respecting boundaries, both for themselves and their children. They may view their children as objects or possessions, rather than separate individuals with their own thoughts, feelings, and needs. This lack of boundaries leads to enmeshment, where the parent invades the child's emotional and psychological space.
Emotional dependency: Narcissists may become emotionally dependent on their children for their own emotional well-being. They may rely on their children to fulfill their emotional needs, seek constant attention and affirmation, and use them as a source of narcissistic supply. This dependency fosters enmeshment, as the parent becomes overly involved and reliant on the child's emotional support.
Projection of idealized self-image: Narcissists often have an idealized self-image that they want to project to the world. They may see their children as a reflection of this ideal self and place high expectations on them to achieve success and validation. Enmeshment allows the narcissistic parent to exert control over their children's lives, shaping them in ways that align with their desired self-image.
Fear of abandonment and rejection: Narcissists often have deep-seated fears of abandonment and rejection. They may use enmeshment as a means of maintaining control and ensuring that their children remain emotionally close and dependent on them. By keeping their children enmeshed, narcissistic parents attempt to prevent the perceived threat of abandonment or rejection.
It's important to note that enmeshment is unhealthy and detrimental to a child's development and well-being. It can hinder the child's autonomy, independence, and ability to form healthy relationships. If you suspect your child is experiencing enmeshment with a narcissistic parent, seeking support can be helpful in navigating these complex dynamics. Your child’s inner voice and development are vital and we are here to help you navigate these situations. To learn more about how to help your child, sign-up for consult here.