Tips on Setting Boundaries in Enmeshed Relationships
Enmeshment and disengagement have been identified as the two most common boundary disturbance patterns in family relationships (Davies. Find out how counselors and therapists are using family systems therapy techniques to help clients process their issues. People engaged in enmeshed relationships are nearly always the last to know. is involved in an enmeshed relationship whether she has good boundaries.
Highlighting a pivotal approach to addressing this gap, Fiese and Spagnola argue that semi-structured interviews can provide a deep level of understanding of complex family processes by offering opportunities for individuals to impart personal meaning in responding to questions. The resulting rich narratives on sibling dynamics increase versatility in measurement by affording both conventional e. Second, our assessment of sibling relationships is also part of a broader measurement approach that circumvents the common limitation of shared method and informant variance by utilizing multiple methods i.
Third, our aim was to extend the promising cross-sectional findings in earlier research Hetherington, by utilizing a prospective design to test whether sibling boundary disturbances predicted subsequent change in adolescent adjustment even after inclusion of sibling warmth and conflict as predictors.
As a conservative approach, a number of structural characteristics e.
The sample was originally recruited through local school districts and community centers in a moderate-sized metropolitan area in the Northeast and a small city in the Midwest. Toward the goal of obtaining a sample that was relatively representative of the U. The original study contained six measurement occasions. Due to the timing of the administration of the sibling assessment, data for the current study were drawn from the annual assessments marking the fourth and fifth measurement occasions of the larger study.
For clarity of presentation, the measurement occasions are designated as the first and second waves for the remainder of the paper. At the first wave, participants for the current paper included mothers and adolescents who had siblings. Adolescents were in seventh grade and, on average, For adolescents with more than one sibling, the sibling closest in age to the adolescent was used for analyses. The mean age of siblings was The developmental status of target adolescents in relation to their siblings was relatively evenly distributed, with target adolescents being older than the siblings in Sibling dyads were divided fairly evenly with regard to the distribution of child sex: The majority of sibling dyads were full biological siblings Most adolescents lived with the target sibling Mean age of mothers was A large proportion of the sample was European American The majority of adolescents In addition, adolescents lived with their biological father in most cases Therefore, we conducted statistical comparisons between families participating at both time points and families who were lost to attrition along thirteen demographic variables e.
Relative to adolescents who remained in the study, adolescents who were lost to attrition were, on average, lower on sibling warmth. Procedures Data for the present study were gathered at two measurement occasions spaced one year apart. At each time point, mothers and their adolescents visited one of the research sites two times for approximately two to three hours. Both sites contained interview rooms for completing confidential interview and survey measures.
The study was conducted at both data collection sites with the approval of the Institutional Review Boards. Sibling interview A trained experimenter administered the Sibling Interview for Mothers SIMa semi-structured interview with the mother designed to assess the quality of sibling relationships in childhood.
The interview, which takes approximately 20 minutes to administer, contains questions regarding multiple social and emotional dimensions of sibling relationship dynamics.
In the first part of the interview, interviewers asked the mothers to rate the level of closeness in the sibling dyad on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 not close at all to 5 extremely close. To facilitate the development of a rich narrative, interviewers followed up the question by asking mothers to explain why they selected the specific closeness rating.
Such an abstract set of statements as my last paragraph contains cries out for a concrete example, so here is one. Ideally, a family system consisting of parents and children will have a particular shape that works to help insure the mental and emotional health of its members.
Each parent needs to be able to trust the other parent and feel secure in their mutual bond. The parents need to identify themselves as parents and function together to coordinate their children's upbringing. Parents need to keep some information away from children such as information about their sexual relationship, or worrisome information such as the state of family finances, etc. Children ideally need to be allowed an age-appropriate amount of autonomy, but not allowed to have so much autonomy that they feel neglected or not also reigned in when that is necessary.
Most families decidedly don't manage to do all of this perfectly, but many do manage to pull off enough of these goals to make it work. Then there are the families where there are significantly non-ideal and problematic boundaries.
The parents who fail to nurture their children, or who nurture them so much that the children feel smothered. The parents who do not manage to keep their private business private; who sexualize their children before they are ready for that information, or who recruit children into adult confidant roles and confide their loneliness or anger towards the other spouse.
The parents who divorce ungracefully and continue to fight after their divorce is complete, using their children as messengers. There are many examples of how boundary problems within families can create significant pain for family participants.
You already most likely know the term used to describe these families whose boundaries are seriously non-ideal. They are called "Dysfunctional Families". That popular term comes out of the Family Systems literature. Enmeshment and Detachment I said above that boundaries have an ideal shape, and an ideal information filtering ability, but really, if you think about it, a boundary's shape is really a function of its ability to filter information properly.
Tips on Setting Boundaries in Enmeshed Relationships
A functional boundary that works to make family members healthy and happy by keeping information appropriately hidden or available will have a correct and more or less ideal shape. When the boundary doesn't filter properly when all information passes through, or no information passes throughit will have a wrong shape too.
Any given group's or individual's or sub-group's defining boundary can be evaluated based on how well and how situation-appropriately it filters information. Some information needs to be kept private, while other information needs to be shared.
Deciding what to share and what to keep private is a moving target and a balancing act, however. It is easy to inadvertently share something you're not supposed to share, or to withhold something that would be better to share. Good judgment is called for so that extremes of over-sharing, or under-sharing do not occur. Boundaries that chronically fail to keep people separated enough are typically described as "enmeshed", while boundaries that fail to keep people related enough are described as "detached".
As a general rule, it is not a good thing to be too enmeshed or too detached. Family systems that can be characterized by consistently enmeshed or detached subsystems are likely to be Dysfunctional Families in the truest sense of that phrase.
Some examples of dysfunctional family systems will help to illustrate how over-enmeshment and over-detachment function and why it is problematic. Let's consider a common sort of scenario where two married partners with a child have marital problems.
Perhaps one of the partners has had one or more sexual or emotional affairs outside the marriage, and this has not been disclosed to the other partner who only knows that something is wrong. Here is an example of a relationship boundary that has become overly detached, meaning that the boundary around the couple is failing to continue to distinguish them as a couple; the boundary's filter closes down, important information is not shared, and appropriate privacy is not being maintained. Early on, the failure is unilateral, occurring in the mind of the straying partner more so than in the mind of the faithful partner, but since it takes two people to have a relationship, if one partner fails, the relationship ultimately must fail too.
Now, consider that the couple divorces and splits custody of their child. The partner who has been left is perhaps bitter, angry and humiliated about the experience, and feels a great internal pressure to have someone to vent this emotion towards.
If that parent is able to maintain a healthy boundary as a parent, some other outlet other than the child will be chosen and the child will be spared that role of "shoulder to cry upon". If the parent is overwhelmed and unable to keep the boundary between parent and child intact, then the child may be recruited as a confidant and exposed to a world of pain that he or she is not ready to process.
This would be an example of enmeshment, where family members that should, for their own health, retain separate roles become instead fused together inappropriately and too much information is shared. Now, consider a further twist. Let's say that the two parents cease to want to talk to each other, and start to do their communicating through their child.
Every time the child transfers to a parent's house, he or she is told to tell the other parent a bunch of information. Even worse, each parent may start putting the other parent down in front of the child, in the process, loading the child up with conflicting duties and emotions.
The child may even be inappropriately asked to choose one parent over the other. This sort of communication through a child is an example of Triangulation, which is a common shape suggesting unhealthy boundaries are present. In this scenario, the child's emotional life is hijacked and invaded by his or her parent's unhealthy agendas, and the child suffers as a result.
Healthy Boundaries | n3ws.info
A family is a system composed of interdependent and interrelated parts. The behavior of one family member is only understood by examining the context i. Interventions must be implemented at the family level and must take into account the complex relationships within the family system. Whatever the composition of individual members, a group that calls itself a family, and lives like a family, can be treated by family systems therapists.
How Therapy Addresses Boundaries Much of the therapeutic work in family systems centers on boundaries, not the physical boundaries of walls and borders, but psychological boundaries.
For instance, parents or couples surround themselves with boundaries that separate them from other couples, their parents, and their children. Managers in a corporation have boundaries that separate them from coworkers. Hierarchies are established for a reason, for the proper functioning of the group or organization, to delegate tasks, and to ensure the proper checks and balances. Children also form a subgroup within a family, forming a boundary around themselves separate from their parents. Ideally, the child subgroup holds less power than the parents.
Family systems therapists confront families and situations where boundaries have become crossed, distorted, or nonexistent. These types of situations lead to dysfunctional and unhealthy relational patterns.