Our children can be our worst haters and abusers especially, when they have chosen to become involved in what one could term as an “enmeshed relationship” with a boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse. Even adult children can turn into seeming monsters who can make us out to be The Devils Incarnate, out to ruin their lives while in one of these types of relationships.
My own daughter, now a fully grown woman, has been involved in a relationship with an issue riddled man, living with him for nearly 7 years. As parents, my husband and I, both tried to get her to see the fact that this man was most definitely carrying a lot of “emotional baggage” and begged her to wait before making a move in with him. Of course, both of us as parents, were turned inside out and made into demons in her mind. Let’s just say that she didn’t have that opinion of us before he entered her life and she had a lot of help in doing so but, must have wanted that end for some reason or another. The question we set out to figure out was the “why” behind it all.
We watched our daughter go from a loving, giving, thoughtful person who prided herself on her accomplishments in life to someone we didn’t recognize anymore. She stopped taking care in her appearance, became preachy, holier than thou, appeared sullen, negative, took up weed smoking, lost all of her substantial savings, moved into a tiny, over priced, broken down apartment, racking up debt on her credit card, putting on weight, sleeping every other night on a mattress on the floor or a spring bare couch, dropping all of her friends and becoming a recluse who watched downloaded television programs or documentaries that The Jerk had spent his entire day working on instead of focusing on working. This once vital, beautiful and ambitious young woman had now become a version of the lazy, un-driven, un-ambitious, debt riddled, pothead she was living with who had no friends of his own and had literally been thrown out by his own parents on several occasions, no longer welcome in their home because he “caused too much trouble for the family and wouldn’t change.”
We spent close to a year without her wanting to speak to us.
“We’re enmeshed,” she screamed out one night after having tried to throw a bowl of salad from our dinner table across the room while visiting us for dinner then, picking up a chair to hit me with while I stopped her and having stopped her again in mid-swing as she attempted to strike me for the first time ever in her life and ushering her to our front door where I told her that violence would not be tolerated by us in any way. At that very moment, I realize that this person was most definitely not the daughter I had loved and raised. There was not even a physical resemblance of her remaining visible in any way or sense of the word and, that was the most frightening part of all of this. We had not only lost her physically but, we had lost our daughter as a person.
For over a year, I sought out counselling for myself. Had we, as parents, done something wrong? Were we bad parents? What was this term “enmeshed” and was I doing it to her? I had no clue but, I certainly was more than willing to figure it out and if we were at fault, I was determined to find a way to rectify the matter with her any way necessary and even him, if that was warranted.
A year’s worth of therapy, research and journalling, looking back at her childhood and being kicked by her through nasty, ill-tempered emails that cut me to the core during a period of grieving where I was already on the ground after the sudden and accidental death of my brother at the young age of 53 years, I realized that it wasn’t us as parents who were to blame for this entire fiasco and shambles of a parent-child relationship that was left behind. Nor, was her anger, bitterness or sudden lack of caring about herself or others. This was totally the work of a master manipulator and sick person…the man she was living with. She was ‘enmeshed’ with him and with his chronic use of pot as well as heaven knows what other substance he possibly used. We knew that she was also now heavily into it all as well.
For those who don’t know what the term “enmeshment” means, the short-hand version is similar to the idea of people who become entangled in one another’s lives so greatly that they forget where they begin and the other person(s) end. While there are many different types of enmeshments and every family possesses some form of it to one degree or another, the definition, for my purposes, is an exaggerated form of dependency on someone else for your own enjoyment of life or to fit an unmet need on one end while other(s) feel guilty if they don’t meet those needs. In a simplified version, it’s some what a form of “co-dependency”.
“Keep your friends close. Keep your enemies even closer.”
It’s uncertain who came up with the phrase above but, my husband and I decided that in spite of our own hurt and anger, we were best to keep this messed up man and our daughter in our sight even though we had never said that he wasn’t welcome and had been allowing him around, just not his weed or whatever he and she had gotten into. With a lot of tongue biting and swallowing blood, we simply did our best to tolerate the dirt bag being around us when needed/required and saw her on non-occasions on her own when she’d grace us with her presence.
Over the next 3 or 4 years, we had them for dinners and occasions, taking them out and paying the bills for it all, even buying her new clothing for work, new coats and boots, giving her money for what she needed, personally but, refusing to pay off their debts when asked to co-sign for a loan for them both or, provide them with money for first and last month’s rent on a year’s lease on another apartment when our daughter temporarily gave him an ultimatum to shape up or she’d ship out. We smiled, gritted our teeth and put up with comments from him that we would never accommodate from anyone else for the most part. We even bought him gifts for birthdays and Christmases so that our daughter couldn’t say we were treating him poorly and yet again, allow him to convince her to walk out on us. We were keeping her close and him…closer.
Over the next 4 years, things went from bad to worse. The jerk came to dinners with our families, dressed like he’d rolled out of bed, thrown on the first thing he’d stepped on, hair uncombed, unshaven, brown teeth and wreaking of weed and B.O.. We are far from wealthy but, in spite of the fact that we struggled financially, we bought him clothing as gifts with which he could wear to be presentable had he wanted to and, despite it all fitting him with his declaration that he liked it all, he refused to wear anything except his old, faded, stained, overly small, psychedelic rock t-shirts, dirty blue jeans which didn’t button or zipper properly due to his large weight gain over the past few years to even semi-formal restaurants with us and family. To us, that showed a total lack of respect for not only us but, the family and more importantly, our daughter. Yet, we still kept on permitting him to be with us until every last one of our family and friends had been so completely insulted by him verbally and they refused to have anything further to do with him. Some wondered if we’d lost our minds and perhaps, we had.
The final blow came between Thanksgiving of this year and our daughter’s birthday where he had been thrown out of his own parent’s home for the final time because he became abusive with them when they refused to allow him to smoke weed at their home and our daughter, who had backed him up, was ejected with him. The writing was on the wall then. It became an “I’m not with my family so, I’m going to see to it that you’re not going to see yours either” type of campaign. He pulled out a hash/weed wax vaporizer after dinner and was stopped by my husband whereupon, our daughter decided to back “his right to smoke up” then, proceeded to hurl insults at us and my brother to the point where my brother nearly hit him. That was it. It was done. We’d all put up with more than enough from not only the jerk but, our daughter as well. They left.
Since then, I’ve heard nothing from our daughter except for some nasty messages and texts where she has blamed us for everything that’s gone wrong in her life. If she could have blamed the kitchen sink, she would have. That’s how bad it had become. She was now an “abuser” and I put a stop to every method of her being able to be in contact with me except by phone. Since she was telling us that we were the source of her total discontent with her life, we decided that it was time to set her free totally. She’d have no other source other than the jerk she is with to blame eventually and given enough time and rope with which to hang himself. At least, one can only hope. Reality and honest given, neither my husband nor, myself can take anymore. She’s become a bully, backed by a bully and we cannot take anymore without our own sanity and health going down the tubes. As an adult, we don’t owe it to her to lose either of those precious things anymore.
We have no doubt that there is still a lot of fuel and mileage that this jerk will get in siding and coaching what our daughter thinks and does. There’s no doubt that he pulls her strings and she is allowing him to hold onto them and do the dancing. Her words do not sound like hers but rather, versions of his thinking. It’s sounding and seeming almost as though he’s either written these messages for her or, she’s become so “enmeshed” with him that she no longer can find herself.
The main point behind the idea of enmeshment is that there are no personal boundaries and therefore, there is a loss of self. If they can’t find their own boundaries, they will set their lines with you, according to the other person’s call instead.
Is your child in an enmeshed relationship?
“Those in an enmeshed relationship come to depend the other enmeshed person for their identity. They become so lost that they lose, or fail to develop, their sense of self.
An enmeshed person depends on the person their enmeshed with for their self-worth.”
Does your child, even adult child, appear to have left their personality by the way-side for the most part and has taken on their “other half’s” personality, habits, hobbies, manner of speaking and mannerisms to some real extent or another?
Do you not really recognize who your child is and can see that they are putting up with things or circumstances that you know they wouldn’t normally permit or want in their lives?
Are they becoming increasingly isolated from their old or own friends and making the other person’s friends and family theirs, instead?
Has your once happy child, decided that their entire childhood was nothing but, a farce or was bad for them?
Is your child seemingly finding more ways to match their childhood with that of their partner’s even though it’s incorrect to you and others who watched your child during those years?
Have they been finding ways to protect their relationship, even if it means distancing themselves from those who have loved them most throughout their lives or up until this person entered their lives?
Are you finding yourself being pushed aside in favour of the spouses/partner’s/girlfriend/boyfriend’s family?
Is your contact with your child more limited and only under certain terms or conditions?
Does your child allow their partner to speak up for them mostly or when they do speak for themselves, are you finding it sounding more like the other person than your child?
There are plenty more examples to give you hints but, if you’re noticing some or all of the above, you may be dealing with a child who has become enmeshed with their partner/boyfriend/girlfriend. While you may not be able to get your child out of it, certainly suggesting professional therapy in some form or another for both your child or yourself is certainly a good step forward. If nothing else, it’s up to you to set your own boundaries with your child. You don’t need to allow them to abuse you or treat you wrongly. Remember…this is their issue, not yours and at a certain point, it’s up to them to figure out the consequences and remove themselves from the situation. You can only encourage them to set boundaries for themselves while setting your own.
At least, that’s been my experience thus far from my little corner of life.