“Mom, my friend called me names in the school and I felt very bad today.”
“Wait. Tomorrow, I will come to your school and talk to that girl. I will set her right. What are your teachers doing? How can they permit this? I will tackle them also tomorrow”
“My brother is having an addiction problem with alcohol and mother is very worried”
“What do you want to do?”
“I feel we should shift with our daughter to be with my mother and brother until the issue is resolved”
People around us, those important to us and whom we love will have problems in their lives. They could be our relatives or close friends. Our instinct is to help them and we should. But how far should we go in helping them? When we think their problems are our problems the issue becomes complicated. In extreme emergencies, yes their problems become ours too and our involvement would be deeper. But for every problem, someone encounters if we think that is our problem, it is not going to help. The only exception is for young children who still have not developed abilities to think. Their problems are our problems.
Enmeshed lives are when boundaries are blurred. When we stop relating to their problem and start identifying with it. When we cease to think they are different from us. When we allow the boundaries to be breached, we get immersed in their problem 24x7. We constantly think of their issues and break our heads to come up with solutions and get frustrated when we cannot find or implement solutions. Sometimes we may come up with solutions but the other person may not be willing to implement that. This might anger us and we dig deeper to come up with better solutions.
Enmeshing lives begin to take a toll on your personal life. You ignore the needs of your own family dismissing their issues as too small as you go out to solve the problems of your extended family or friends. Your social life goes for a toss as you are always on call. We should realize we are enmeshing lives when our personal lives cease to exist.
It is vital that we relate to other people’s problems and not identify with them for healthy relationships. We are trying to help other people with their problems and there is a limit to that. We need to draw the boundaries between ourselves and others no matter how close they are to us. Emeshing lives is not going to help the other person either. If the mother in the first example goes and talks to the daughter’s friends, the daughter is going to get mocked by her friends. It is not going to help her be independent to tackle the issues of her life. A better alternative is for the mother to equip her daughter with skills to tackle the issue. In the second example, if the family moves to stay together, two families will get enmeshed with the issues instead of one family having the problem.
We should remember to always help others with the problem but not get enmeshed in it except in emergencies.