How does enmeshment make you blind to incompatibility?

Incompatibility is real, and enmeshment makes that almost impossible to see. Enmeshment makes it hard to see differences without someone being wrong.

At first you just feel like everything is perfect and nothing will ever go wrong. Then, when things start getting unworkable, it feels like either they’re broken or you’re broken. It never feels like you’re just different in ways that will never be reconcilable, because it’s too painful to even think the thought that you are just different. That’s because differences are experienced as a threat to the connection, and that causes intolerable pain. So you stick like glue to each other and just demand the other be different in ways that work for you.

Signs that you may be enmeshed:

  • You keep working at it but nothing ever gets better.
  • Both people resent the other or have simmering anger that erupts periodically.
  • Everything feels foggy in terms of who is responsible for what.
  • There are a lot of judgements in both directions. This can come out as contempt, callousness, stonewalling.
  • Both people feel controlled by the other one but also helpless to change anything.
  • It feels like you’re on opposite sides, not the same team, but at the same time, you can’t imagine parting.
  • Nothing ever really gets resolved–every problem just festers.
  • Whenever you start feeling like maybe it’s just not worth it and you should leave, you immediately feel overwhelmingly guilty and like the other party would be irreparably harmed.

Enmeshment becomes an internalized pattern when you are not allowed to be your own person in your family. This can be subtle. For example, in my family we were all pretty different and have her own opinions and thoughts. There’s a fair amount of intellectual freedom. But deep inside, it was almost impossible for me to tolerate someone else being in pain, without me feeling guilty or responsible. It felt wrong for me to be happy If someone else was suffering.

This comes from family training of “togetherness means we must all suffer together”. That sets up a bind where the only way for me to be happy it to make sure everyone else is happy. But one person can’t be responsible for another person’s happiness–that sets up codependence and a lot of confusion.

When you are incompatible but enmeshed, neither of you can be yourselves, because who you actually are becomes intolerable to the other person. So you hide who you are to get along, and expect the other to do the same.

The solution to that is to heal your enmeshment, by validating to yourself over and over that you are only responsible for your own happiness, and that it’s OK to be yourself. And that as much as other people seem to need you, at the end of the day, they have to be responsible for their own life. The idea that love means sharing every burden breaks down around internal burdens. We really can’t share others’ needs to grow and heal and change. That is always an individual journey. So, work on your own healing, and allow others to be on their own timeline with theirs.

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Hi there! I'm Emma and I write about self-liberation. My writing is meant to share my process & inspire your own. If you want more frequent/current writing, visit my Substack Sparkly Dark, where I'm unpacking my neurodivergence.

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Thanks so much for reading! ~Emma

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