Boundaries: Love-hate relationship

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Have you heard the phrase “love-hate relationship”? Recently, I have been thinking a lot about families with enmeshed relationships, and this phrase very aptly describes such familial ties. Enmeshment occurs when children have to meet their parents’ needs and emotions, leaving them no space to become their own person. This also indicates a lack of healthy boundaries between the affected family members.

My own experiences encountering such families have shown that usually such enmeshment occurs when there is marital discord. The affected spouse copes by binding himself/herself to the child, in order to meet his/her needs. The child, out of love for the parent, accedes to this enmeshment. But as the child grows older, he/she starts resenting the parent for stifling his/her growth and development. In short, they end up having a love- hate relationship.

Many times, dysfunctional communication patterns are ingrained in the families, such that each party does not know how to ask for what they need in healthy ways. My observations have also shown that when the children have mental health conditions, the resentment towards the parent surfaces in, say, psychotic episodes when the child starts becoming aggressive towards the parent.

But all is not lost. With family therapy, self-awareness and other forms of help, families can re-negotiate their relationships and learn new ways of communicating. It is not selfish to ask for what you need, and you don’t need to be self-less in sacrificing yourself. It is about forming your sense of self again, so that you can be you, and I can be I. Together, you and I can connect in ways that help us to thrive both as individuals, and as a family.

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