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How to Break From Unhealthy Family Entanglements

I come from a big family, my sisters and I have always been very close, so close that for the longest time we did not know how to exist normally apart from each other; it felt like we were tied together by an unwholesome thread and this was frustrating especially to our husbands and our odd relationship was negatively affecting the wellbeing of our families too. Everyone was too involved in each other’s lives so much so that there was no privacy at all. It appeared like we were a united, loving unit to everyone else including our kids, but on close scrutiny, this was not healthy at all.

The only time one was free to be themselves was when there was a fight; that would be the only time when you would during that time of strive feel free for a moment to do whatever you wanted to do for yourself and be who you want to be, without the opinion of your siblings or feeling guilty for doing something because for that time you switch off from the needs of family members and concentrate on your own family without feeling guilty.

This unhealthy family entanglement is referred to as enmeshments in the psychological arena. This is when family members are so intertwined with each other and behavioural patterns become very bad; where relationships are so unhealthy causing dysfunction and inability for family members to be unique individuals; where there are no clear boundaries or none at all, where some individuals are leaning heavily on others making it impossible for anyone to be free to be themselves.

You will find that in most cases there is an individual who is regarded as more fragile than others, who needs more attention, more support, more love, more encouragement at the expense of others, especially if the said individual has a problem such as alcohol, drugs and so on, so they have to be kept calm or stable lest they harm themselves or relapse. Then there is this one family member who is expected to be the one to meet all these unreasonable needs at the expense of their own, where you feel guilty for buying a simple pair of shoes, how could you when your sibling need desperately needs school fees; how dare you buy a car when your brother can’t afford to pay rent, how dare you enjoy having a family when your father left your mother and she needs you? Even though she has 9 kids, and you are number 5, you are expected to sacrifice your own family to be the rock and support to your mother, while the other 8 siblings are free to live their lives. Many divorces can be traced back to this issue.

Most families do this so it is not easy to see this as unhealthy, but it is. Just because the whole community is doing it does not make it right. It is hard when you feel like you are a prisoner in your own family. I want you to realize that it is your choice to remain imprisoned, so choose to be free. There is no easy way of doing this; but sometimes the best way to break free is to walk away. It does not mean that you hate your family but the best way to genuinely love some family members is from a distance. So how do you untangle yourself from the unhealthy family entanglements fearlessly without leaving behind fatalities?

1. Acknowledgement: Acknowledge that the situation is not healthy and that it needs to change. Things can never change if we do not admit that they exist and that they are negatively affecting us, that is when you can change them when you acknowledge that whatever is going on is destroying you.

2. Have courage: Deciding to move away from a situation that is breaking you does not mean you are no longer loyal to your family, but you should not be loyal to a situation that is hurting you, it will take a lot of guts to bravely walk away fearlessly even if you are labelled as betraying the family, but do it anyway, your health and sanity will thank you!

3. It is not your sole responsibility: You cannot be expected to carry the burdens of everyone in your family, or those of vulnerable family members. You are not that strong, everyone can survive without you, so don’t stop living your life just because someone has an issue and they would relapse if you are not always there for them.

4. Refuse to be guilty: Sometimes family members can make you feel guilty for deciding to be an individual, refuse to be bound by guilt. Fight to be free. Your happiness should come first. You cannot give people what you do not have; you are not going to be able to save anyone if you are feeling bound, unhappy, depressed and imprisoned by circumstances in your family that you are not able to control.

5. Love yourself: Love yourself. You cannot love anyone if you do not love yourself first. When you love yourself, you realize that you deserve to be free, to be loved unconditionally, that way you will be able to love others and want them to be free too.

6. Set boundaries: Understand that you are in control of your own life, embrace your individuality and decide how far beyond your personal “veil” people can come in; don’t just let people roam freely in your heart and hurt you, and still expect you to be there for them.

You should have a desire to find fulfilment in life, to dream and to pursue your own goals, you cannot do that if someone in your family always has a say in what goes on in your life. You cannot do that if there are no clear and reasonable margins where the opinion of your family should not always matter, where you can live your life without fear of judgement.

Many people find themselves stuck and unable to break free from these entanglements. Relationships have to be mutually beneficial to all parties, if not, help is required.

If you are unable to break free, you find yourself stuck in fear of being shunned or isolated by your family, I want to help you. Send me a message and I will call you to chat about how to fix this.