Enmeshment is a dysfunctional state where a two or more people have porous and indistinguishable boundaries. Enmeshment can occur between a parent or child, whole families, or adult couples. This article will be talking about enmeshment between a narcissistic mother and her son. The narcissistic parent could become enmeshed with her daughter or all her offspring, though. The same goes for a narcissistic father.
Since the boundaries between two enmeshed people are permeable, they tend to catch each others emotions. If the narcissistic parent becomes angry at a store clerk who slighted her by waiting on another customer first, her son will grow angry as well.
Emotions are a complicated thing for those in an enmeshed relationships. Unable to tell the difference between each others emotions, each member in the relationship will have times when they feel they need to be rescued from their emotions by the other person. Similarly, they’ll each have time when they feel they have to rescue the other person from their emotions.
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. Since narcissists emotionally abuse their children, their enmeshed offspring often have low self-esteem.
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Trauma bonding is similar to Stockholm Syndrome, in which people held captive come to have feelings of trust or even affection for the very people who captured and held them against their will. This type of survival strategy can also occur in a relationship. It is called trauma bonding, and it can occur when a person is in a relationship with a narcissist.
Within a trauma bond, the narcissist’s partner—who often has codependency issues—first feels loved and cared for. However, this begins to erode over time, and the emotional, mental, and sometimes physical abuse takes over the relationship.
The codependent understands the change, but not why it is occurring. They believe they just need to understand what they are doing wrong in order to bring back the loving part of the relationship.
If they do manage to break free, all the narcissist has to do is go back to that courtship phase to win them back. The more the codependent reaches out to the narcissist for love, recognition, and approval, the more the trauma bond is strengthened. This also means the codependent will stay in the relationship when the abuse escalates, creating a destructive cycle.