More and more we are witnessing prolonged childhood extending well into people’s 20’s. University students that stay during the course of their degree, into masters or secondary courses or into the early years of their careers. Or of the children who receive financial or emotional support to the detriment of individuality.

We see two kinds of clients affected by this enmeshed dynamic; both with the same eventual goal:

  • The parents who have realized their child hasn’t progressed, or is resisting the pathway to adulthood, but doesn’t know how to get out of the dynamic.
  • The child, who is struggling in adulthood to establish their individual direction and sense of purpose
Boundaries & Enmeshment
Creative | Roz MacLean

The end goal for both parties, parent and child, is to have a healthy adult relationship dynamic, wherein the child is an independent individual and the parent has appropriate boundaries.

When we provide a level of support beyond what is realistic or appropriate for our child’s specific developmental stage, we begin to interrupt their progression through the various life stages. For instance, while it is reasonable to help a four year cut their food, it would be ridiculous to continue cutting the food of a now 13-year-old.

The effects would be such:

  • The parent would have to be present and needed more.
  • The child would likely develop a preference for east, pre-cut food.
  • The child would not develop food cutting skills, due to a lack of practice opportunity or motivation.
  • The child would be out of synch with their peers, and fall behind.
  • The parent would have a displaced sense of purpose from this boundary disturbance.

When the parent abruptly ceases the food cutting, the child, now without the appropriate skill set and the maladaptive perspective that it should be done for them, tend to lash out or there is a perceived threat that they will. This puts the parent in a holding pattern wherein they fear rejection by the child if the giver-taker dynamic is disrupted. The result is ongoing dysfunction in the dynamic.

The thing with dynamics though, is that they are relatively easy to alter. When we work with either the parent or child, the first step is the exact same: alter the client’s behaviour and it will change the pattern of interaction. Now, obviously, this is easier said than done. So, we identify what the healthier behaviour would be, i.e.) stop cutting the food for the kid, in this case, and then we look at which limiting beliefs are active in preventing healthy behaviour.

Once the relevant limiting beliefs are identified, we use our protocol to reprocess the thoughts, rendering them untrue. Then, they no longer block healthy behaviour so the dynamic can be easily altered. The parent stops cutting the food, the child deals with the learning curve and an appropriate relationship ensues. The same thing but the opposite can happen with the client as a child, the focus is just on the blocks to doing the healthy behaviours in individuating (or adulating). Either way, the goal is established.

On a final note

We’ve been using the example of food cutting but in real life, we see things like giving money, supporting lifestyle, emotional dependence, social dependence, and the like can all be stand-ins. Some clients cannot bake banana bread at age 28 without calling their mom. Others ask dad to bail their car loan payment out at age 24. Others have parents who bought the condo they live in. Still, others let their children live at home, while they dabble in career school path number three and four. These are some of the ways these dynamics can display when that boundary overstepping becomes a pattern.

So, when we look at children and see what appears to be an entitlement, we need to go deeper and investigate where they learned this behaviour from and why it exists. Then, it is easy to alter and improve.

If you have someone or are someone wrestling with this concern, don’t accept being stuck.