Enmeshment/Undeveloped Self Schema

Do you feel that you are losing sense of who you are?

Do you feel that some of your identity is merged with someone else?

Do you feel that you cannot survive without this person?

This is likely to indicate the enmeshment and undeveloped self schema —excessive emotional involvement with someone or the people close to you. This may be your parents, siblings, spouse, or friends. A common example of enmeshed relationships includes very close mother-daughter relationships where they confide and rely heavily on each other.

While closeness can be highly valued and allow one to feel supported and secure, it should not be at the expense of developing one’s identity, independence, and formation of other relationships.


Signs of an Enmeshment Schema

Generally, you would be obsessively attached to the other person to the point of thinking, acting, and feeling the way they do. This means that you do not develop a stable sense of self with a poor sense of purpose in life. More specifically, here are some signs:

  • You feel obliged to share intimate details with others 
  • You must seek feedback and advice from the other person when making personal decisions
  • You wonder about who you truly are
  • You are unable to describe your own identity separate from others
  • You are overly clingy to or sensitive to rejection from others
  • You are affected by the emotional state of others
  • You adapt your own desires and needs to others 


Reactions from the Enmeshment Schema

  • Surrender: Telling the person one is enmeshed with everything and relying on them for advice and help. 
  • Avoidance: Avoiding opportunities for intimacy and vulnerability in relationships. 
  • Overcompensation: Pretending that people are not important to you and never relying on anyone for help.


Schema Therapy

Schema Therapy is usually employed to help individuals deal with the enmeshment schema. This form of therapy aims to help individuals:

  • Understand their relationship with the people they are enmeshed with
  • Reduce the guilt-inducing inner critic
  • Discover their own unique identity—including preferences, opinions, decisions, talents
  • Learn to set healthy boundaries with others with a balance of security and autonomy