Content Warning: Lack of boundaries
I have experienced enmeshed relationships for most of my life, both in my personal life and in places where I worked. In some cultures, the phenomenon pervades all spheres of life.
There was no clear boundary between my life and those of others in positions of power. All decision-making had to be handed over to the significant members of the group. Individuality was frowned upon. If I happened to make a decision for myself, I was immediately scoffed at and ‘showed my rightful place’. Any personal inquiries could be made of me, and I was supposed to dutifully answer them. My life was expected to be devoted to doing things that either benefitted the system (in the family or the place of work) or brought glory to those at the top.
On the personal front, this included being a well-behaved child, performing at parties, doing loads of housework, and still doing well in my studies. In short, it meant being a success at everything I did. Failure was not an option, and even minor mistakes were met with humiliation and verbal or physical abuse.
At work, this involved keeping the system running by taking responsibility for all the mundane, daily, maintenance tasks. Taking responsibility entailed never-ending work, an expectation for putting in an inhumane number of hours at work, and being held responsible for everything that went wrong.
In all these professional and personal environments, there were always a host of enablers. These enablers were present at all levels, and they questioned all motives, truth, and sanity, if you ever made the mistake of showing dissent or dissatisfaction.
With time and some research, I was able to understand the reason behind my exhaustion, my low self-esteem, and my sense of guilt when I ever thought of expressing my individuality or my opinion. I also understood that there is no partial escape from enmeshed systems. You cannot afford to remain friends with the enablers. They were never your friends in any case. They were motivated by maintaining the status quo, and not by an urge to make your life better.
I have learned to gauge people’s motivations by their actions and not by their words. In the process, I have found my circle of true well-wishers. Life is smaller but significantly more peaceful and happier.