RELATIONSHIP DYNAMICS IN A FAMILY: Healthy and Unhealthy Patterns.

When looking at a family and how the family members relate with each other, concepts like enmeshment, individuation, emotional cut off and autonomy come up. These are words in the field of psychology, especially family therapy, that are used to explain how close or distant the family members are and how they also relate with themselves. This article is written to explain these concepts and to help us understand how different relationship styles in the family affect us and our relationships with those we come to form meet and interact with in life. Have a read and share your thoughts in the comments section below.


Generally, the word enmeshed means to become entangled in something that is difficult to escape. From this definition therefore, one can make a guess of what enmeshment means. It is where family members are very close to each other to the extent that they are not able to separate their emotions from those of the other members of the family.

As a result of this, for example, when  a family member feels anxious, all family members pick up that emotion and also start feeling anxious. Additionally when one is in need, the other family members feel the need to go and help that person such that failure too, even if they couldn’t, makes them feel guilty. The children of the family  grow up, without  having learnt to become independent individuals.

Additionally, when it comes to enmeshment, because one is not able to separate or say no, one might give when they don’t have enough for themselves. Such a relationship style makes a person resentful  towards others especially when they ask for help but it can’t be given to them.

So when a family is enmeshed, the children do not learn how to separate their emotions from those of those they interact with. If their friends are angry they too become angry which would make them to go to great lengths to protect them.  They don’t learn how to form healthy boundaries with people. They don’t learn how to say no when they can’t do as asked.

Emotional cuttoffs

This is where people keep to themselves too much such that they don’t have close relationships with say their families or even friends. So an example is where you might hear someone tell others that m”son never calls home… The last time we came together as a family was 5 years ago.”

In such a case where family members are emotionally cut-off, they don’t learn how to form healthy and meaningful relationships with others. So when talking to individuals who are from the family they will explain that, “I am one person who keeps to self very much. I have a list of maybe one or two friends.”

It is true there are people who are not healthy or safe to be around and it’s very okay to form healthy boundaries with them. However, being emotionally cut-off is different from avoiding unhealthy relationships. When one is emotionally cut-off, he or she isn’t able to form meaningful relationships. The relationships they have are flimsy and of face value only.


We have talked about enmeshment where one can’t separate their emotions  from others and emotional cutt-offs where is not able to connect with other people and form meaningful relationships.

Individuation can best be understood as a balance between being enmeshed and emotionally cutt-off . Here, one is able to both connect with others and separate from the emotions of those around them. He or she is able to acknowledge the emotions the other person is feeling without acquiring or adopting them. An individuated person is aware of what his emotions are without letting other people influence them.

For example, during this COVID-19 pandemic period, there is a tendency to get anxious and worry about one’s health. An individuated person hardly let’s the emotional climate of his surroundings influence his emotions. If others around him are anxious due to the virus, he is able to acknowledge that and if he is taking care of himself and observing the safety guidelines, he is able to manage his anxiety levels.

An individuated person is also able to ask for help. Unlike an emotionally cut-off individual, he is able to acknowledge when he has reached limit and reach out to others. This is because he is able to form meaningful relationships with people who able to connect and help when they can. Despite being able to ask for help, an individuated person is also able able to help others when in need but only to his or her maximum capability. He knows where his boundaries are and where others’boundaries are as well. Therefore, he doesn’t let others cross his neither does he cross others’ boundaries.

To learn more on individuation and how one grows to be individuated as well as how a relationship with an individuated person looks like kindly click this article.

To summarize, do you feel like your family of origin has either the enmeshed or the emotionally cut-off relationship styles? Have you been trying to form meaningful relationships with others but have been finding it difficult? Are you wondering  what you can do to get yourself to be an individuated person and attract emotionally healthy people in your life?

Psyche-Interventions has just the programs to help you learn the how to(s) of the above questions. It has an emotional intelligence program and a  program on forming healthy boundaries designed by a trained and licensed psychologist. The two programs are meant to help you learn how to identify and manage your emotions, learn how to form meaningful relationships and how to create, assert and reinforce your boundaries so that you can live a meaningful and peaceful life.

In addition to the programs, Psyche-Interventions also offers individual therapy sessions. Giving you a one on one experience in a safe space, where the therapeutic relationship will center on your psychological needs. Contact us today and get a thirty minutes free sessions for you to evaluate if the therapeutic relationship will be a good match for you.  You can call 0708146415 or email

Every single action we make determines how our future will be like.

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