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Disentangling Enmeshed Families and MERCURY by Amy Jo Burns

Cover of the book Mercury by Amy Jo Burns used to teach the concept of Disentangling Enmeshed Families

Soon after moving to Mercury, Marley met the Josephs, the family she was destined to join. First, Marley dated the oldest brother, Bay. Later, she fell in love and married the middle brother, Way. Over the years, Marley provided significant mothering to the baby brother, Shay.


Marley quickly learned that life as a member of the Joseph family wasn’t the picnic she’d envisioned. They all lived together, even though the sons were old enough to live independently, and one was married with a son. Mick Joseph, the patriarch, was a war veteran who was prone to mental health struggles and flights of fancy. The brothers – Bay, Way, and Shay – and Mick’s wife, Elise, put themselves second to protect Mick’s fragile ego. Even when Mick made unconscionable decisions and demanded the brothers’ uncompromising loyalty.


The Joseph family was enmeshed.


Enmeshment happens when families lack boundaries. In enmeshed families, parents are overly reliant on children, children feel like they can’t be separate from their parents, and everyone desperately tries to fix other family members without attending to their own needs.


People in enmeshed families tend to seek external approval, experience low self-worth and high anxiety, suffer fears of abandonment, struggle to self-soothe, feel responsible for others’ destructive behaviors, and forsake advocating for themselves.


Here are tips to disentangle from an enmeshed family:


Develop a Sense of Self: People from enmeshed families only know who they are in relation to or compared to other family members. Discover your passions, values, priorities, preferred hobbies, and curiosities. You can’t follow your heart until you know what it wants.


Set Boundaries: Boundaries create emotional and physical space between people.

Talk to your family and verbalize your expectations and how you want to be treated.  


Work Through Guilt: If your family manipulatively uses guilt when you prioritize your values over their desire to be entrenched in a problematic system, remind yourself that you can live your own life. It’s ok to have your own opinions and set boundaries!


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