"Enmeshment refers to an extreme form of proximity and intensity in family interactions...In a highly enmeshed, over-involved family, changes within one family member or in the relationship between two family members reverberate throughout the system... On an individual level, interpersonal differentiation in an enmeshed system is poor...in enmeshed families the individual gets lost in the system. The boundaries that define individual autonomy are so weak that functioning in individually differentiated ways is radically handicapped.
"We're enmeshed when we use an individual for our identity, sense of value, worth, well-being, safety, purpose, and security. Instead of two people present, we become one identity. More simply, enmeshment is present when our sense of wholeness comes from another person.
We hear enmeshment phrases everyday such as, "I'd die without you," "You're my everything," "Without you, I'm nothing," "I need you," or "You make me whole." Many of us find our identity and self-worth by becoming the mate, parent, or friend of a successful and/or prestigious individual, or we find the need to fix and caretake individuals to give us a sense of purpose.
Enmeshment doesn't allow for individuality, wholeness, personal empowerment, healthy relationships with ourselves or others, and, most importantly, a relationship with our Higher Power."
Someone at SWEDA recently complained that they couldn’t see the difference between friendship and enmeshment.
I replied that there really wasn't a difference, not in our present culture.
Our patterned wants and needs are laid down in those first few years of life. We carry them with us wherever we go. In every single interaction, in every relationship, we are unconsciously driven to seek what we didn't get in childhood, or to help alleviate the pain of not getting it, and we will use the other person in any way we can. Ordinary friendship, then, is always based on a secret agreement to service the wants and needs of the other person, in return for the same treatment: "You ease my pain, I'll ease yours."
The problem is that pain relief never addresses the source of the pain itself, any more than alcohol heals emotional trauma: it just blocks it out of awareness. And since the source of the pain is buried deep in the past, all our attempts to get what we want from friendship and love relationships in the present invariably fail. Because no matter how much the other person gives us what we want, it won't heal that wound. We are the only ones who can do that.
SWEDA potentially allows for real friendship, or true alliance, to bloom, because it provides a space within which everyone is continuously looking out for their patterns of enmeshment and everyone else's, and in which no secret agreement stays secret for long.
Learning how not to enmesh takes years, however. We've spent most of our lives believing that enmeshment is the normal way of things, that it is what real friendship is made of. So to have a space in which all our interactions are clearly separate from our other relationships allows us to become more and more aware of the difference between true friendship and enmeshment. Ideally, what we learn daily in SWEDA, we can take into our "real-world" relationships, just as we bring those experiences back into SWEDA to look for patterns and distortions. So the two realms inform one another ~ but do not overlap.
For any of us to confuse what we are doing at SWEDA with ordinary friendship, or to pursue ordinary relationships with sweda folk outside the group, is going to blur that distinction, and hence undermine the whole purpose of being at SWEDA.
Four of the men closest to me have left the group in the last month or so, and so I have been becoming increasingly aware of my own enmeshment at SWEDA.
While undergoing the dis-enmeshment process, as I am, the tendency is to try and enmesh again, just as a baby grabs for the mother’s breast when it is being taken away. The challenge is to inhibit that fear-pain reaction, and just stay in the feelings.
The predominant feeling is one of being alienated.
I am beginning to see how enmeshment is a reaction against alienation.
Alienation is the result of the constructed identity, which keeps us as awareness from connecting to and experiencing our being, or from being in our knowing.
So then we are driven by the wants and needs of the constructed identity, which is all about likes and dislikes, securing the one and keeping at bay the other. This is the basis of enmeshment: relationships based on wants and needs.
When we are disconnected, we are constantly looking for a surrogate sense of connection and belonging, a surrogate womb. The way we create that surrogate womb is by enmeshing with others. Then it is like we have these threads ~ literally energetic threads of our being ~ that are constantly supporting us, when in actual fact they are entangling us, imprisoning us. But for our person it is safe, comfortable, because it feels like we are not alone.
We allow people to put their threads, their psychic matter, into us, and we do the same to them, because this is a surrogate for a real connection, for real union, community, communion, things which the constructed identity cannot allow for, ever.
As I begin to dis-enmesh, it’s like coming out of the womb, and feeling more and more separate and alone. It’s a terrible feeling.
This is the great paradox of SWEDA. It was created as a ritual space to dis-enmesh within, but my person was also looking for a way to feel at home and connected. So I tricked myself: I was unconsciously creating this space where I thought I could get what I wanted, but now it’s come into form, I see that I can't, because to go after what I want would be to compromise the space, to make it smaller and smaller, until everybody left and there was nothing but me, alone with my enmeshment.
It’s been a year since SWEDA started and we have recently completed a cycle. I know what it is now, and I know what it is that I am doing. It’s a business, a job, a project that has a very specific purpose. That purpose is dis-enmeshing. It's a dis-enmeshment chamber.
At SWEDA, I've been getting to fine-tune my awareness of exactly how I enmesh with the people in the group, by liking or disliking them, and by getting them to like or dislike me. There’s a feeling of security and power for my person that comes from having the power to make people like me or dislike me.
I enjoy everything I do at SWEDA, but I particularly enjoy making people feel good about themselves, because then I know they are going to like me more. The flip side of this, is that I also enjoy, in a darker way, pointing out people’s dishonesty and making them uncomfortable, knowing they are going to dislike that, and even dislike me. Presumably, this has to do with having control over the way people perceive me, and although this is necessary for what I do, the danger of this control is that my person can use it to get what it wants. As soon as I am trying to get a little something for myself, enmeshment begins.
This is natural and inevitable, however. There’s no way to combat enmeshment without seeing the process of enmeshment for what it is. This means seeing it happening in the present, not just finding evidence of it having happened in the past. We are at SWEDA to enmesh, as well as to dis-enmesh, at least to a degree. It would be unrealistic to think there wouldn’t be any enmeshment at all, because our persons are invested in being liked, and as such, that is all they really know how to do.
So then SWEDA isn’t about trying to kick bad habits, but just to own up to them and really see them for what they are, and just how pervasive they are in our lives. That seeing gradually allows a new awareness to dawn, because the part of us that sees our compulsive behavior as what it is, has a separate existence to the part that is being driven to act in these ways.
Put more simply: only when we become aware of the ways in which we are acting unconsciously, can we begin to act with consciousness.
The goal of SWEDA is to recognize ourselves as we are: spheres of consciousness-being, on our way to individuated existence, free from enmeshment ~ stars. A cool, clean, true existence. Paradoxically, in this solar isolation and in complete freedom from any personal interest in others, we are free to fuse into a collective experience, bound together by perfect indifference and deepest affection. And so what seems like isolation to the person, is the ultimate togetherness for our beings.
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