Our guest on this episode of The Addicted Mind podcast is Dr. Ken Adams, a therapist specializing in the area of parental enmeshment and its connection to compulsive behaviors such as porn and sex addiction. All families are defined by the balance of closeness and separate between the members. Enmeshed families overemphasize their closeness, resulting in the parents controlling the decisions of their children, demanding their loyalty, prohibiting them from becoming involved with friends or activities outside of the family, and using guilt as a punishment for trying to separate any part of their lives from their parents. It is not uncommon for the parents in these types of families to treat the children as a surrogate husband or wife, expecting the child to fulfill their emotional needs.
As a result of experiencing this lifestyle throughout childhood, adults usually find themselves struggling to live their own lives, even if they are geographically separated from each other. The enmeshment mentality can make them feel smothered, engulfed, or trapped by their parents, while remaining staunchly loyal to them, perhaps even at the cost of their marriage or other relationships. Living with this burden often leads to addictive behavior in the porn or sexual realm, with the affected adult child seeking freedom that does not come with any commitments. In every other area of their life, they feel stifled under the weight of others’ expectations, and compulsive behaviors give them the short-term release that they feel like they need.
When Dr. Adams sees adult children affected by enmeshment for therapy, the first step is to move them from their pre-contemplative state of considering that they may have an issue with enmeshment and possibly a related addiction. Perhaps they have done some self-education by listening to podcasts, reading books or articles, or viewing videos on the topic, and they feel that they can identify with the feelings and behaviors being described. The next step a therapist takes is to delicately shift their internal entanglements and beliefs and help them establish external boundaries for themselves and their parents. He conducts intensive therapeutic workshops to help individuals through this process.
If you think you or someone you know is struggling with parental enmeshment, remember that there are resources out there to help you gain the separation that is so crucial to thriving in your own life. Reach out and consider reading one of Dr. Adams’ books to learn more about taking the necessary steps toward true freedom.