Enmeshment and Merger in the Parent-Child Relationship
Saturday 11 July 2020 - London
A workshop with Dr Aileen Alleyne, Dr Tim Baker, Stanley Ruszczynski and Dr Arlene Vetere
In this conference we want to find ways of working with adolescent and adult clients who have suffered an enmeshed parental relationship which has prevented healthy separation and individuation. Our speakers will explore the concept of enmeshment as a consequence of the needs of the narcissistic parent, as well as a family culture where personal boundaries are diffused, roles are undifferentiated and an over-concern or anxiety for the other can lead to a loss of autonomous development.READ MORE...
Considering how the collusive, fused family or parent-child dynamic maintains a level of integration and functioning for the participants – perhaps even preventing psychic collapse – it will be proposed that the family’s history may help us to understand its reasons for maintaining enmeshment – possibly as a defense against trauma.
Our speakers will incorporate psychoanalytic, attachment, mentalisation, systems theory and trauma theory, as well as Minuchin’s family work, to make sense of the mechanisms of merger, and why such mechanisms sometimes remain active. We will explore how the client can come to let go of the need to participate in this entanglement, and how therapy can engender new capacities for them, and let go of the introjects that maintain the dysfunctional bond. In so doing, we will consider what needs to be mourned and how. As these clients have effectively been colonised by their parents they may evade the risk of being being taken over again; transference and countertransference dynamics need to be carefully worked with to hold healthy boundaries in mind, and we will look at how.
Registration and Coffee
Dr Tim Baker
Enmeshed Parent-Child Relationships and Severe Adolescent Disturbance
This presentation will draw on psychoanalytic, attachment and mentalisation theories to explore the relationship between enmeshed parent-child relationships and some of the severe disturbances encountered in clinical work with adolescents. Using clinical examples, Tim will argue that these presentations (including suicide attempts, significant self-harm and sexually harmful behaviour) can often be understood as pathological solutions to the difficulties that confront an adolescent who is attempting to negotiate the developmental task of separation and individuation. Whilst these solutions may allow a satisfaction of the impulse to feel separate, Tim will suggest that they paradoxically tie the adolescent further into the enmeshed relationship.
Dr Arlene Vetere
Triangulation in Family Relationships: A Lifespan Developmental Perspective
This presentation will explore triangulation in families as a process of enmeshment. In our search for safety and security in our close relationships we sometimes form both stable and unstable triangular relationships that can have consequences for our psychological development and long term wellbeing. Using examples from research and therapeutic practice with domestic violence and eating disorders Arlene will explore how an integration of systems theory, attachment theory and trauma theory helps us formulate and intervene with processes of power and influence in relationships, secrecy in families and the positive intentions in our corrective and replicative scripts as partners and parents.
Discussion in Groups and Pairs with Chaired Q&A
Dr Aileen Alleyne
An Intercultural Perspective
Enmeshment is the opposite to individuality, a view easily endorsed if we only embrace Western theories that measure therapy outcomes through the process of achieving individuation and personal autonomy. In this presentation, Aileen will draw on her clinical and social experiences of working with individuals who hail from non-nuclear or culturally extended families, where staunch cultural values and belief systems present dilemmas for both the client, and practitioner working with enmeshment issues and facilitating the orthodox process for the end goal of individuation. To highlight some of these intercultural dilemmas, we will be addressing the following areas: the immobilising conflict experienced when faced with being between two loyalties, that to one’s self and simultaneously to one’s family; the challenge of separating out and letting go from unhealthy family bonds; managing expectations borne out in phrases such as, “when you marry The One, you also marry The Entire Family“; and, the complex subject highlighting the impact of absent fathers on lone parent/child bonding.
So Near and Yet So Far
In this presentation Stanley will outline a developmental and psychoanalytic understanding of the concept of narcissism, which is useful in thinking about and working with all relationships, and especially those which might be described as enmeshed or intrusive. He will suggest that in such relationships, though there is a wish for attachment and closeness, there is also great anxiety and difficulty in establishing a secure sense of the self and of the other with whom a healthy relationship might be formed.