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Indian parents don't understand boundaries, and every other Indian family is an enmeshed family. How do you protect your mental health and live your own life?
Trigger Warning: This deals with overprotective or clingy behaviour typical of an enmeshed family common in India with its ideas of filial values, and may be triggering for survivors.
*Names and identifying information changed to protect privacy.
*Latika, a 27-year-old media professional, has had a long day at work; all she wants to do is relax for the rest of the evening. Unfortunately, she comes home to a familiar scene: her parents hurling abuses at each other. She takes a deep breath and closes the front door. Time to be the adult again, she thinks wearily. Later that day, when mother and daughter are alone, the former expresses gratitude. She reveals that without Latika, they would have been divorced years ago. Latika feels glad and tells her mother she is happy to help.
*Ragini, a 16-year-old schoolgirl, is sulking in her room on a Saturday morning. The reason? She is forbidden to go on yet another school trip. Because according to her parents, “weekends are for family only. We work so hard for you, and this is how you repay us? If you don’t spend time with us now, you will regret it later.” Although Ragini doesn’t agree with their words, she feels guilty enough to keep quiet and obey.
What do these ladies have in common? Both of them belong to an enmeshed family. And if you are an Indian woman who lives with her kin, you may too.
According to Psych Central, “Enmeshed family – Enmeshment describes family relationships that lack boundaries such that roles and expectations are confused, parents are overly and inappropriately reliant on their children for support, and children are not allowed to become emotionally independent or separate from their parents.”
Fret not because you are the rule, not the exception. After all, Indian parents are infamous for having poor boundaries, and every other Indian family is an enmeshed family.
This is unsurprising because following in the footsteps of one’s parents is passed off as “Indian culture.” Any child who strays from parental desires and expectations is considered uncultured or unsansakari. Since elders think of their children as an extension of themselves and society accepts this attitude as normal, it is challenging for the children to live life on their terms.
And of course owing to patriarchy, women have it a lot harder than their male counterparts.
The recent case of the Haridwar couple suing their son and daughter-in-law for being childless is an example of the great Indian enmeshed family. To quote the father, “The main issue is that at this age we need a grandchild, but these people (my son and daughter-in-law) have an attitude that they don’t think about us. We got him married in the hope we would have the pleasure of becoming grandparents. It has been six years since their marriage. It feels as if despite having everything we have nothing.”
Despite all of the above, young Indian girls and women can be themselves while cohabiting with an enmeshed family. Here are 5 surefire ways to do so.
Indian families typically disregard boundaries, and enmeshment makes people further disrespect them. This is why you must set clear boundaries and make them known.
Being flexible matters because your family will cross many boundaries, and it could happene occasionally even in the healthiest relationships. Either way, you have to take it in your stride instead of getting frustrated or losing hope. Ketaki Natekar, a senior psychologist at MindPeers, explains why you should categorize your boundaries.
“Boundaries in relationships are not always securely gated communities; it helps to understand them as hard and soft. Hard boundaries are where we put up a ‘No trespassing’ sign. Soft boundaries are grayer and decided on a case-to-case basis. Trust level, current dynamic, and mental or emotional state are some factors that can help you decide what to do about soft boundaries. ”
Me-time will help you regain autonomy, something that is hard to find in a family that doesn’t care about individuality.
Living in an enmeshed family without losing sight of yourself involves finding pockets of time where you can reclaim who you are as an individual. For example, if you like to read, make sure to set aside some reading time regularly. And then, try your best not to let anything or anyone get in the way of your scheduled time.
Spending time alone will also help you become more self-aware. It will enable you to untangle yourself from your family so you can focus on knowing your needs, values, and desires. When you know yourself, it will be easier for you to decide the family rules you can live with – and the ones you need to break.
In order to set boundaries and prioritize me-time, it is crucial to be assertive. After all, you will be standing up for your needs and wants over and over again. If you are not assertive, it won’t take much time for you to be guilted into prioritizing what others want or expect of you.
Sadly, the average Indian woman is accustomed to saying yes under pressure, conforming, and putting herself last. If you can relate, Ketaki has some tips for you.
“It is quite possible that you don’t know how to voice your needs and wants with family. Start with a prepared ask like: Tomorrow I’ll be out from 6 pm – 8 pm with friends. Practice saying this to yourself in the mirror, because you may need to hear how it sounds out loud. And then, make your ask. Begin with small asks till you are confident and feel you can use your voice to stand up for yourself.” Once everyone at home gets used to you being assertive for trivial matters, it’s easier to move on to bigger stuff.
One of the most effective ways to combat enmeshment is to simply hang out without your family. Since they do not encourage individuality, you have to pursue it yourself.
Physically spending some time apart from your family will help you be yourself and enable you to feel freer and in control of your life.
Personal space is important but going out doesn’t always mean you have to spend time with yourself. Ketaki specifies that meeting friends, getting physical exercise, and attending an offline event are some healthy and engaging ways to spend time away from family. When you step out by yourself, you can make unconventional choices and follow your heart. Eventually, this may help you to move out in the future as well.
A professional can help you do all of the above and more. For example, a therapist can help you identify problematic patterns in your family members, help you set healthy boundaries, teach you how to cope with your family’s guilt trips, maybe even get another family member to understand your perspective, and so on.
Ketaki explains why therapy is a useful tool. “Therapy can help validate your experiences and feelings when you are a part of an enmeshed family. It can also help resolve difficult emotions like self-doubt, guilt, anger, etc. Therapy can be that one place where you can prioritize yourself, where you can look after yourself. Your therapist can help you look at and make sense of the family dynamic, and figure out techniques for you to find yourself.”
Practicing self-care, being self-aware, and putting yourself first are all essential if you want to be an individual. Therapy can help nurture and enforce these kinds of healthy practices.
Ladies, do put yourself first and take care of yourself. Only a good relationship with yourself can enable you to make healthy relationships with others.
Image source: a still from the series Made in Heaven
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Mahevash Shaikh is a millennial blogger, author, and poet who writes about mental health, culture, and society. She lives to question convention and redefine normal. read more...
Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views, individual posts do not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions at all times.
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