An Overlooked Precursor to Sexual
Addiction, Co-dependency, and
Relationships Struggles
Kenneth M. Adams, Ph.D., CSAT
www.drkenadams.com
[email protected]
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Parentification (Jurkovic)
The Chosen Child (Minuchin)
Emotional Incest (Love)
Covert Incest (Adams)
Enmeshment
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Enmeshment leads to an attachment disorder
Attachment disorders are largely attributed to
abuse, abandonment, or neglect
Little, to no study, is given to enmeshment as a
causative factor in its own right
“Closeness” looks like attachment
Mother/son; mother, father/daughter
Societal implications – single parent
households, Italy reporting contributing factor
to population decline
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Enmeshment damages sexual unfolding,
prejudicing the capacity for intimacy
Enmeshment key precursor to addiction
Male sex addicts report (40%) enmeshment
Parentified females report eating disorders
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Separate emotionally from the family of origin
you grew up in, enough so that your identity is
separate from your parents and siblings (The
Good Marriage, Wallerstein and Blakeslee)
Relationships have ever-deepening levels, and
a relationship can only go to the depth of the
more limited person( The Seven 7 Best Things
Happy Couples Do, Friel and Friel)
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Enmeshment and intrusion characterizes
the relationship
Demand for loyalty to the needy and lonely
parent prevails - creates “loyal object”
(Jurkovic)
Entrapped, engulfed, guilty, and angry
Overly eroticized atmosphere
Disloyalty toward love objects other than
the parent
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
Deprivation
Disrupted attachment with caregivers
Undifferentiated self
Distorted cognitive schema that prevent seeing
children as separate (Jurkovic)
Personality disorders (traits, features)
1.
2.
3.
4.
Temperament
Capacity for empathy and caring (Jurkovic)
Birth order
Gender
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
High stress – substance abuse, mental illness
Single parenting
Marital discord
Role induction (parents display of neediness,
helplessness, and dependency)
Poor boundaries- enmeshed with one parent,
disengagement with the other (Jurkovic)
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Entrapment, intrusion, and engulfment
occurs before age five
Punishment/physical violence in retaliation
for separation attempts
Participation by the other parent to
encourage the entrapment or their physical
or emotional absence
Physical sexual abuse
Mother Attuned To Son: He Can Be Himself
His Self
attunement
attuned to
So
n
His
Needs
His Life
Mother
Son Attuned To Mother: He Loses His Identity
His Self
His
Needs
not attuned to
attunement
So
n
Mother
His Life
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Enmeshment inverts the parent-child bond and
leaves child over-eroticized and overstimulated with the parent (no boundaries)
Sexuality is filled with intense conflictshrouded in danger, taboo, ambivalence, and
shame
Sexuality is split off, fragments or
compartments are created
Unencumbered erotic desire needed for
bonding
Adult love relationships become gateway to
disappointment and loss
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Intrusion of parent’s needs and demands into
child’s psychic, emotional, and sexual world
Child’s separation causes parent to feel
abandoned - will intrude into child’s world
even harder
Child’s self is unable to “unfold", parent molds
child as an extension of their own narcissistic
wish (e.g., be the man your father isn’t), must
fragment
“True” self goes into hiding and “false” self
emerges and becomes compulsively attuned to
the feelings and needs of others
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1.
2.
3.
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Getting together
Phone calls
Physical touch
Topics of conversation e.g.:
I don’t respond to my mother’s criticisms of my
dad
I don’t talk to her about my dad
I say out loud to them both that I don’t want to
talk with either of them about their conflict
Money
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Wait 24 hours - “ I need to think about this
and get back to you”
Develop interest and hobbies
Build friendships and decrease tendency to
be dependent on only one person
Set boundaries around the amount of time
you will give to mom/dad
Screen calls, wait to respond
Pace romantic involvement, hold
boundaries tight in early part of
relationship
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
Make a list of ten most burdensome, inappropriate
things you do for mom from most to least damaging
Write down a few statements that are clear and specific
ways to set limits e.g.,“ I can’t talk now, I will call
tomorrow”
Identify feelings that arise during rehearsal
List that behaviors your mother does that trigger the
guilt and disloyalty response e.g., weepy, angry,
threatening, martyrdom, silent, etc.
Develop new beliefs that counter guilt and fear
response
Sphere Of
Enmeshment
MOTHER
Emotionally
Disconnecte
d
FATHER
MEM
Wife
Partner
Girlfriend
In his unconscious – and sometimes
conscious – mind, a mother-enmeshed man
(MEM) is representing his mother’s interests,
while his own have become secondary. If he
does something he thinks she wouldn’t like, he
feels disloyal to her. If he “gets serious” about
a woman, suddenly, without understanding
why, he is overwhelmed with feelings of fear,
anxiety, and guilt. Ambivalence and withdrawal
inevitably follow.
From: When He’s Married to Mom: Helping Mother Enmeshed
Men Open Their Hearts to True Love and Commitment by
Kenneth M. Adams, Ph.D. with Alexander P. Morgan
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Frustrated by lack of availability and commitment
of partner
Tries harder to persuade partner to commit
Blames self for sexual or emotional rejection
Feels like “other” woman in relationship to mom
Accommodates or compromises to hang onto
relationship
May have lost years to the relationship and tries
even harder to persuade commitment when loss is
felt
Often comes from a family in which she was cast in
the role of being a caretaker or over responsible
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Sexual addiction is a perceived gateway to
emotional and sexual freedom - It temporarily
reassures a damaged, entrapped, and ambivalent
sexual self
Sexual addiction is not disloyal, allows the CI
survivor to avoid the trap of loyalty to the parent
while asserting sexual freedom
It permits discharge of the rage and anger and
allows the covert incest survivor to reject and
disappoint the partner, which is not allowed by the
parent
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Be aware
Be reassuring and address his/her needs
Seek adult connections
Set healthy boundaries
Create and maintain strong bond with both
parents
Build strong bond with partner
Maintain appropriate boundaries for conflict
between parents
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T: Dependency, will be in role “good pt” rather
than true self, may feel that they are putting
therapist out and not want to return, feel
therapist is also controlling if too much advice,
feel the therapy process is smothering
CT: Pressure the pt to separate too quickly
from parent, too much advice and intervention
too quickly, getting angry at parent, failing to
validate enmeshment (own enmeshment
issues), trying to fix -overinvolvment
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When He’s Married To Mom: How to Help MotherEnmeshed Men Open Their Hearts to True Love and
Commitment- Adams, K. with Morgan, A.
Silently Seduced: When Parent’s Make Their Children
Partners, Understanding Covert Incest - Adams, K.
Clinical Management of Sex Addiction- Carnes, P. &
Adams, K.
The Emotional Incest Syndrome: What To Do When A
Parent’s Love Rules Your Life- Love, P. with Robinson, J.
Mother’s, Son’s, and Lovers: How A Man’s Relationship
With His Mother Affects The Rest of His Life - Gurian, M.
Lost Childhoods: The Plight of the Parentified Child
Jukovic, G.