Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Parents.. Family.. what are the boundaries?

I love my parents, without a shadow of a doubt. I am inspired by their lives and the sacrifices they have made for us and their utter selfless love. We have a strong relationship although we often have to deal with the generational gap, especially with me since I was born and raised abroad, while they tried to maintain our Libyanness and our Islam.

So you can imagine that I was quite disturbed when a lady told me that my relationship with my parents appears very co-dependent and it seems that we suffer (yes, she did say suffer.. psychobabble!!) from "enmeshment". Ding ding ding. Time to google.

So, enmeshment is: "Enmeshment refers to an extreme form of proximity and intensity in family interactions...In a highly enmeshed, overinvolved 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 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 (Minuchin, et al, 1978, p.30)."

Alright.. so "extreme form of proximity".. you are linked by blood, how much closer can you possibly get? I supposed in a way, this highlights the difference between individualist and collective cultures. In collective cultures, the focus on the "me" or "i" is practically nonexistant because you are part of a whole, part of a family. I honestly believe there is way too much emphasis on the self in individualist (or Western) cultures and in the end, look at how lonely their lives are.. It seems so unnatural to move out at age 18, live alone and deal with life without the support that Allah has blessed you with.

I am the youngest of five children and the "surprise" in the family so there is quite a gap between my brothers and sisters - by the time I was 13 everyone had gone except one of my sisters and at 17 it was just my parents and I. So now, it's like I am an only child with aging parents - and let me tell you, I have I didn't see this responsibility coming!!!! The roles reversed and strangely enough I feel more like the parent nowadays.

Either way, my point is that I am a very independent person with my own life so it's not like my sense of value or self-worth is linked to my parents.. but I do care for my parents and their happiness does affect me very much. If they are unhappy, you can almost be sure that I am not well. I love taking them to new restaurants and exploring new cities together.. thinking of new ways to get them out and about (they are avid homebodies). Sure, it gets me down when they're sick or grumpy or upset - but isn't that normal? And yes, I will not marry someone they disapprove of even if their explanation is something I don't understand (the fact that he MUST be Libyan, and berber at that) because I refuse to pain them in any way. I just see it as a natural responsibility to take care of your parents and to make sure they are at peace (but I do respectfully argue and discuss when I disagree - quite often). It isn't even an option, just something you DO without thought.

So how does someone, an observer who doesn't know you very well.. come and tell you that you are "suffering" from behavior that shows that you are too linked to your family? This I just don't understand... How do you draw those boundaries? What are the boundaries? I just don't know..