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..


At 10:42 AM, Blogger programmer craig said...

Hi Nura, welcome to the blogosphere! I followed you here from Tareq's blog, hope you don't mind :)

I can't (won't) comment on your relationship with your parents, but I'll comment a bit on some of the concepts you bring up.

Codependency has many definitions, but none of them describe "good" personality traits. Example:

"Co-dependency can be defined as the tendency to put others needs before your own. You accommodate to others to such a degree that you tend to discount or ignore your own feelings, desires and basic needs. Your self-esteem depends largely on how well you please, take care of and/or solve problems for someone else (or many others)."

As for individualist/collectivist cultures, these terms refer to societies, not to families. Specifically, the terms refer to types of government. I personally (I'm American) think that we in the US need to improve in the area of family values, but I think you headed in the wrong direction with the societal terms :)

For example, France is not an individualistic society. Neither is Russia. Nor is most of Europe, for that matter! I don't think Europeans have better family values than Americans do! East asians set the high water mark for family values, in my opinion.

#What are the boundaries?

The boundary is between a healthy relationship and a harmful one. Only you can make that determination, by the way, not some stranger who gives you free pyschoanalysis :)

At 9:12 AM, Blogger Highlander said...

I echo P-Craig's welcome Nura...I already feel I like you very much after what you have written about your parents.

I was wondering you speak or read Arabic ?

At 5:19 PM, Blogger removedalready said...

Welcome to the blogging world!

I agree with PCraig, no one knows you better than yourself & your family @ those closest to you. The others are looking at you from the outside. They could only see the tip of the iceberg & not the whole package.

I am an only child, will I be considered co-dependent because I still live with my parents? I feel that I need to be with them at the moment, we need each other, it's payback time. You have to be there for them when they need you most no matter how trivial it may be! They do not seek material things but TLC!

At 5:55 AM, Blogger Nura said...

Thank you for the welcomes, I very much appreciate it - I didn't even notice all the comments until today!

Craig, I stand corrected regarding the individualist and collectivist culture was my own personal phrasing and I didn't realize it has all these political implications! I see though that you understood my meaning by using those terms so that is most important. Absolutely, I agree with your and the others' comments (thank you by the way) that only WE are capable of determining what is right for US, however sometimes you are not aware of what that is until you use a more comparative approach. Most of the time it is difficult to pinpoint that your behavior is "abnormal" until you relate it to others. I am not saying that we should all follow through with the "norm" here and become one homogeneous people but simply that sometimes viewing your own opinions and life through others' eyes can help us become more objective as well as perceptive.

As for co-dependency, there have been times when I do accomodate others, including my parents, at the price of my own feelings but I think that is all part of compromise and loving and not necessarily co-dependent behavior. I see nothing wrong with a little sacrifice as long as that action is for the greatr good of your relationship and you are not forgoing something insurmountably important to you so that you harbor any sort of resentment or lose yourself in the process. It's a fine line, isn't it? :o)

To me, it has been quite alarming the comments I have sometimes gotten from friends and acquaintances asking me whether I ever get fed up of my parents or saying "it must really suck to have to live with them at this age". I wonder at what age your parents become a nuisance as opposed to those you respect and love most in the world. Perhaps it is a phase for some, part of the process of breaking free. But no matter how tough the times get, I never doubt that my place for now is with them.

Thanks for your thoughts, much appreciated.

And highlander, yes I absolutely speak Arabic.. Libyan too! ;o)

Redenclave, good for you.. I hope God blesses you and your parents and that you will always be able to enjoy each others'love and care..


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