Collapsed Boundaries–Family Issues in Treatment

Collapsed boundaries occur in many situations and conditions, but are especially significant in addiction and codependency. Families in which addiction and codependency are active are particularly prone to these types of interpersonal dynamics. Essentially, people who have collapsed boundaries find themselves ‘merged’ with others, having an indistinct sense of self and trouble acting in independent ways that are age appropriate. These types of relationships are also often called enmeshed–meaning that individuals have very little sense of being separate from others.

Collapsed boundaries serve several purposes in families that are suffering with addiction and codependency. They help quell the sense of aloneness that family members feel in situations of chronic and prolonged stress, for example. Enmeshment is a form of ‘huddling’ together for comfort, but does little to nothing to make progress toward solving the problem. Rather, it is a way to maintain the status quo of a broken and traumatized group.

Signs of Collapsed Boundaries

The presence of collapsed boundaries are indicated by:

  • Tolerating abuse
  • Lack of privacy
  • Taking on the problems of others
  • Taking on the values, opinions, feelings and beliefs of others
  • Over sharing of personal information
  • Forming quick bonds
  • Remaining loyal when it is harmful to do so
  • Pleasing others at one’s own expense
  • Fearing rejection and abandonment
  • Complying with others’ wishes despite not wanting to
  • Avoiding conflict at all costs
  • Having power imbalances in relationships
  • Feeling overly responsible for other people
  • Distrusting one’s own perceptions, judgement and intuition

Effects of Collapsed Boundaries

People with collapsed boundaries seek comfort in their enmeshment, but their efforts are not successful. This is because enmeshment in one’s family prevents natural growth and development toward independent and mature living. It is natural for us to grow up and create our own families. People with collapsed boundaries may create their own families, but not be able to fully separate as healthy adults from their families of origin.

The signs of collapsed boundaries are telling and illustrate the many problems people with collapsed boundaries can have if the issues are not treated and resolved. For example, people with collapsed boundaries tend to experience:

  • Anxiety, resentment, anger, fear and depression
  • Everyday life as depleting and draining
  • Little pleasure, respite, security or lasting comfort
  • Suppressed personal values, goals, morals, feelings, opinions and beliefs
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Difficulty following through with age and developmentally appropriate tasks
  • Inability to separate from toxic relationships and situations
  • Fear of forming relationships that pull one away from the family