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Enmeshed family, a concept which arises from family systems theory, refers to a family in which the connections between family members are overly close – which can limit the individual growth and independence which can be critical to family business success.

Characteristics of an enmeshed family

Healthy psychological development includes achieving a level of emotional independence from one's family. When a person is "enmeshed" with their family, or when the family is "enmeshed", the family members are overly dependent on each other. This is reflected in behaviors such as discussing and sharing with family members almost all aspects of one's life, and seeking advice from family members on most issues -- rather than also having friends and confidants outside of the family. This is described as having permeable boundaries between family members. In enmeshed families, not sharing at an intimate level of detail is perceived as being overly private and as hostile. Highly enmeshed families are likely to have highly emotional interactions. Pursuing career paths outside of the family business may be discouraged in a highly enmeshed family. (Whiteside, Aronoff, & Ward, 1993).

Negative impact of an overly enmeshed family on the family business

For an enmeshed family-in-business, the parents are likely to make all of the important decisions and to indirectly discourage the independence and development of their children. The adult children are often reluctant to disobey their parents for fear of losing financial support from the business. In these circumstances the adult children are prone to depression, substance abuse, and marital problems. (Nelton).

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Categories: Family Functioning