The Surprising Truth About Enmeshment Trauma and Dismissiveness
Updated: Mar 6
Emotional unavailability is not hard to spot. The minute you hit a sore spot of someone who struggles with managing their feelings, they will usually clam up, disappear, change the subject, make a joke, become more macho, deny your observations, and/or call them unimportant.
All of this is intended to hide their confusion, discomfort, or deeper feelings of fear or inadequacy behind a mask of self-importance or authority. (But if you know how ego defenses work, it only lights up their insecurities like a Christmas tree.)
These behaviors are what we generally think of when we think of “dismissiveness.” And since these are tendencies of individuals with avoidant attachment, they are often called “dismissive-avoidant.”
But this is not the only way dismissiveness expresses itself.
There are many subtle ways in which dismissiveness disguises itself as selflessness or even loving regard, especially in enmeshed families and relationships, which can foster anxious attachment.
Here are some statements that illustrate the day-to-day communications of enmeshment trauma:
“What are you going to wear? Oh, you like that...? Hm. No, it’s fine....but try this one. Yeah, that’s better. No trust me, you can’t see yourself, you want to wear this one. I’ll even buy it for you. It would make mom so happy to see this on you. Much better than the one you picked out.”
“Your such a sweet kid. Not like your father. He doesn’t know how to listen. Did you see how he treated me last week? I don’t know how I put up with it. Don’t you agree that he’s mistreating me? Your such a good child. Nothing like your father. He hasn’t even touched me in months...Don’t try to defend him, it’s not your job to police our marriage. But you prefer me, don’t you? After all the things I do for you? If he ever left, you know I’m the one that really cares about you. He’s not a real parent.”
“I don’t understand the big deal. I thought you wanted it done, so I did it. I thought you’d be happy! You should be grateful I care so much to do this for you. What do you mean I was the one that wanted it? We talked about this...of course you want it. It’s the best thing for us. Now you’re just changing your tune to get a rise out of me. You wanna feel like it was your idea so you can take the credit. Stop trying to control me.”
In each of these scenarios the speaker assumes they are sharing their love and confidence but what they are actually doing is dismissing the individuality of the other person, and ignoring important boundaries around...
* Personal preferences
* Physical appearance
* Other important relationships in the person’s life
* Degrees of emotional privacy
* The other person's wants
* The other person’s agency
All of this makes it feel unsafe to self advocate for threat of abandonment, scorn, disapproval, or being accused of malcontent and criticism.
This stems from an egocentric perspective that other people see, experience, and value things in the exact same way we do. But they don’t. No two people do! Not exactly.
And so, lovers who struggle with this will labor under ideas like; “if you loved me, you wouldn’t do that...” or “I know you better than you know yourself...” or “keeping [anything] private means you are lying or deceiving me...” or “You’re in, or you’re out; I have enough friends.”
Until we can begin to acknowledge how dismissiveness has confused our experience of boundaries, and by extension our own sense of self, it can be hard to show up authentically in loving relationships.
To learn more, check out this 2-minute video! And let me know your thoughts in the thread below.
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In love and abundance,
Briana MacWilliam ATR-BC, LCAT
Licensed and Board Certified Creative Arts Therapist
Author, Educator and Reiki Practitioner