Conversations about the religious and spiritual life on the other side of fundamentalism
170 & 171:  Enmeshed Family Systems, Differentiation and Faith Crisis:  A Discussion with Wendy Christian and Friends

170 & 171: Enmeshed Family Systems, Differentiation and Faith Crisis: A Discussion with Wendy Christian and Friends

Enmeshed by Les Chatfield @ Flickr

In this two part episode we hear the powerful stories of three anonymous guests who reflect on their experiences in enmeshed family systems.  Enmeshed families characteristically lack boundaries with each other and experience the  faith crisis or differentiation (the point at which individuals begin to see themselves differently from their families or church) of their loved ones as  problematic.   The result can be social shunning and shaming.   My three guests, Lacey, Paula and Delilah come from three different contexts but agree that their differentiation has been painful for all concerned. But they each come to surprisingly compassionate and soulful conclusions.

In the second part I speak with Manhattan based clinician Wendy Christian about the theory of enmeshed family systems and differentiation.  Differentiation we conclude is natural, normal and to be expected.  


Enmeshed Families
Wendy Christian


  1. Alma

    I’m enjoying this podcast so far and just finished the segment with Lacey. Really great thoughts and perspective. I’m finding this really helpful to shift my thinking and let go of the idea that I need my parents’ approval for my own decisions. One thing that stuck out to me at the end was that Lacey wishes concerned family would ask her, “how are you with God?” I just wanted to point out that this question seems like a fair question if you maintain a belief in God and Jesus. I am someone who has come through my faith transition as an agnostic-athiest, so I wanted to simply point out that depending on the individual’s experience, that question can still come off as a very judgmental question. In my case, if my family were to ask that, then my answer would still be unsatisfactory, and still a validation of their belief that I have really gone off the rails. Just wanted to share that perspective! Thanks for your voice and your thoughts! I’m really enjoying this episode!

  2. Azul

    I have listened to this podcast 2 times and can’t thank you and your guests enough for teaching me about and addressing these topics. I can now use the words: Differentiation and Individuation to better express and understand myself and others as well as my thoughts, feelings and situations that I’m grappling with. It is relieving and empowering to learn things that help me feel like I’m not alone or completely off course. I agree with Gina that this is sacred work- your words and efforts inspire, help and give me hope. There is no way to explain how grateful I am for all of your podcasts on this and other sites. Your insights have stretched and continue to stretch and open my mind. I feel that I am a better person for the things you have taught me.

  3. Luiza Kulchetscki

    I can relate so much to the things that were said here. Especially Paula’s innocently bringing up the topics of “pants to church” and “ordain women” at the dinner table, and being shocked by the family’s defensive response. So many similarities to my own story, I almost started laughing.

  4. StillConfused

    Thank you for this. I am not from the Utah/Mormon culture. Imagine my shock when I marry my husband and move into his house and then find that neighbors just walk in the house without knocking. In addition, they felt they had the right to an opinion on who my husband married. I spend the day just repeating the word “Boundaries.”!!!!!

  5. Cynthia

    As to the conversations about there is always a patriarch in the family, whether that be a brother or a father, I have seen this as well. My husband and I are in our 40s for heavens sake but his dad still thinks it’s his patriarchal duty to gather the family and lecture us on some gospel topic. (Thankfully we all live far apart so it only happens at reunions every two years.) My husband finally said to his dad that that isn’t his place, at the very least it’s not his place with me, his daughter in law. His father disagreed! Have we lost our minds? I marry their son and by default he has stewardship over me?! Blew me away. My father would never do such an arrogant thing with his grown up kids.

  6. Jen

    Thank you so much for these two episodes. This is what my faith transition has been about the last 5 years. It has resulted in my life changing in major ways, for the better. It has been difficult to find LDS people who understand these concepts. I am not participating in the ward for all the reasons described at the end of the second episode. I am not healed enough, or fully grasping what has happened, or good enough at setting boundaries, to attend church. I hope one day to be there. It takes time to learn about this, it takes time to grow new spiritual muscles, it takes time to overcome trauma associated with enmeshed families. There were a few things that could be further discussed- bishops’ role in dispelling enmeshment, enmeshment as an aspect of abusive (mental, physical, sexual) relationships, and the dysfunctional ways we attempt to cope (addiction, depression, even borderline personality disorder) which can guide us towards the revelation that the system is unhealthy, not necessarily us as individuals.

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