​Phone: 631.332.2213
Email: Suezola@me.com
Licensed in New York and Florida


What is Enmeshment?   

“A condition in which two or more people, typically family members, are involved in each other’s activities and personal relationships to an excessive degree, thus limiting or precluding healthy interaction and compromising individual autonomy and identity.” - American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology 

According to author Dr. Kenneth Adams, 

Enmeshed Sons 
Boys can become enmeshed with either or both parents, but more typically become enmeshed with their mother. A boy who has played the role of surrogate companion to his mother feels engulfed, enmeshed, smothered, and intruded upon. His wants and needs have merged with hers and the boy’s identity is lost. Burdened with excessive feelings of guilt and disloyalty regarding their own wishes, these men have lost their sense of self and submerged their most basic needs and wants.

Characteristics of enmeshed sons: 

  • True self is unable to unfold and goes into hiding and a false, people-pleasing self emerges
  • Sensitive and empathetic caretaker role becomes overdeveloped and central to identity
  • Rebellious adolescent identity
  • Ambivalence in commitments
  • Struggle to fully commit to a relationship leaving spouse or partners feeling “second fiddle”
  • Having learned to compromise, accommodate or submit to his mother, leading to do the same with others, enmeshed men tend to resent and pull away or attack
  • Lack of differentiation between self and others, creating difficulties with internal and external boundaries (Your problems become my problems)
  • Choosing romantic partners that don’t represent a threat or challenge to the parent
  • Failing to pursue or commit to a workable relationship
  • Sexuality is filled with intense conflict and shrouded in danger, taboo, ambivalence, and shame
  • Development of a sex addiction as an escape from engulfment, or to discharge pent up anger
  • Sexually shut down and avoidant with primary partner as a means of protection
  • Compulsively attuned to the feelings and needs of others, or, some men may dismiss and become insensitive to protect self
  • Picks friends to take care of, rescue and emotionally and/or financially support
  • Overly competitive with men, but has many female friends
  • Unable to commit to friends, thereby losing friendships over time
  • Choosing a career to please parent
  • Not pursuing dreams or overcompensating with work due to feelings of disempowerment
  • Overly involved and dependent on family business at a cost to true self
  • Pushing their children towards the enmeshing parent to deflect away from their own enmeshment
  • Over involvement in their child’s life, repeating the generational enmeshment
Enmeshed Daughters 
Daughters can be enmeshed with either or both parents. The daughter who is her mother’s companion to replace her absent father may over-identify with the mother’s anger and distrust of men and relationships. She may overeat as a way to exert control in the face of feeling smothered by her mothers’ neediness. Daughters who play the role of daddy’s girl may be enmeshed with him in a more romantic way due to him displacing his needs for companionship onto her. She may act this romanticized relationship out in sex and love addiction patterns.

The following are some common characteristics of enmeshed daughters: 
  • Perfectionism
  • Excessive Caretaking
  • Lack of differentiation between self & others
  • Over-reliance on parents into adulthood
  • Poor internal and external boundaries
  • No clear sense of who one is
  • Fear of intimacy
  • Love addiction: obsession with fantasy & rescue
  • Lowered expectations of romantic needs being fulfilled
  • Tolerance of poor treatment by others
  • Codependence & emotional care-taking
  • Overbearing (e.g.,becoming a mother to a partner)
  • Confuse sex for love
  • Self-objectification
  • Hypersexual or sexually avoidant
  • Increased risk of being sexually victimized
  • May utilize sex as a form of power
  • Food restriction may serve as way to control how much “mothering” gets in for mother-enmeshed women
  • May exhibit covert aggression toward female friends
  • Competition masked as friendship
  • May be more comfortable with male friends
  • Likely to hold back and not shine brighter than friends
  • May befriend women who they perceive to be less attractive or threatening
  • May feel overwhelmed by the duties of parenting and need to be emotionally present
  • May be dependent on their own children for unmet needs
  • May entrap children into same pattern of enmeshment

Enmeshed Families  
“Many enmeshed families have the following characteristics in common:
  • Strong demands for loyalty to the family and shared reality of the family systems member’s roles and obligations imposed by those in charge
  • Demands accompanied by messages of guilt and prohibitions against outside friends and activities
  • Time together is maximized and little alone time is permitted
  • Excessive dependency between members
  • Obligation to take care of a parent at a cost to their own life and relationships
  • Spouses and partners of adults enmeshed with a parent* feeling “second fiddle” with little voice in important matters affecting the couple
*Parent-child enmeshment can be between mother and son, mother and daughter, father and daughter, and/or father and son” 


1. Men’s Enmeshment Impact Survey - Click here to go to Survey
2. Womens Enmeshment Impact Survey -
Click here to go to Survey
3. Enmeshment Resilience Questionnaire (ERQ) - Click here to go to Survey

1. SEX, LOVE, AND ADDICTION - When You Aren’t Your Mother’s Boyfriend with Dr. Ken Adams - "Rob welcomes friend and colleague Dr. Ken Adams. They discuss signs and examples of mother-enmeshed men and how it relates to sexual addiction and intimacy. problems. Dr. Adams shares his knowledge on the evolution of our sexuality, the steps to emancipation, and some gold nuggets of wisdom on what to expect if you are involved with an enmeshed man."

2. SEX, LOVE, AND ADDICTION - The Ripples Effects of Adult Children of Sex Addicts with Dr. Ken Adams - "Dr. Ken M. Adams began his professional career in 1981 treating children, adolescents, and their families. In 1985 he began private practice with the Children of Alcoholic Parents program, an outpatient program for the treatment of adults who had grown up in alcoholic families. He is a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT), a CSAT supervisor, and CSAT training facilitator as well as an EMDR practitioner. In this episode, Dr. Ken gives an overview on what an enmeshment relationship looks like, his latest book catered specifically for adult children of sex addicts, and talks about how to recover from a broken home."

In anticipation of the release of A Light in the Dark: The Hidden Legacy of Adult Children of Sex Addicts, Dr. Kenneth Adam's is conducting survey research on Adult Children of of Sex Addicts (ACSA). If either yourself, or someone you know fits the criteria, please complete the survey HERE .

 All submissions will be kept anonymous.

Your feedback is appreciated! The book will be officially released in February 2023. If you would like to learn more about the book and be added to the notification list, please send an email to dradamsworkshops@gmail.com.
If you would like additional information on individual or group consultation with Dr. Adams and/or further education on enmeshment, please send an email to dradamsworkshops@gmail.com.


Dr. Kenneth M. Adams Books on Enmeshment  

"Did you have a parent whose love for you felt more confining than freeing, more demanding than giving, more instrusive than nurturing? Did you feel trapped in a "psychological marriage" with this parent? If so, you may be a victim of covert incest. Identification of this kind of incest is difficult, since covert incest victims often feel idealized and privileged, not violated and abused. In Silently Seduced, Dr. Adams, through illustrative case examples and perceptive insight, provides covert incest victims a framework to understand what happened to them, how their lives and relationships continue to be affected and how to begin the process of recovery."

Excerpt from book – "Covert incest occurs when a child becomes the object of a parent’s affection, love, passion, and preoccupation. The parent, motivated by the loneliness and emptiness created by a chronically troubled marriage or relationship, makes the child a surrogate partner. The boundary between caring and incestuous love is crossed when the child exists to meet the needs of the parent rather than the child."

"A practical, compassionate relationship guide for women who are involved with mother-enmeshed men, mothers who wish to set their sons free, and men dealing with issues of commitment, sex addiction, and unhealthy attachments. Why can't he commit? Many women find themselves asking this question when in love with a man who won't get married, won't stop womanizing, or refuses to give up his sex addictions. Often this kind of man is bound by an unhealthy attachment to his mother. This phenomenon is called "mother-son enmeshment." In When He's Married to Mom, clinical psychologist and renowned intimacy expert Dr. Kenneth M. Adams goes beyond the stereotypes of momma's boys and meddling mothers to explain how mother-son enmeshment affects everyone: the mother, the son, and the woman who loves him."                                                                                                                  

Excerpt from book – In his unconscious – and sometimes conscious – mind, a mother-enmeshed man is representing his mother’s interests, while his own have become secondary. If he does something he thinks she wouldn’t like, he feels disloyal to her. If he “gets serious” about a woman, suddenly, without understanding why, he is overwhelmed with feelings of fear, anxiety, and guilt. Ambivalence and withdrawal inevitably follow. 

"This is the first comprehensive volume of the clinical management of sex addiction. Collecting the work of 28 leaders in this emerging field, the editors provide a long-needed primary text about how to approach treatment with these challenging patients. The book serves as an excellent introduction for professionals new to the field as well as serving as a useful reference tool. The contributors are literally the pioneers of one of the last frontiers of addiction medicine and sex therapy."

Excerpt from book – Sexual addiction can best be conceptualized as an intimacy disorder manifested as a compulsive cycle of preoccupation, ritualization, sexual behavior, and despair. Central to the disorder is the inability of the individual to adequately bond and attach in intimate relationships. The origin of the disorder is rooted in early attachment failure with primary caregivers. Sexual addiction becomes a way to compensate for this early attachment failure.

Dr. Kenneth M. Adams Workshops

  1. Reclaiming Your Voice: Empowering Partners of Enmeshed Adults - A Workshop for Partners of Enmeshed Adults - Facilitated by our Women Finding Freedom Workshop’s Erin Wysong Warren, LPC Supervisor, CSAT, CPTT, the 2-day workshop is intended for partners of adults enmeshed with a parent or family that report feeling marginalized and second in importance compared to the parent or family of their spouse/partner. They have lost a sense of their value and legitimacy in their relationship. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER 
This educational workshop will help spouses or partners of enmeshed adults: 
  • Understand the lack of commitment on behalf of their partner
  • Reduce confusion, personalization, and feelings of diminishment
  • Face the impact of enmeshment and receive support and validation for losses that have occurred
  • Clarify desires and needs in the relationship
  • Create a self-care plan

  1. Mother-Enmeshed Men- From Guilt and Ambivalence to Passion and Purpose-Recovery Enhancement for Mother-Enmeshed Men - Men who have had an enmeshed relationship with their mother struggle with a range of problems regarding commitment, self-esteem, sexual dysfunction, over-caretaking, and addiction.  CLICK HERE TO REGISTER 
This workshop enables them to:
  • Identify the trappings of enmeshment;
  • Understand the impact of enmeshment on their erotic template;
  • Cope with underlying anger & guilt;
  • Develop strategies to help them to break free from inappropriate loyalties and learn to live within healthy commitments.

  1. Women Finding Freedom- The Invisible Betrayal of Parental Enmeshment- This online educational workshop will be facilitated by Erin Wysong-Warren, LPC-Supervisor, CSAT, CPTT through Zoom and has been designed to assist women to focus on specific issues they confront when dealing with their enmeshment. Women who have had an enmeshed relationship with either their mother or father and struggle with a range of problems regarding commitment, self-esteem, sexual dysfunction, over-caretaking, and addiction will benefit from this session. This is a uniquely designed workshop specifically for women and is limited to 3-4 women per workshop. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER
This online educational session enables women to:
  • Identify the cognitive, emotional, physical, and interpersonal trappings of enmeshment
  • Understand the impact of enmeshment on their sexuality
  • Cope with underlying feelings of obligation, anger, and guilt
  • Develop strategies to help them to break free from inappropriate loyalties and learn to live within healthy commitments
  • Rediscover the individual they were meant to be
  • Cultivate self-care, spontaneity, and play

  1. How to Put Your Love Relationship First- Couples Recovering from the Impact of the Enmeshment- Facilitated by Amanda Chinchilla, MS, LMFT, CSAT, this intensive Zoom workshop is intended to help maintain the boundaries created in Level 1 and foster a healthy relationship with passion and purpose for both individuals. It is focused on creating a space that is free from the burden of enmeshment and to help unburden the collection of grievances gathered along the way. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER
This workshop enables them to:
  • Re-establish boundaries that honor the love relationship as the priority
  • Develop an alliance in the face of enmeshment that leads to greater intimacy and love
  • Create a couples template that guides you in learning to visit and detach from taking on the problems of the enmeshing parent and family

Dr. Kenneth Adams Contact Information:
Website Link: 
Phone: (248) 398-0740 ext 1
Text:(734) 215-5825

CLICK HERE to go to Dr. Kenneth Adam's Youtube Channel

Disclaimer: Information on this website page "Enmeshment" is provided by Dr. Kenneth Adams and his website overcomingenmeshment.com.

Adult Children of Sex Addicts Meeting - 
This *NEW* Adult Children of Sex Addicts Meeting is open to COSAs who identify as being affected by childhood caregivers or members of your family of origin. Open to anyone affected by sexual compulsive behavior including members of other Twelve Step programs. If you are not sure and are exploring whether you may have been affected by compulsive sexual behavior in this way, you are welcome to attend.  



1. adultchildrenofsexaddicts.com
2. overcomingenmeshment.com


1. Understanding Enmeshment with Dr. Ken Adams - The Adult Chair with Michelle Chalfant - "“Enmeshment” is a term that’s been gaining more traction recently, and it describes family systems that are intertwined in unhealthy ways. These families appear very loving from the outside, but that love is often based on guilt and obligation...and usually the family doesn’t even know this about themselves! My brilliant guest today, Dr. Ken Adams, is pulling back the veil on enmeshment and helping us understand what it is and when and how it forms. One of the leading researchers and teachers on this topic, Dr. Adams helps us understand when closeness crosses a line, how to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy family structures and how to break free and develop secure attachments to your partner, friends or other relationships you’ve created."

2. Ending Family Enmeshment with The Holistic Psychologist - The Mark Groves Podcast -"Dr Nicole LePera @the.holistic.psychologist is truly a game changer in the world of psychology and mental wellness. I was so honoured to join her and discuss her very personal journey into becoming the holistic psychologist and her movement for self-healing. Dr LePera opens up with us on her own childhood, her working through familial enmeshment and codependency, and her foundational practices for self care that are so crucial for every one of us. It is a truly courageous journey to confront the harm we may face within our own family unit, and to break free from bonds that may feel impossible to change. I hope that for anyone who is struggling with difficult or enmeshed family patterns, the wisdom of Dr LePera gives you renewed hope for a future of freedom to be your true self."

3. Enmeshment Trauma and Its Impact - Close the Chapter Podcast with Kristen Boice - "In this episode, Kristen talks about enmeshment trauma and its impact on your relationships, and how you can heal from it.
You'll Learn:
  • What is enmeshment trauma
  • Effects of enmeshment trauma in families
  • Signs of enmeshment and how to set boundaries
  • How to heal from enmeshment trauma"
4. Parent-Child Enmeshment with Dr. Margaret Rutherford - One Broken Mom Podcast Hosted by Amee Quiriconi - "In this episode, you will hear:
  • Is there really a fine line between a healthy connection and enmeshment? 
  • Margaret's personal experiences with enmeshment
  • The relationship of narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder with enmeshment
  • What are the major consequences to adult children from an enmeshed relationship with a parent"
5. Boundaries and Enmeshment - Zen Parenting Radio - "Zen Parenting is a weekly online radio discussion between a spiritual and emotional mom (Cathy Cassani Adams) and a logical and practical dad (Todd Adams). Cathy and Todd kick-off boundaries month by discussing internal boundaries and the clinical understanding of family enmeshment. They discuss how we take on other people’s emotions, why it’s hard for us to be happy if the ones we love aren’t happy, and how to take care of ourselves while we take care of others."

6. What is Enmeshment? - Heal the Hurt Podcast - "Enmeshment is mischaracterized as a loving, loyal, tight-knit family protecting the child. In fact, it is psychological and emotional incest through the parents' behaviors, communication style, and actions and is very similar to codependence. The parent uses the child for intimacy, companionship, romantic attachment, advice, problem-solving, ego fulfillment, or emotional release. They are primarily unconscious that they have unmet emotional needs and are severely broken because our society and the media have not educated them. Few parents who are guilty of emotional incest realize they are harming their children. Many of them see themselves as devoted, self-sacrificing parents acting in their children's best interests. What they don't realize is that they are using the relationships to satisfy their own unmet needs."

7. Gateways to Awakening Podcast - Enmeshment and Healthy Boundaries with Dr. Kenneth Adams - "Enmeshment and healthy boundaries are a topic of interest for many of us, as our family dynamics often contribute to our inability to show up in our romantic relationships. In today’s episode, I speak with Dr. Kenneth M. Adams who began his professional career in 1981 treating children, adolescents, and their families. Dr. Adams created and facilitates the Enmeshment Workshops: From Guilt and Ambivalence to Passion and Purpose to help those struggling to break free from enmeshment. In 1985 he began a private practice with the Children of Alcoholic Parents program, an outpatient program for the treatment of adults who had grown up in alcoholic families. It was there that he began to notice that many of these clients had addictions and enmeshment issues, two of his primary specialties today."

8. The Addicted Mind Podcast - Too Close – Parental Enmeshment & Addiction with Dr. Kenneth Adams - 
"Our guest on this episode of The Addicted Mind podcast is Dr. Ken Adams, a therapist specializing in the area of parental enmeshment and its connection to compulsive behaviors such as porn and sex addiction. All families are defined by the balance of closeness and separate between the members. Enmeshed families overemphasize their closeness, resulting in the parents controlling the decisions of their children, demanding their loyalty, prohibiting them from becoming involved with friends or activities outside of the family, and using guilt as a punishment for trying to separate any part of their lives from their parents. It is not uncommon for the parents in these types of families to treat the children as a surrogate husband or wife, expecting the child to fulfill their emotional needs."

9. If You Knew Me Podcast with Jamie Yuenger and Guest Dr. Ken Adams - "What if We're Angry with the Wrong Person?" - "Enmeshment runs rampant in families. If you grew up in a family with enmeshed issues, you have likely continued that pattern in your adult romantic relationships. Dr. Kenneth M. Adams is a clinical psychologist specializing in enmeshment, addictions and covert incest. He is the author of Silently Seduced: When Parents Make Their Children Partners and When He’s Married to Mom.
In this episode, our host Jamie Yuenger speaks with Dr. Adams about the following topics:
  • What enmeshment is and how it plays out in our families of origin
  • Why enmeshment is harmful to our relationships
  • How enmeshment later effects our adult, romantic relationships
  • Why enmeshment often leads us to feel angry with the wrong people
  • How you can overcome enmeshment
  • How you can spot if you partner has an enmeshed relationship with his/her parents"


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Susan Zola, LCSW, CCPS, CSAT

T: 631-332-2213
E: suezola@me.com
Licensed in the State of New York, the State of Florida, the State of Connecticut, the State of Maine, the State of Texas, and the State of Massachusetts.
License Pending IN: New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Arizona.


Bachelor of Arts, Psychology – SUNY Binghamton, 1980
Master of Social Work – Adelphi University School of Social Work, 1982.
Private Practice – "Mind Over Matters," 2006.
LCSW License #078530-1
APSATS The Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists
Certified Sex Addiction Therapist
The International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals
Certified Clinical Partner Specialist

Susan Zola Clinical Partner Certification
Couples Therapy IITAP/CSAT

Susan Zola, LCSW, CCPS, CSAT
Licensed in New York, Florida, Connecticut, Maine, Texas, and Massachusetts

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