The pattern I often see when helping others process an unwanted relationship with pornography is a correlation between addiction and the propensity toward emotionally enmeshed relationships. Pornography teaches us to relate with emotional fusion and an inability to differentiate in a healthy way (this is another aspect of PSR). This article will help define what emotional enmeshment is, and if we find ourselves in this type of relationship, how we can move beyond this co-dependent style of relating.

So, What Is Emotional Enmeshment?

Ross Rosenberg’s book, The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us, names a few indicators of an enmeshed relationship:

  • Neglecting other relationships because of obsession or concern about one relationship
  • Happiness being contingent upon the relationship
  • Self-esteem being contingent upon the relationship
  • Feeling excessive anxiety, fear or a compulsion to fix the problem whenever there is a disagreement in the relationship
  • A “feeling of loneliness pervading [your] psyche” when you are unable to be with the other person; this loneliness can “increase to the point of creating irrational desires to reconnect”
  • Feeling a “symbiotic emotional connection”; in other words, if your partner is angry, upset or depressed, you become angry, upset, or depressed
  • Feeling the overwhelming need to fix his/her situation and change his/her state of mind.

Just like pornography, there is an “all consuming” aspect to emotionally enmeshed relationships. There is an interlocking in which the two individuals become unrecognizable; you can no longer tell them apart. Feelings and emotions are dependent on those of the partner and no differentiation can be found.

Pornography and emotional enmeshment form a symbiotic relationship; both help reaffirm one’s reliance on the other. As I have discussed in other articles, pornography creates the much-needed escape from internal pain, and porn can temporarily soothe our wounds with care and precision. This begins the process of eroticizing our deepest pain. In our deepest agonies, porn appears as a healer. This experience marks our psyche, creating an unconscious emotional enmeshment, dependence, and obsession with women which later presents as co-dependence within relationships.

For example, as a youngster, when my parents were splitting up and no one was talking about what was going on, I felt crazy inside. Nothing was being defined for me, and I had yet to develop a languaged emotional world. Porn soothed, and then as I grew older real women served the same function for me. The adult addict unconsciously seeks wholeness from women; “Soothe me, comfort my insecurities and fears, make me whole just like porn did!”, thus beginning the emotional enmeshed style of relating. As pornography moves from the origin point of genuine curiosity into darker forms of entrapment, obsession becomes a core part of the addictive process. Over time it manifests and devours our very being. As this entanglement grows stronger, the addict seeks needy women to enmesh with, and the dependence of a pornographic fix (using a woman inappropriately) becomes greater.

This obsessed way of being bleeds out into our everyday styles of relating and we begin to live from this gripped place. This could be considered the “creep factor”, such as what you feel when observing a man stare unflinchingly at a woman as she walks by. This fixation becomes the fuel that drives the enmeshment. The addict thinks, “If I only had her, she could make me happy, she could make me whole.” His unconscious belief is that this woman has the power to mend an early childhood wound. Porn has soothed him so effectively in the moment that he comes to believe that a woman walking down the street can offer that same powerful relief. Even though the addict knows nothing about her, she may fit his pornographic fantasy structure, and like a charmed fairy-tale delusion, he believes they are meant to be together. He will obsess about her until enough time has passed or some life event snaps him back to reality. The addict then begins to scan his world until he transfers his fantasy onto someone else he unconsciously objectifies. This unhealthy pattern of moving from one fantasy target to another is part of the objectification of women and comes from a place of core wounding.

For us to end this unhealthy pattern of relating and begin to step into what is means to be relationally and sexual healthy we must continue to have courage in the face of our fear and engage our pain that grows beneath the porn.