Why Does Family Closeness Become Suffocating?

Suffocating family closeness is one in which all members know everything about everyone, so there's no individuality. Learn more.
Why Does Family Closeness Become Suffocating?
Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 07 July, 2023

Family closeness implies the exchange and mutual care of the members of the group. Feeling a certain closeness to our loved ones is necessary to experience affection, to feel valued, and to develop, among other things. However, this can reach extremes that aren’t positive or healthy. Let’s see what to do when family closeness becomes suffocating.

What is family closeness?

Generally speaking, a family has different functions: Caring for its members, socialization, and education. According to Minuchin, a psychologist, expert in family therapy, and creator of the systemic structural approach, a family is “the natural group that develops interaction patterns over time and tends towards conservation and evolution.”

This social group establishes rules on how to behave. Therefore, this family relationship can be balanced, or it can be so invasive that it functions as a clan. From Systemic Psychology, family closeness that becomes suffocating could correspond to what’s identified as an “agglutinate family”. This refers to a type of family where there are no boundaries: everything is shared, and everything is known. When one of the members tries to keep something to themself, they’re perceived as disloyal.

In clustered families, there’s no room for individuality. The group is above the needs or interests of anyone in particular. For example, such is the level of “crowding” that it’s common for people to have no privacy. For example, they enter each other’s rooms without knocking and interrupt one another no matter what they’re doing. For this reason, they’re also known as “open-door” families.

A man sitting between two woman, looking frustrated and overwhelmed.
When family closeness has no limits and there’s no room for individuality or being different, it feels suffocating.

When is family closeness suffocating?

There are different reasons why family closeness becomes suffocating:

  • Loss of identity: Family members define themselves in terms of the family. They have no narrative about themselves, as there’s little or no space for personal exploration. For example, it can be noticed in conversations: “Because we like it” or “we do”, without referring to one’s self.
  • Overprotection: It’s difficult to make decisions under one’s own criteria.
  • There’s an opinion on everything: There’s excessive involvement. Everyone has the right to comment on your life and what happens to you. Even if you ask for confidentiality, it won’t be respected.
  • Lack of consideration and respect for new ideas: Everything that’s strange or foreign to the group is rejected a priori. People who try to join the group, such as the partner of a member, are first put under the magnifying glass to see if they deserve to be trusted.
  • Punishment for disobedience and rebellion: Not agreeing with the mandates of the group is experienced as disloyalty. This gives rise to manipulation, hurtful comments, and claims such as “We were always here for you and this is how you repay us?”
  • There are no hierarchies: As there are no boundaries, in terms of roles, parents are equivalent to their children and vice versa. In this regard, it’s common for an adult to share conversations with children on topics that, in reality, correspond to the couple. Or for a child to make decisions or give opinions on matters that aren’t their responsibility.

In short, family closeness becomes suffocating because it poses only one position: That of the group.

What to do when family closeness is suffocating

Here are some recommendations when you feel uncomfortable with family closeness.

Work through the guilt

You may hear some accusatory comments when you try to set boundaries. However, it’s important that you establish them in order to achieve a respectful relationship in which you feel comfortable.

Accept the good of the group and the need to have your own space

Intimacy and the choosing to share certain experiences with other people has to be our own decision. It’s our right to open up or not. This implies that, at times, you’ll need the group, but at other times, you’ll prefer not to submit what you feel or what happens to you to “public opinion”. Learn to respect yourself.

Live with the pain of change

It’s important to know that, when you embark on the path of differentiating yourself, some discomfort and anguish will arise. Instead of avoiding making a decision to avoid facing this situation, you have to know that, sooner or later, this pain will eventually arrive. In this regard, you should know that change is a crisis, but a crisis is also an opportunity.

A man and woman sitting on opposite ends of the same couch, looking off in opposite directions.
Some resentment may appear when you realize that you lost an opportunity by not standing up to your family, or you may feel the pain of losing the support of your loved ones.

Spend time doing activities for yourself

Try to have time and space to get to know yourself. For example, you can do a variety of activities to explore what interests you most. In this way, you can begin, little by little, to build your identity.

Before you act, ask yourself what you would do

It’s important to question those decisions that seem natural or obvious. Sometimes they’re part of your repertoire of known answers. So, you can take a few minutes and try to connect with what appeals to you.

Get therapy

Group/family therapy would be best. However, if this isn’t possible, individual therapy can also provide you with tools.

You may be interested in: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape: The Burden of Dysfunctional Families

For healthy family relationships

For a good family relationship, it’s important to strike a balance between the personal and the collective. Understand that each person is unique and needs their own time and space. To be at ease, it’s important not to feel pressured to do something you don’t want to do. From these family relationships, we also learn models for other types of relationships. Hence the importance of teaching values such as acceptance of difference, autonomy, and respect.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Espinal, I., Gimeno, A., & González, F. (2006). El enfoque sistémico en los estudios sobre la familia. Revista internacional de sistemas14(4), 21-34.
  • Minuchin, S. (1986). Familias y Terapia Familiar, Barcelona, Gedisa.
  • González García, Clara Martha, & González García, Silvia Isabel. (2008). Un enfoque para la evaluación del funcionamiento familiar. Revista Mexicana de Orientación Educativa6(15), 2-7. Recuperado em 23 de abril de 2023, de http://pepsic.bvsalud.org/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1665-75272008000200002&lng=pt&tlng=es.
  • Durán Torres, S., Bray, J. H., Rivera Aragón, S., Reyes Lagunes, I., & Selicoff Kuhlman, H. (2012). La Autoridad Personal en el Sistema Familiar: Adaptación y Validación a la Población Mexicana. Acta de Investigación Psicológica – Psychological Research Records, 2(2),665-686.[fecha de Consulta 23 de Abril de 2023]. ISSN: 2007-4832. Recuperado de: https://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=358933341006
  • Minuchin, S. y Fishman, Ch. (1993). Técnicas de terapia familiar. México: Paidós.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.