Yet if there’s one thing I know with absolute certainty, both personally and professionally, it is this: Nothing will change in our lives until we change our own behavior. Insight won’t do it. Understanding why we do the self-defeating things we do won’t make us stop doing them. Nagging and pleading with the other person to change won’t do it. We have to act. We have to take the first step down a new road.

You can learn, but you’ve got to give yourself time to pick up the basics, to practice, and maybe even to fail once or twice.

Enmeshment creates almost total dependence on approval and validation from outside yourself. Lovers, bosses, friends, even strangers become the stand-in for parents. Adults like Kim who were raised in families where there was no permission to be an individual frequently become approval junkies, constantly seeking their next fix.

In fact, not only have a good many formerly abused children grown into nonabusing adults, but a number of these parents have great difficulty with even modest, nonphysical methods of disciplining their children. In rebellion against the pain of their own childhoods, these parents shy away both from setting limits and from enforcing them. This, too, can have a negative impact on a child’s development, because children need the security of boundaries. But

Unhealthy families discourage individual expression. Everyone must conform to the thoughts and actions of the toxic parents. They promote fusion, a blurring of personal boundaries, a welding together of family members. On an unconscious level, it is hard for family members to know where one ends and another begins. In their efforts to be close, they often suffocate one another’s individuality.