Consumed By You, Consumed by Me: Engulfment

Love vs. Obsession. This may be where I confuse the two. I didn’t have a term for it before, but Engulfment seems to fit with Borderline Personality Disorder, many Personality Disorders actually.
Engulfment – Engulfment is an unhealthy and overwhelming level of attention and dependency on a spouse, partner or family member. It’s a distortion of reality in the mind, in which the status of a relationship takes an inappropriate level of priority over the every day, physical and emotional needs of those involved. A level of crisis is inferred on the status of the relationship and a “fix-it-at-all-costs” strategy is deployed to deal with any weaknesses in the relationship – real or imagined.
There is often immense pressure placed on those being engulfed to behave in ways that put them at the center of the PD’s world. They may demand time, resources, commitment and devotion beyond what is healthy. Relationships with outsiders, family and friends may be seen as threats and be frowned upon, resulting in Alienation. Even normal habits or routines, such as work, hobbies, interests which take a Non-PD’s attention and energy away from the PD-sufferer may appear threatening. Acts of independence by that person may be met with begging, argument, threats, even acts of retribution and violence.
People who are on the receiving end of engulfment may find themselves compromising other relationships or competing interests in order to “keep the peace” with a partner or family member who is embroiled in engulfment. They may fear the consequences of displaying independent thought or action. They may fear violence, intimidation or rage if they do not give the person what they want. They may long to leave the relationship but be afraid of the consequences if they do.
I’ve only really done this twice; with my high school best friend/boyfriend (whom I won’t talk about) and with Evil-Ex. With Evil-Ex it went both ways. In the ebb and flow of our dependence and counter dependence; the emotional highs and lows, it would be one or the other of us that tried to hold on. The more evasive and subversive he was, the harder I would hold on, trying to fix everything, trying to compensate for anything that I perceived as needing to be fixed; the more I would try to engage him in our relationship. When I had enough, or needed my own space to find myself, when I was my typical strong assertive self, in other words, when it appeared I didn’t need him, the tables would turn and he would try to engulf me. It was a game for him. For me it was like oxygen. I needed him to keep breathing normally. He needed me to assuage his own ego.
When things were rocky it was like someone clutching my heart in a death grip and drowning it in a bath of ice. My lungs would constrict and I couldn’t think of anything but making whatever wrong I had done, right. It was unendurable panic. All I wanted was for things to ‘be back to normal’. The more he would sneak around; the more he would try to make me feel crazy, jealous, worthless, the more I wanted to prove him wrong. To prove him wrong, I had to fix whatever little flaw I thought he saw. My self-worth rode on the approval I received for doing something that brought back the balance. What I couldn’t understand at the time was; there was never a balance in the first place. There was only him driving me to madness and me wrapping the insanity around me like a shroud.
That’s what being engulfed in someone feels like. It’s an obsession. A thick fog of madness clouding your mind where the rest of the world becomes occluded in the mist and you can only see the figure you focus on two feet in front of you. Nothing more, nothing less; nothing else matters. All the while trying to maintain a grip on who you are. Wanting more than life itself to have the person you love, love you back, treat you well, do you right, without having to lose who you are in the process. Except exerting who you are, who I was, was exactly the thing he did not want to see. He wanted me to be the ideal picture of a hot brainiac gamer chick that was utterly devoted to him. Anything other than that; having anything in my world other than him, was proof that I was out to do something against him. If I wanted to have my own friends, it was because I wanted to cheat on him. If I wanted to stay in and watch a movie, it was because I wanted to keep him from his friends. Just small examples of his logic. To be honest there were times I didn’t want him to go out without me. Though in my defense, often I knew when he went out he did it with the intention of cheating on me, or playing games with girls to boost his own ego. I should have left, but I couldn’t, so I went crazy instead.
Everything he did was ‘for’ the relationship or for tearing it apart. Or so it seemed to me. Even when they were simply everyday things that had nothing to do with anything. All actions felt like they had impact on ‘us’.
My world became filled with self doubt. I would compromise anything that I wanted simply to keep some stability and ward of retribution as he was a very vengeful person be the slight real or imagined. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t make him happy? What was wrong with me, that he would do these things, look for these things elsewhere, instead of with me? The honest answer: It was him, not me. Oh yes. I acted in ways to hold onto him that were less than acceptable and no, I couldn’t extricate him from any aspect of my life, but not until he had burrowed himself in and pushed my buttons so far inside of me that I didn’t know how to trip the switch to my own sanity.
Of course, my ex was a malignant narcissist. Not exactly the pinnacle of normalcy in his own right, which probably contributed to why our cycles of love and hate perpetuated as long as they did.
The real bitch of it all… I rarely felt so alive. All the craze, all the torture, all the heart pounding highs and crushing lows, I knew, without a doubt knew, what it was to be living again. He’d taken away the numbness I felt, the empty hollow life I had been living and filled that shell with something so devastatingly exhilarating that I was afraid to stop feeling again. Despite the fact that what I was feeling was making me fall freely to my own early grave.
I knew this and I would assert myself once more. This only worked to make him angry, worked against me. He couldn’t control me directly, so he worked to control me in other ways. Had I been a weaker person and allowed him to mold me into the placid plastic doll that he wanted me to be, I could have saved myself so much heartache. I wouldn’t allow it. I won’t allow it. No one will ever tell me who I am allowed to be, who I’m supposed to be. If I choose to change that’s one thing, but it will be my choice, or at least, doing by my own hand subconscious or otherwise. There are times I would be what he wanted me to be, but I wouldn’t give up myself completely. It wouldn’t have mattered if I had. I knew this. It would have ended things sooner had I given in, given up; he’d have gotten bored. So would I.
No matter the trauma and abuse, I fought. I fought for him, or I just plain fought him. That’s how consumed I was with our relationship. And nothing anyone could tell me could make me feel that this was not what I wanted, despite the fact that cognitively I knew, I TOLD myself, that things were not okay. When you’re engulfed by someone, with someone, there’s no logic, there’s only the feeling of utter consumption.
Engulfment is the loss of self through being controlled, consumed, invaded, suffocated, dominated, and swallowed up by another. Fortunately it is possible to extricate yourself. It’s not easy, but eventually there comes a point where you just can’t take anymore. One person or the other needs to take a stand.

Be Assertive, not Passive-Aggressive

I did a lot of reading on recognizing and working through passive aggressive behavior and found many good resources in general (not just for the personality disordered).

“Individuals with PAPD experience an undercurrent of perpetual inner turmoil and anxiety. They appear unable to manage their moods, thoughts, and desires internally which results in emotional instability. They suffer a range of intense and conflicting emotions that surge quickly to the surface due to weak controls and lack of self-discipline. They have few unconscious processes they can employ to manage their feelings which emerge into behavior unconcealed, untransformed, and unmoderated. Without self-management skills, PAPD affect tends to be expressed in a pure and direct form, no matter what the consequences (Millon, 1981, p. 256).”

People act in Passive-Aggressive ways because they fear abandonment and rejection. They are afraid that if they express their dissatisfaction, than the other person will take offense, and leave. Or get angry. Or lash back. It all boils down to fear.

Fear is something that we all share. However it is not something that should rule our lives or our actions.

Sharing a common understanding of the origins of this behavior can provide a basis for understanding one another. When we look at it from this perspective, that we share something in common, we can begin to work through these issues together.

How can I confront a passive aggressive person?
If others are being passive aggressive with me I can:
* point out the behavior that indicates passive aggressiveness on their part.
* point out the inconsistency between their words and actions.
* pay attention to their actions rather than their words, then give them feedback as to what their actions tell me about their feelings.
* ask for their true feelings reassuring them that there are no right or wrong feelings, and that it is OK to share negative feelings.
* ask them what has them so intimidated that they fear sharing their feelings with me.
* reassure them that we can reach a “win-win” solution in our communication if we are willing to compromise.
* defuse the competition in our relationship. It doesn’t matter “what” we are discussing as long as we respect how each of us “feels” about what we are discussing.
* remain open to any negative feelings they have and let them know this.
* begin to trust what they “do” rather than what they “say” and let them know that I am doing this.
* make myself more accessible to them.

First you need to find the causes of passive aggression. Passive aggressive behavior is usually based upon fear, resentment or flat-out anger. In order to manage passive aggressive behavior, these feelings and emotions need to be identified and addressed.

Talk it Out. In many cases, passive aggression is not the result of a personality disorder or mental illness, though it obviously can be. Passive aggression is usually the result of a lack of communication between people and deep-seated feelings of fear and resentment that have grown slowly over time. This can be exacerbated in the Personality Disordered person, which means that more than anyone, they need someone who is willing to listen to them.  If these behaviors are not worked on when they first appear, the passive aggressive person may see passive aggression as a solution to avoiding responsibility and could employ these tactics in all aspects of life. Counseling is often helpful, however, a passive aggressive person may just need the opportunity to get something off his/her chest. Passive aggression is usually the result of unexpressed anger or hostility and many of the passive aggressive behaviors may lessen or disappear if the individual is encouraged to express these frustrations in a meaningful and productive way. Not a hurtful and spiteful way!

So how do you do this?

– Avoid using language and actions that mirror the passive-aggressive behavior of the other person. Engaging in “competition” only provokes the pattern further and will place additional strain on the situation. Doing “battle” with a passive-aggressive also can result in your own unhealthy mental state and can substantiate the difficult actions of the other person. A passive-aggressive person fears confrontation and will be increasingly cautious about self-expression if they view you as an opponent.

– Create a safe and comfortable environment. Allow the person to know you are committed to a functional relationship (whatever sort that may be). Speak tactfully, and noncoercively about goals you have for the relationship. Encourage them to express themselves by simply making them feel at-ease.

– State your feelings directly and assertively if they continues to exhibit the behavior. Sit down and clearly explain that these actions are not acceptable. Assert your own emotions, be open about your beliefs and do not let the other persons behavior affect your own personal choices.

In other words, don’t be a doormat, but don’t be a douchebag either.

How to Deal With Passive Aggressive Behavior

– Choose not to reward the passive aggressive behavior. Do not treat a passive aggressive person like a victim. Instead, recognize the passive aggressive behavior for what it is and refuse to “do the dance” with a passive aggressive person. Do not allow the passive aggressive person to push your buttons to get you feeling sorry for her. Only you can choose to allow a passive aggressive person to control the choices you make.

– Be direct with the passive aggressive person. When a passive aggressive person mistreats you, speak to the person about the behavior in a direct manner. For example, if your passive aggressive friend says she will help you with a task but shows up an hour late and sulking, tell your friend that nobody forced her to help out. If she does not want to do something, then she can just say so. Tell her that you would rather she just say no than be unreliable.

– Resist the urge to rise to the bait. Passive aggressive people will often try to get you to do something for them by dropping big hints rather than just asking you directly. Choose not to reward this behavior and act as if you don’t “get it” until the person asks you a direct question.

::laughs:: I do #3 all the time. In my mind it seems like if I hint at something, and someone else picks up on it and offers me what I want, then I’m not pushing them into an uncomfortable situation. I don’t want them to be in a position where they have to say no, or feel obligated just because I’ve asked. So if I hint at it, they have the opportunity to say nothing if it’s not what they want to do and there’s no uncomfortable feelings to deal with for them. Maybe my thinking this way is completely wrong. Hm.

If I find myself being passive aggressive, how can I correct this?
To avoid being passive aggressive with others, I can:
* try to be assertive, open and honest with my negative feelings or anger.
* warn people to “read” my behavior rather than my words if they want to know my feelings.
* confront myself with my inconsistent behavior and challenge myself to explain it.
* take the risk to confront my anger assertively and “on the spot” so that I can bring my behavior in line with my feelings.
* work at making my behavior consistent with my feelings.
* change the way I interact with people and make my relationships more honest.
* admit that I have been a liar.
* work at being more honest with people even if it results in a conflict.
* identify the irrational thinking that prevents me from confronting people when I am angry.
* learn how to become assertive with my negative feelings.
* accept that it is OK to have conflict and disagreement.
* learn to compromise and come to a “win-win” solution.
I found an exercise for how to change Passive Aggressive Behavior