You! Who are you? – Enmeshment/Undeveloped Self

Alright! So who’s sick of listening to me complain about my body? Ooh Me! OK, enough of that.

Today let’s get back into schema mode! I know I’m going through these pretty slowly but I have so many ideas for things that I want to talk about and address that I feel like it’s good to switch it up. That way it doesn’t get too boring.
Enmeshment/Undeveloped Self
Typical Presentations of the Schema
When people with an Enmeshment schema enter treatment, they are often so fused with a significant other that neither they nor the therapist can say clearly where the patient’s identity begins and the “enmeshed other” ends. This person is usually a parent or a parental figure, such as a partner, sibling, boss, or best friend. People with this schema feel an extreme emotional involvement and closeness with the parental figure, at the expense of full individuation and normal social development.
            Many of these patients believe that neither they nor the parental figure could survive emotionally without the constant support of the other, that they need each other desperately. They feel an intense bond with this parental figure, almost as though, together, they are one person. (People may even feel that they can read the other person’s mind, or sense what the other person wants without the other having to ask.) They believe it is wrong to set any boundaries with the parental figure, and feel guilty whenever they do. They tell the other person everything and expect the other person to tell them everything. They feel fused with this parental figure and may feel overwhelmed and smothered.
            The characteristics discussed thus far represent the “Enmeshment” part of the schema. There is also the “Underdeveloped Self”, a lack of individual identity, which people often experience as a feeling of emptiness. These people often convey a sense of an absent self, because they have surrendered their identity in order to maintain their connection to the parental figure. People who have an undeveloped Self feel as though they are drifting in the world without direction. They do not know who they are. They have not formed their own preferences or developed their unique gifts or talents, nor have they followed their own natural inclinations – what they naturally are good at and love to do. In extreme cases, they may question whether they really exist.
            The “Enmeshment” and “Undeveloped Self” Parts of the schema often, but not always, go together.  Patients can have an undeveloped self without enmeshment. The undeveloped self can develop for reasons other than enmeshment, such as subjugation. For example, patients dominated as children my never have developed a separate sense of self, because they were forced to do whatever their parents demanded. However, patients who are enmeshed with a parent or parental figure almost always have an undeveloped self as a consequence. Their opinions, interests, choices, and goals are merely reflections of the person with whom they are merged. It is as though the parental figure’s life is more real to them than their own: The parental figure is the star and they are the satellite. Similarly, patients with undeveloped selves might seek out charismatic group leaders with whom they can become enmeshed.
            Typical behaviors include copying the behaviors of the parental figure, talking and thinking about him or her, staying in constant contact with the parent figure, and suppressing all thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are discrepant from the parent figure. When patient do try to separate from the enmeshed person in any way, they feel overcome with guilt.
Goals of Treatment
            The central goal of treatment is to help people express their spontaneous, natural selves – their unique preferences, opinions, decisions, talents, and natural inclinations – rather than suppressing their true selves and merely adopting the identity of the parent figures with whom they are enmeshed. People who have been treated successfully for enmeshment issues are no longer focused to an unhealthy degree on a parental figure.  They are no longer fused with a parental figure and are aware of how they are similar to the parental figure and how they  are different. They set boundaries with the parental figure and have a full sense of their own identity.
            For people who have avoided closeness as adults in order to avoid enmeshment, the goal of treatment is for the patient to establish connections with others that are neither too distant nor too enmeshed.
Strategies Emphasized in Treatment
Bleh, let’s just list some of these things:
         Cognitive strategies challenge the persons view that it is preferable to be enmeshed with a parent figure than to have an identity of one’s own. It is important to explore the adveantages and disadvantages of developing a separate self. Patients identify how they are boht similar to and different from the paretnal figure. It is important to identify the similarities: The goal is not for patients to go to the opposity extreme and deny all similarities with the parental figure i.e. overcompensation. 
         Experimentally, patients visualize separating from the parental figure in imagery. In this sense they might remember scenes or memories and reinvent them by imagining what they really want to say or do or truly felt in that situation. It is possible to discuss differences from the parental figure.
         Behavioral strategies work to identify what a person’s own preferences and natural inclinations are. This is begun by listing experiences a person finds inherently enjoyable. From here they can use that basic feeling or sensation as a marker of enjoyment which will be a guideline to determine other things a person may enjoy. They even list what they do and don’t like about partners and work to act on their own preferences even when those differ from a parental figure.
Special Problems with This Schema
            The most obvious potential problem is that the patient might enmesh with the person trying to help them (therapist), so that the person becomes the new parental figure in the patient’s life. The patient is able to give up the old parental figure, but only to replace the other person with the therapist. Ass with the Dependence/Incompetence schema, the therapist might have to allow some enmeshment at the beginning of treatment but should quickly begin encouraging the patient to individuate.
Boundaries. Setting boundaries is important. ß— This will be a topic for future discussion.
I don’t really relate well to this schema either. Underdeveloped sense of Self is very common with Borderline Personality Disorder. I think my own sense of self is underdeveloped and my sense of identity is unstable, but there’s a difference between UNDERdeveloped and completely UNdeveloped. That being said I do often have a very strong sense of who I am at times. For instance it’s very easy to have a strong sense of who I am when I’m single or unattached to my partner, but given a situation where I am INTENSELY attached to someone I have definitely felt that enmeshed problem of adopting everything my partner is in to. In fact I’ve talked about Engulfment before. It’s incredibly intense. I usually retain my interests, what I like, my preferences, what I’m attracted to… those things don’t go away… but when you’re engulfed with someone else, all those things no longer seem to be important. It’s the things that the other person feels is important that become your priority, not your own needs.  Disentangling yourself from that mentality is hard. You often forget what it was like to have your own opinions, or how it felt before you became engulfed/enmeshed with another person. That person has taken over your mind and they become all you see, making them happy, doing things that they are pleased with is all that matters. It sounds kind of creepy actually. Probably because it is kind of creepy. No one should have that kind of power over you. I know this. I say this. But I’ve fallen into this. It’s not something you can help or you try to do, it just happens. And often it happens gradually. The more you become involved with someone, they more their interests are presented to you, the more you are exposed to what they like, the more you want to have things in common, the more commonalities you want to share, until you wake up one day and it seems like you’re absolutely perfect for each other because you REALLY ARE into all of these things that they like. Somewhere in the constant exposure you may actually {think you} enjoy all these things that your partner likes. These things do become a part of you on some level.
I can’t think straight today. I’m arguing with Friend about Occupy Wall Street and he’s getting under my skin because all his arguments are elitist bullshit or poorly thought out and he’s making me mad and argumentative.  ß— No longer engulfed. Yay me.

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.