Wednesday, July 13, 2011

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.


  1. I am so glad you post these things. It really helps me understand my husband and myself...thank you very much. Take care.

  2. I had this with my ex husband. Except I was more consumed by keeping a "home" for my kids than by him. The problem was he was attached with that "home" along with all of his cheating, abuse, and attempts to control me. In many ways I was the perfect stepford wife. I honestly did not care what he did or with who as long as he kept it out of my house. My kids were happy. That was enough, but that meant he wasn't controlling me so he brought the women into my house and that was really the breaking point with me. The final girl which caused me to finally leave was just too much. I couldn't play the games anymore. I just wanted it all to stop even if it meant my kids not having a home. He literally drove me crazy. He and his now wife were the catalysts into pushing me over the edge.

  3. The key to life is moderation in all things. Well, except moderation. Can't get enough of that...

  4. I love this post, Haven.

    You explain this flame in a way that anyone can understand. I may not have felt what you described, but I certainly can relate to episodes in my life where I got close to it, or maybe even felt it to the same degree, albeit not as long. I can totally understand it now, under your prose. This is very nice.

    I can also relate to the receiving end of the behavior. People who are desperate will beg, appeal to your 'humanity' (in a totally selfish way); it's amazing how, when we, human beings, are in that consuming position, we distort the reality, bend it's logic so we can frame the facts to our end. I've done this and I see this more frequently on people who are suffering from severe PDs.

    Perhaps due to my experience, I wonder if you wouldn't feel this extreme need to be alive with Evil Ex if it were some typical other ex in place. Maybe the relationship with Evil Ex was so extreme and got you to so highest highs and lowest lows that you developed a higher tolerance, wich would make you numb to what was considered earlier an adequate degree of emotion (be it exhilaration, happyness, sadness, rage, anything on the spectrum). In this logic, it would be safer to avoid such an extreme relationship and slowly try to adapt to a new tolerance level, even if it means going through a hard phase of numbness, confusion and even depression. I'm just taking shots at logic here. Your input is always interesting to read.

  5. Ah, I'd like to bother you with a question of my own.

    I'm talking with this BPD chick. She frequently expresses violence and condoning violent solutions such as "anyone who steals should be hacked" or "don't trip, or I'll trip you instead". Most of the time it just sounds as a tough girl act she developed as a defense mechanism (can't blame her, it makes total from her background).

    Is this typical? Does it means she has an aggressive mindset? (because, when we talk, she's not this violent; she's more like 'badass and yet nice'... I think it's cute sometimes, heh). Or maybe it's just her way of letting out the fluctuating anger?

  6. @AMoralBing .... Traditionally I have not felt so alive in other relationships. The only time I felt so bad, but also so good, was when I was in those two extreme relationships. Thusfar anything 'normal' has lead to me being bored and rather uninterested. You make an interesting point though, I may have built up my tolerances to such things quite a lot. In fact, I'm sure I have. It's one reason I do consider myself to be a very strong person, despite all my issues, I know I can handle a lot, not be broken by it, and continue on to take more. I am trying to do that adjusting to healthy tolerance levels thing (though I didn't think about it this way before). I'm at the very beginning of what should be a normal healthy relationship and I'm trying to be open to the lack of madness haha.

    On to your question: Honestly she sounds like me. Definitely has some defense mechanism and defensiveness in there. It's normal for me, I'd venture to say that it is relatively common from the few other borderlines I know. We often feel so misunderstood or automatically believe that others won't accurately judge our abilities so there's a factor of overcompensation going on. Be tougher and no one will second guess you. For me, even the thought that I might be perceived as weak makes me angry, so a lot of my joking around has that violent tinge to it. It's not really a vent for anger so much as a need to be seen as not weak. Make someone understand me/her/etc in one way. At least that's kind of how it is for me.

  7. Haven, another riveting post. I love your writing, it clarifies so much of the murkiness I have in my mind. You may as well have been describing my relationship with my own narcissistic Evil Ex. Engulfment is SUCH a brilliant way to describe those feelings. Phew, no longer am I trapped there!

    I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you and Lady Friend, Haven. I think there's something good and true there x

  8. ::smiles:: Thanks Lil! And yeah, me too. I just hope I'm able to really connect with her eventually. She's such a doll.

  9. This post mirrored my last relationship with my "Evil Ex" almost EXACTLY. I often think my traits and his narcissism are what made it such a volatile pairing.

    Great blog, BTW! I just found it today and I've read a bunch of your posts and while all this is not fun it's nice to know that there are other people out there whose experiences are similar. The entries on object constancy were extremely powerful. I've read a lot fo BPD sites though not quite like your blog. Much of what you said I can relate to so much---I've been sitting here repeatedly saying "Wow, someone REALLY gets it!"

  10. I find myself and my Ex in this post! In june i've finally had enough and he said he couldn't put up with my bullshit anymore. I'm proud of myself that i didn't text or call him, instead he is doing it! But now I'm doing pretty good on my own! I've learned to cope and waiting for a DBT spot.
    Great page! Keep it up!

  11. The story wreaks of a borderline that has split a decent guy black. If you where of strong character you would have been open and honest about who you are and where you stand so the guys could choose to stay with you or leave you. Instead you have demonstrated a text book scenario of what borderline relationships turn out like due to your weak impulse control and low moral and intellectual understanding of your own reaction to life and love.

  12. I was wondering if you could help me. I met a teenager a few months ago with bpd. He became attached to me very quickly, and tried to come onto me (which I very clearly communicated was not appropriate since I am an adult). He began to get clingy, jealous of my talking to others, attention seeking, and I was told he had "a crush". Since the, he has moved, but before leaving begged me to friend him on facebook. I thought about it for a month before agreeing after seeing his posts about committing suicide. We only communicate over facebook, but he will open up about either what's bad in life or will be extremely happy...then will go off for days at a time. When he comes back on, he acts like nothing has hapened. I still believe he has feelings more than a friend from some of the comments and lyrics he has posted. I have communicated to him that I am just a friend. I care about this kid like he's my son, and I'm the only person he opens up to. How can I hold his little boy's heart without breaking it? He attached himself to me, and I want him to have one adult in his life that is not abusive, but loving toward him. What can I do to not screw this up?


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