Tuesday, November 15, 2011

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.

2 comments:

  1. I've noticed that over the course of my current relationship I've absorbed a bit of my partner's opinions that I didn't share with him before on everything from literature to politics. To sacrifice your own identity so thoroughly just to fit in line with everything they say and think sounds pretty scary, though.

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  2. I think it's natural to absorb some of your partners interests. Simply by being exposed to things you didn't really understand or know before opens your mind to new possibilities and interests.

    But yeah, when you start to lose who you are completely, allowing only room for the things your partner approves of, that's not healthy at all. Oddly it feels like you're just trying to make them happy, make their life better, so it's easy to justify, but in the end it's not good for anyone.

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Leave me a comment! It makes me feel good and less paranoid about talking to myself =)

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