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Author Topic: BEHAVIORS: Fear of engulfment  (Read 6541 times)
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« on: August 05, 2015, 12:57:34 PM »

I have heard the term engulfment used quite frequently and I feel like it basically means when the relationship becomes too much for a BPD person but im not sure.

If anyone can elaborate that would be helpful because it possibly relates to how my relationship breaking down.
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« Reply #1 on: August 05, 2015, 01:08:10 PM »

What is ENGULFMENT?
 
Fear of engulfment can be experienced by anyone.  Engulfment is not limited to people with mental disorders or BPD, although clearly some personalities are more prone than others.
 
What happens in engulfment?  We have a fear of losing ourselves in the relationship. Typically, when this happens,  the more we like a person, the bigger our fear of engulfment and commitment becomes. According to Margaret Paul, PhD, there are a number of reasons we might fear losing ourselves in a relationship:
 
  • We've been taught that we are responsible for another's feelings, especially someone we love. We believe that if our partner is unhappy, it's up to us to fix it, even if it means giving our self up.

  • We believe that taking loving care of ourselves, with no intent to harm another, is selfish -- that being a caring person means we are willing to put ourselves aside to do what another expects us to do, even if it's not what we want or need to do.

  • We have a deep fear of rejection, and we believe we have to give yourself up in order to avoid being rejected. We believe that no one will love us if we stay true to ourselves. We are trying to control how the other person feels about us by giving ourselves up to avoid rejection.

  • What all these fears come down to is a deep false belief that we have to give ourselves up to be loved and to be seen as a caring person. Giving ourselves up - giving up our freedom to be ourselves and do what brings you joy - is a terrifying prospect. As long as we have these false beliefs - and they might be unconscious - we will likely find ourselves running from love.

Fear of engulfment comes from trying to control how the other person feels about us by giving ourselves up (e.g., mirroring, idealization, etc.) instead of just fully being ourselves.
 
This condition clearly aligns with other aspects of Borderline Personailty Disorder and is common in BPD romantic relationships (as well as NPD, OCD, ADHD, BiPolar etc).
 
The simple definition is:
1. The extreme distress and anxiety related to feelings of being taken over by an external force.
 
2. The fear of a close interpersonal relationship.
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« Reply #2 on: August 05, 2015, 01:19:36 PM »

A pwBPD does not have a fully formed self of their own, and the one that's there is unstable, so if a pwBPD gets too close to someone emotionally, feelings of losing themselves, their self, entirely, show up and they fear being engulfed in the other person, so they don't exist at all, and become part of that other person.  

That fear will cause a pwBPD to push the other person away when they feel like they're getting too close.  

Sad that, since getting close to one another emotionally is what we all want, including pwBPD, a pwBPD just can't handle the emotions that come up when they do, along with they don't know where they come from.
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« Reply #3 on: August 05, 2015, 05:45:50 PM »

I have to admit that engulfment is a part of BPD behavior that I have a hard time wrapping my head around.  I've read the definition over and over again and still just can't quite make it seem real as an actual experience.  

At a gut level, I can't feel it somehow.  The fear of abandonment makes sense, as a definition and as a fear I've felt and can empathize with, in a way that engulfment just doesn't.

That said, it's become clear to me that some of the worst episodes with my BPDexgf seem to have been triggered by her feeling too close... after I met and got along with her mother, after she instigated a discussion about marriage, after I told her I felt close to her and that I could confide in her.

I kind of wonder if other people on here have stories that illustrate the idea of engulfment, maybe make it a little easier for the rest of us to understand?
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« Reply #4 on: August 05, 2015, 06:12:39 PM »

This can happen between a parent and child, or within a romantic endeavor. Fear of engulfment may look like, or be acted-out as fear of commitment. The feelings involved with this issue are; "I'm afraid that if I get too close to you, I'll have to give up too much of me," or "I can't be myself, when I'm around you." Engulfment means loss of Self--or the surrender of one's own needs and desires.

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« Reply #5 on: August 05, 2015, 06:40:11 PM »

Engulfment is a very alien concept to a Non because we never have to face the loss of self, under any circumstances. For a pwBPD, that is a real perceived threat.

When the fear of engulfment is triggered, that's one event where the hurtful tools are employed---raging, silent treatment, marginalization of the Non, etc.

These tools (which push) create distance between the two parties. When the engulfment lessens, the gap is usually closed. If it's a normal BPD push/pull cycle, fear of abandonment is usually triggered due to the gulf between the parties. Different tools are used, the "feel-good" tools are employed----compliments, unwavering attention, porn sex (not to be confused with emotional and/or sexual intimacy), etc. These tools pull the parties back together.

I watched a toddler do this at the park the other day: run away from mom to explore, get too far away from mom, then run back to mom. Too close to mom, run away to explore. The circular cycle repeated over and over.

Sound familiar?
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« Reply #6 on: August 06, 2015, 01:07:44 AM »

It just hurts to think i did anything to make things harder for her and subsequently end our relationship.
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« Reply #7 on: August 06, 2015, 07:01:48 PM »

It just hurts to think i did anything to make things harder for her and subsequently end our relationship.

I know it hurts to think that. But go easy on yourself. You couldn't have known.
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« Reply #8 on: August 06, 2015, 09:05:05 PM »

I watched a toddler do this at the park the other day: run away from mom to explore, get too far away from mom, then run back to mom. Too close to mom, run away to explore. The circular cycle repeated over and over. (Sound familiar?)

I'm not sure I see how this relates to engulfment - are you saying the child feels engulfed at some point in this cycle?
 
I think we (all of us) need to be careful to not take what we are learning and cast it all in terms of pathology.  Many of us have felt engulfed at one time or another in a relationship.  Everyone of us have mirrored our partners, bosses, and friends. Many of us have rejection sensitivities (fears of abandonment). These are very normal human dynamics.  These are not pathologies or alien behaviors.
 
How many of us have lived out a scenario where we idealized a partner (overvalued them), really didn't want to loose them (feared rejection), changed ourselves to accommodate what they seemed to want/need (mirror), and then felt that we gave too much and lost ourselves (engulfed)?  We have thousands of members here telling this story.
 
The issue with BPD is the extremes of some of these conditions, the consistently for a lifetime, and the inability to get to a workable baseline.
 
For example, here are the stages of falling in love:
 
The Romance Stage
The Power Struggle Stage
The Stability Stage
The Commitment Stage
The Co-Creation or Bliss Stage
 
In all relationships, the power struggle phase is has a significant component of fears of engulfment - fears that we have to give up too much for the relationship.  Most relationships (all relationships, not just BPD) crash and burn here.
 
In many of the BPD relationships, the romance stage is exaggerated and the skills to work through it power struggle stage aren't there.
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« Reply #9 on: August 06, 2015, 09:34:43 PM »

I am really confused reading this some of the posts here.  

After reading many of the posts on this board and additionally measuring my own behavior and looking at the engulfment listing:

Bullet: completed (click to insert in post) Being responsible for another’s feelings

Bullet: completed (click to insert in post) Taking care of ourselves is selfish

Bullet: completed (click to insert in post) Giving up ourselves

Bullet: completed (click to insert in post) Trying to control the other persons behavior and feelings[/font]

My conclusion is that: Engulfment = a NON’s behavior.

Non’s exhibit these characteristics very well.

So, is this post about behavior that aligns with BPD or Non BPD?  I think it is the later.  Or is the point that is being made that this is what the BPD fears will happen to them?  If so, aren’t we (the non) the corollary to the fear of engulfment?  

Shouldn’t the equation read:  

those who fear engulfment = those that are willing to be Engulfed.

(To be read as those who fear engulfment match with someone that is willing to be engulfed to prove their love)

Yes?

I don’t get everyone posting messages saying things about the BPDs childhood fears and abandonment, how they define themselves, their attachment disorder, their inner torment and the like?  Aren’t you all really indicting yourselves to the same measure?  I think you are.  You are in essence saying you are as broken as “they” are.  

I think it grossly misleading to label someone, objectify “them” and then list off their problems like a clinician while readily avoiding the mirror right in front of you.

I am not trying to be confrontational but I am perplexed by everyone’s responses.  I could strongly identify with the traits of engulfment. My first thought was, wow, this is what I have been doing.  It was/is confusing to me to see everyone carrying on about "them" when I feel equally confused about my own behaviors!  It is a little surreal.

To me this thread reads like denial of yourself and faulting the BP for it.  Really, who should or can speculate about the behaviors of the pwBPD traits when you aren’t seeing an equal measure of gross handicapping in yourself.  “We” are as equally out of balance as “they” are, else we could not be in r/s with them, or not for very long and we certainly wouldn’t find ourselves out on this board seeking solace and comfort from being deeply involved with this type of person unless we weren’t as out of balance.

It all feels grossly out of balance when reading just one side of the equation.  

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« Reply #10 on: August 06, 2015, 09:41:32 PM »

I'm not sure I see how this relates to engulfment - are you saying the child feels engulfed at some point in this cycle?

Hi Skip,

Yes, the "too close to mom is engulfment." At some point, a healthy child will break free of mom as a result of having their own "self." No more "having" to run back to mom. This is not to say that they won't run back to mom for other reasons, but it will no longer be for identity or soothing purposes (keeping in mind as much as a child can self-soothe).

BTW, I am guilty as charged on the things that you mentioned that we all do to some extent. The difference is that my behaviors/actions aren't continuously harmful to myself and/or others. Also, if called out on my undesirable behavior/actions, I can make changes within myself in an attempt to not repeat those undesirable behaviors/actions again. We all had BPD at some point in our lives, most of us matured past it.

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« Reply #11 on: August 06, 2015, 10:05:49 PM »

I apologize if I misunderstood the intent here. I was answering in terms of pathology with the pervading, extreme fear of engulfment that becomes an unhealthy pattern.

I've certainly engulfed and felt engulfed in my life. I doubt there's anyone who hasn't. Not just romantic partners, but family, friends, coworkers... anywhere we have human interaction. We want autonomy, we want connection. We search for balance and we don't always achieve it. It's part of the messy beautiful journey of being human.

To me this thread reads like denial of yourself and faulting the BP for it.  Really, who should or can speculate about the behaviors of the pwBPD traits when you aren’t seeing an equal measure of gross handicapping in yourself.  “We” are as equally out of balance as “they” are, else we could not be in r/s with them, or not for very long and we certainly wouldn’t find ourselves out on this board seeking solace and comfort from being deeply involved with this type of person unless we weren’t as out of balance.

Absolutely. The most important part of healing is turning the focus onto ourselves.

I personally found it very helpful in my own journey to learn about BPD and its pathology. Not only did it help me make some sense out of the relationship itself, but it also helped me figure out what in me was drawn to the relationship. Learning how I fit into the pathology was a positive thing for me. It opened the door for me to examine my own core wounds, unhealthy patterns, and cognitive flaws.

Because The Question will always be - Who are we? What needs were we trying to fulfill in these relationships? What wound in our soul were we trying to fix? How can we fulfill these needs and nurture ourselves in healthy ways?
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« Reply #12 on: August 07, 2015, 03:08:09 AM »

 Bullet: contents of text or email (click to insert in post) Happy Nihilist. Thank you for your kind words. While it does hurt to have a relationship end i guess there's always a certain solace in understanding.
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« Reply #13 on: August 07, 2015, 09:56:50 AM »

And is it a symptom of BPD or a human behavior?

It is both a characteristic of BPD and human behavior.

Feelings of engulfment can be healthy, especially when you are considering enmeshment. From an adaptive perspective, it is a way of preventing enmeshment and letting your 'sense of self' from being swallowed up by another person. 

It is often mentioned along with BPD, because of the push/pull behavior. When we contribute to the 'dysfunctional dance,' we become excessively dependent on a pwBPD's behaviors and how we react to them.  Many times our behavior is reflective of a pwBPD's because we are so enmeshed. Your partner's feelings/emotions become yours when you are enmeshed. Essentially, you and your partner become 'one.' We lose our autonomy when we become enmeshed and do not instill boundaries.  As a result, we change ourselves to become complacent to the demands, needs, and wants of our partner. When we do this we lose our own self-identity and damage our self-esteem.
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« Reply #14 on: August 07, 2015, 12:35:08 PM »

Skip,

I see where my statement about engulfment was not clear. Drop the "to explore" portion and it perhaps is more clear. The child runs from mom in attempting to avoid engulfment. Running back to mom is an attempt to avoid abandonment. Eventually a health child with normal development will break free of this dynamic as he/she has formed his/her own autonomous self. The child's identity is no longer dependent upon mom or even mom's existence.
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« Reply #15 on: August 07, 2015, 02:17:27 PM »

the child runs from mom in attempting to avoid engulfment. Running back to mom is an attempt to avoid abandonment. Eventually a health child with normal development will break free of this dynamic as he/she has formed his/her own autonomous self. The child's identity is no longer dependent upon mom or even mom's existence.

I'm not totally sure that a toddler running back and forth to its mother is an example or proxy for fear of abandonment or fear of engulfment. Even on just a visual level, I'm not sure this give us insight into what our exes and our motivations/fears are.

What is going on with the todler is characterized in attachment theory. The caregiver provides safety and security for the infant. Attachment is an evolutionary adaptation that enhances the todlers chance of survival to the age of reproduction.  Todlers have a universal need to seek close proximity with their caregiver especially when under stress or threatened. If the caregiver is out of site, separation anxiety sets in and the child tries to relieve it by confirming that the caregiver is there.

The todler is not venturing out from mom because they are repulsed. They are exploring and checking back constantly to be sure the caregiver/safety is still there. Make a loud noise.  Todler runs back. Have a dog show up, todler runs back.

Fear of abandonment and fear of engulfment are more complex behaviors seen in adults and are very different.

For example, if a child has separation anxiety, it generally ends when the caregiver reappears.

Fear of abandonment, on the other hand, is more like a phobia (e.g.,, fear of heights) where one adopts risk avoidance defenses - doing things to avoid being vulnerable to being rejected .  If I'm terribly fearful of rejection, I can mitigate that with multiple love interests, or not letting anyone get too close, or learning to quickly substitute one relationship to another, or having babies, or getting married quickly…  

The reappearance or reassurances of the primary relationship is often not a full solution - trust is broken so risk/fear is still there.

Fear of abandonment and fear of engulfment are not necessarily opposites - often the associated behaviors are similar and overall sabotaging to the primary relationship.

Should conditions break trough the "fear of abandonment" defenses, and the person suffers an significant abandonment trauma, they can emotionally broken to the point of suicide. At this point, return of the  primary relationship may bring peace.
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« Reply #16 on: August 07, 2015, 02:53:59 PM »

What is going on with the todler is characterized in attachment theory. The caregiver provides safety and security for the infant. Attachment is an evolutionary adaptation that enhances the todlers chance of survival to the age of reproduction.  Todlers have a universal need to seek close proximity with their caregiver especially when under stress or threatened. If the caregiver is out of site, separation anxiety sets in and the child tries to relieve it by confirming that the caregiver is there.

I agree with what you've said here Skip. It is relevant because a pwBPD never moves beyond this stage. You are right, what i said "is" indeed based in child attachment theory. And I agree that it is normal for all of us, people without attachment disorders, to mature through this stage. People with BPD are arrested here; they don't mature through it; that arrestment is an "attachment" disorder.

"The caregiver provides safety and security for the infant... [and identity].

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« Reply #17 on: August 07, 2015, 03:20:32 PM »

There's attachment theory and object relations theory, among others, that can explain the behavior of that kid in different ways.  Masterson's object relations theory with the abandonment/engulfment stuff speaks to me best, but is any of them 'right'?  The venturing out, freaking out, returning dynamic is a game at first, but eventually the kid becomes frustrated with the dichotomy and starts acting out, which we label the 'terrible twos'.
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« Reply #18 on: August 07, 2015, 04:05:18 PM »

Masterson's object relations theory with the abandonment/engulfment stuff speaks to me best, but is any of them 'right'? 
<br/>:)o you mean, are they definable  Being cool (click to insert in post).  Yes, they are. That's what we are doing here, defining an established psychology concept so we can use them in discussion.
 
Once we define them, understanding what applies to the person in our life is, of course, uncertain, as you say.
 
I think it helps everyone to know that separation anxiety and fear of abandonment are very different things.  Many members tend to think of fear of abandonment as separation anxiety and then ask the question:
 
          "why would she ever leave me?" 
 
          "why wouldn't more commitment on my part solve the problem?"
 
If it is separation anxiety - the person wouldn't likely leave.  We tend to see this with our members here.
 
If it is fear of abandonment, all the self sabotaging actions (cheating, contacting exs, push/pull, jumping to another relationship, etc.) make sense.
 
I think it helps to know that these are two different things.
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« Reply #19 on: August 07, 2015, 04:18:51 PM »

If it is fear of abandonment, all the self sabotaging actions (cheating, contacting exs, push/pull, jumping to another relationship, etc.) make sense.

Skip,

The way I understand the disorder, based on what I have read, experienced in my own relationship, and spoken with T's about, BPD fear of abandonment generates pull behaviors. Fear of engulfment generates push behaviors. (I do believe they are opposites of one another.) If fear of abandonment also generates those push behaviors, how is idealization explained? What generates the "pull" in the push/pull cycle? You can't have all "push."
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« Reply #20 on: August 07, 2015, 04:51:42 PM »

What you are suggesting that the relationship is a function of conflicting fears. I don't think that's it. If it was, why be in a relationship to begin with.
 
The pull is the desire to be loved. The dream. This drives the pull. The same thing that drives many of us.
 
In the limited context of what we talking about, I have seen push pull written as the conflict of
 
desire for intimacy,
 fear of abandonment,
 fear of engulfment.

 
This isn't a static conflict, the dominating factor shifts over the course of the relationship. The desire for intimacy is a heavy component early on. Fear of engulfment  or fear of abandonment has a more significant influence later.  We also face these factors (along with others).
 
You mention idealization…  idealization is something we all do at the beginning of a relationship. In some of these relationships, we idealized at very high levels. Our partner did too - often more than we did. This tends to feed of of each other.
 
And I agree that it is normal for all of us, people without attachment disorders

Are we categorically, people without attachment issues?  A lot of us have less than secure attachment styles.  That's why (for some) these relationships were so appealing to start with and why they were so devastating in the end.
 
As someone mentioned earlier in this thread, "engulfment sounded more like what he experienced".  For many its true.
 
Relationships are a series of transactions - he said, she responded - she did, he reacted.  For every action, there is a reaction.  We were participants, not observers.
 
This is the reason that it is important not to make healing a fault finding mission. 
 
Sure, our exs were over the top. Maybe the independent judges would score them with 65% or even 85% of the dysfunction in the relationship - but we have our own baggage and struggles - and they are harder to avoid as we get older.  Best to see it - deal with it.
 
I'm not trying to normalize people with BPD traits (most partners here are not clinically BPD), but I am trying to balance pathologizing every aspect of psychology that is used to describe them.  People with these traits are working with the same deck of cards we are - they are just playing them different. It doesn't take more than this to make for very traumatizing relationships.
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« Reply #21 on: August 07, 2015, 05:40:15 PM »

There's attachment theory and object relations theory, among others, that can explain the behavior of that kid in different ways.  Masterson's object relations theory with the abandonment/engulfment stuff speaks to me best, but is any of them 'right'?

Masterson integrates both object relations theory and attachment theory (Bowlby and Ainsworth).  Both theories also fit nicely with biosocial theory.

According to attachment theory, the interaction of a child and a mother leads to development of the self. Insecure attachments/parenting styles can lead to impairment in development of the self.   Engulfment/fear of abandonment from an attachment/objection relations perspective is interrelated to a sense of self.

According to the integrated theories, the main problem in relationships with pwBPD is the inability to view the partner as a whole constant entity as both rewarding/satisfying or withholding/frustrating; it is one or the other.  

For a pwBPD having an impaired self, "close emotional involvement with another activates or awakens his fear of being engulfed or abandoned."  Both fears are shown on an interpersonal level.

On an intrapsychic level (how the person thinks), the pwBPD is afraid of losing the image of his/her 'self' which he/she relies on for their identity or losing the image of the "maternal object" another component of identity.  Clinging and distancing are used as primary defense mechanisms. Depending on when the child's individuality was arrested or style of defense while separating from his/her mother, either fears of engulfment or fears of abandonment will predominate in interpersonal relationship patterns; although both can be used exclusively or at different times. The closeness of intimacy threatens the defenses and threatens the impaired self.  

The impaired real self of the pwBPD realizes that it lacks the capacity for genuine emotional involvement needed to sustain the relationship. Then the separation/distancing occurs. The impaired self of a pwBPD does not allow for the autonomy needed for separation and distancing and cannot handle the emotions attached to it. As Skip mentioned, this leads to the self-sabotage or defensive behaviors.

In normal relationships, there is a capacity for separation and distancing, too.
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« Reply #22 on: August 07, 2015, 05:55:45 PM »

Well jeez, when you put it that way...

I'm just gonna let the big guns school us...
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« Reply #23 on: August 07, 2015, 06:48:26 PM »

Yes... I understand some of these words
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« Reply #24 on: August 10, 2015, 12:01:10 AM »

So, is this post about behavior that aligns with BPD or Non BPD?  I think it is the later.  Or is the point that is being made that this is what the BPD fears will happen to them?  If so, aren’t we (the non) the corollary to the fear of engulfment?  

Engulfment or the fear of engulfment can be attributed to either side or both.  So can fear of abandonment. Many members here experienced one or the other.  These are also common with BPD, DPD, OCD, ADHD, Bipolar and other impulse disorders.

Are either healthy?  Is the fear of flying healthy?  Of course the answer is "up to a point very healthy" and at a certain point, a life impairment".

For the person with BPD: A person with BPD can work so hard to build the relationship in the beginning that they sacrifice their emotional independence and deny their own needs. For some, this catches up and the come to fear being engulfed by the partners expectations. As a result, a person with BPD can feel controlled, overwhelmed or dominated, then ''push' the partner away.  The person with BPD will fear losing themselves within the relationship, and can become resentful or defiant.  

For the partner of a person with BPD: Many times the non-BPD partner has codependent traits.  Characteristics of codependents include, self-sacrifice, being responsible for another person's feelings/behaviors, trying to control a person's feelings/behaviors through caretaking or fixing, a lack of boundaries, appeasement, clinginess, and suppression of emotions, such as anger.  

Codependents' self-worth and self-esteem are gained through the pwBPD. The partner, usually a codependent, adds to the 'dysfunctional dance' (push/pull). Eventually to maintain the relationship, many times the codependent will lose their sense of self within the pwBPD. As a result, the relationship becomes enmeshed.  
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