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Author Topic: BEHAVIORS: Fear of engulfment  (Read 6542 times)
SGraham
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« Reply #25 on: August 10, 2015, 01:20:59 AM »

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In retrospect, that perfectly sums up my ex and myself. I guess it kinda sucks but at least i understand the issues now.
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« Reply #26 on: August 10, 2015, 05:12:35 PM »

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WOW!  That was a very concise explanation that explains the interrelationship of dysfunctional traits that are interchanged between partners.  Provides a basis to answer the question why do I feel like I am the BP.

Thank you for that.
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« Reply #27 on: August 10, 2015, 11:54:53 PM »

All the symptoms of BPD fall under the heading Human Behavior. When it becomes extremely, consistently expressed it becomes abnormal (destructive), a symptom of BPD. It is also the "push" catalyst in the BPD push/pull dynamic.

I think that it is impossible for a person with a complete self to know/experience fear of engulfment at the same level that a pwBPD knows/experiences it (We cannot actually achieve the fear of losing one's self.). I don't think that our "rational" definitions of it even scratch the surface of what true fear of engulfment is at the BPD level.
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« Reply #28 on: August 11, 2015, 01:16:35 AM »

To me it means being totally submerged in someone else's wants, demands or lifestyle. It means tiptoeing to prevent dysregulation. I think it can also be present in relationship where BPD is not present. I feel I was totally engulfed in or by BPDh, in my desire to make things better. I tried to become what he wanted, and for a while I lost myself(I never lost MY feelings of self though, I just lost being able to express them, or show them). To me, that is what engulfment is. Maybe, my definition is wrong though.
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« Reply #29 on: August 11, 2015, 08:10:29 AM »

All the symptoms of BPD fall under the heading Human Behavior. When it becomes extremely, consistently expressed it becomes abnormal (destructive), a symptom of BPD. It is also the "push" catalyst in the BPD push/pull dynamic.

I think that it is impossible for a person with a complete self to know/experience fear of engulfment at the same level that a pwBPD knows/experiences it (We cannot actually achieve the fear of losing one's self.). I don't think that our "rational" definitions of it even scratch the surface of what true fear of engulfment is at the BPD level.

Apollotech, good point and well made.  My perceptions of my fear of engulfment are measured by my own scale of relativity.  My pwBPD scale of relativity has a much greater range.  When she states that her behavior is "not as bad" as I think it is, that is a relative statement to her internal and past experiences.  Her comment may very well be accurate for her, but not for me given the context of my emotional development and past r/s experiences.

Your point also reminds of what T told me two years ago; that her behaviors were far outside the range of the norm and that my goal in marital counseling was to try and find out what it would take to bring those behaviors back inside a more typical range.  Not to side track too much but I think the following anecdote is helpful in understanding how, in part, I became so un-anchored in my r/s.

I took T's comment to MC.  MC's comment was that I was "objectifying" my spouse by asking her, when would her behaviors come within range of norm.  Of course uBPDw jumped right on the bandwagon and accused me of treating her like my mother; a person with severe BPD traits.  So even though I knew something was wrong, and tried to bring it to a professional setting; without knowledge of BPD and firm understanding that there are acceptable behavior ranges; I felt victimized, shamed and really lost.  More importantly, I used those session to try to shift my thinking as I believed I was somehow missing a piece of important information.  Undoing this shift has proved to be both validating and difficult.  Point is, that without a stable sense of reference for what is going on, we can get easily pulled in over our heads and keep swimming out to sea believing that we are headed towards dry ground.

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Larmoyant
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« Reply #30 on: July 18, 2016, 08:31:56 AM »

I hope this isn’t a silly question, and I understand there are individual differences at play here, but is a borderlines fear of abandonment equal to his or her fear of engulfment? Or, does this fluctuate?
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GreenEyedMonster
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« Reply #31 on: July 18, 2016, 08:51:39 AM »

It probably depends on the childhood traumas experienced by the individual.

If their parents tried to engulf them, they will mostly fear engulfment.  If their parents abandoned them or threatened to abandon them, they will mostly fear abandonment. 

For example, my ex was unapologetically engulfed by his mother until he was in his mid 30s.  She told him what to study, what classes to take, which professions to pursue, which girls he could date (which turned out to be none at all), which ethnicities he was allowed to marry, etc.  Every detail of his life was controlled by her until she died, and he remained in a perpetual state of childhood as a consequence.  She also threatened him with abandonment, but that was really a footnote in all of his trauma.

Not surprisingly, he is terrified of engulfment.  He perceives himself as being stalked and followed by women who are crazy in love with him and can't let him go.  Even in the so-called honeymoon phase of our relationship, he was trying to figure out ways that he could keep his identity and remain independent of me, to the point of being hurtful and excluding me.  This worsened when I got angry at him about it.  A year after our breakup, he still feels engulfed by me and doesn't seem to realize that I'm not in love with him anymore.  It's entirely a reflection of his childhood trauma.

Hope that helps.
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« Reply #32 on: July 18, 2016, 09:01:22 AM »

Healthy adults are thought to be able to distinguish between the two poles and feel degrees of a mixed state. pwBPD are traditionally thought to struggle in this area. The struggle is sometimes described as fluctuation depending on the pwBPD's degree of being able to cope with these two poles.

They tend to be paired together in discussions about things like splitting as they are two often-discussed poles that a pwBPD tends to have trouble moving between. It's thought that it's very similar to how an infant has difficulty dealing with the absence and presence of parent figures. It's also thought that the parent-child link is an origin of this trait due to similarities--consistent with what GreenEyedMonster just mentioned regarding parental behaviours.

I think it's a very good question seeing as these poles are thought to underlie the crumbling of a definition of a stable relationship in the working of a pwBPD. Smiling (click to insert in post)
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« Reply #33 on: July 18, 2016, 10:30:14 AM »

I personally do not subscribe to the description of some BPD behaviors as "fear of engulfment" even though this is described in quite a few books about people with BPD.  One reason being this behavior is not exactly described in the DSM criteria.

But I think this way of looking at it this way can help nonBPD anticipate and make sense out of some of the BPD behaviors.

The way I see a lot of the "fear of engulfment" BPD behaviors is that for pwBPD, intimacy and familiarity (as in family) is a (non-intuitive) trigger for their fear of abandonment.  As I understand it, for many pwBPD, at the heart of their disorder (perhaps the "cause" of their disorder) is an abandonment/betrayal trauma such as an actual abuse (i.e. molestation) or traumatic loss (i.e. death of a parent) (and perhaps only the perception of such** another discussion), a trauma which (as a child) the pwBPD was unable to cope with and the trauma is suppressed/unresolved not unlike in PTSD.

In any case, this trauma remains unresolved in their adulthood.  And so in their current relationships, the more intimacy/familiarity they develop, the more their fear of abandonment is triggered.   Why?  Maybe because the intimacy/familiarity reminds them of the primary abandonment trauma which remains unresolved (suppressed) -- again, like in PTSD (where current events continue to trigger re-experiences of the original trauma).  This is why in the beginning of relationships, where there is little real intimacy/familiarity, there is also little or less of this behavior.  And as more intimacy/familiarity is developed over time, more disordered feelings present in the pwBPD.


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ArleighBurke
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« Reply #34 on: July 18, 2016, 06:14:58 PM »

And so in their current relationships, the more intimacy/familiarity they develop, the more their fear of abandonment is triggered. 

I've never liked "fear of engulfment". But this view is good - the more you invest, the more you have to lose, the more it'll hurt when you lose it, the more worried you are.
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« Reply #35 on: July 18, 2016, 09:22:57 PM »

They are two sides of the same coin, and are definitely related.

Fear of engulfment is basically the fear that you will have to deeply and radically change yourself to keep the relationship working.  For example, "If my partner wants to have kids, I will HAVE TO have them, or he will leave me."  This registers for the individual as a sense of losing self and autonomy.  Or, "My partner likes it that I am smart and funny.  If I ever do something that is stupid or tell a joke that falls flat, he might stop loving me.  Now I have to be smart and funny all the time."  Or even, "Now he expects me to never look at another man again.  I am not allowed to be attracted to anyone else, ever.  I will have to be that perfect for the rest of my life, or he will leave me."

So yes, they are both extensions of the same thing.  I have described the difference before as abandonment fear being the arbitrary caprice of the partner, as in, fear that the partner will just get sick of you for some matter of personal preference or because something better comes along.  Fear of engulfment is more the sense that the person is loved conditionally, and must constantly work to the point of anxiety to perpetuate the relationship.  It's not a fear of being arbitrarily abandoned, but a fear of being unable to indefinitely fulfill the duties/contract of the relationship.
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« Reply #36 on: July 18, 2016, 10:21:08 PM »

I havn't seen fear of engulfment explained that way before.

I did see it was fear of losing themselves - but I hadn't taken that from a loved unconditionally point of view. It would also fit with their black & white thinking ("my partner likes when I do X therefore I can ONLY do X".

But does this mean that whenver I compliment my partner, I am fuelling her fear? (That's the kind of screwed up nature a BPD would have!). That would kind of make sense - the push/pull from "you're too close" is actually "I've backed myself into a corner by trying to do JUST the right things 100% of the time".
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« Reply #37 on: July 18, 2016, 10:44:38 PM »

But does this mean that whenver I compliment my partner, I am fuelling her fear? (That's the kind of screwed up nature a BPD would have!). That would kind of make sense - the push/pull from "you're too close" is actually "I've backed myself into a corner by trying to do JUST the right things 100% of the time".

Yes, I would say that's a good understanding of engulfment.  I will be curious to see if anyone else weighs in on it.

It's similar to the feeling of cold feet that people get before a wedding, like, "I will never sleep with anyone else again," even though you'd really not want to do that, or a sense that you're suddenly aware of all the ways you might disappoint your partner.  I would say that the sense of backing yourself into a corner is a great way to explain it -- yes, if you have never had a fight and things are *just great* between you, a pwBPD will start to wonder what will happen when they disappoint you, and they will imagine disaster scenarios.  This does lead to a sense that they will need to continue their ideal behavior forever in order to keep your love. 

I actually experienced a great deal of engulfment fear when my exBPD was idealizing me.  Everyone experiences these fears to some degree, depending on the situation.  My ex talked constantly about how perfect I was and how he'd trust me with his life, and even when I shared my flaws and concerns with him, he'd just love bomb me some more.  He never stopped to digest the issues I brought up that were real concerns for me.  Based on his descriptions of his previous relationships, I knew that tiny things became deal breakers for him, and it was just a matter of time before I offended him.  I was right.  It only took one fight for me to fall from grace, and he pretty much hates me now.  His opinion of me changed from white to black based on one tiny disagreement.  If I had continued my ideal behavior, the relationship most certainly would have continued a lot longer, so I was not wrong about the sense of having painted myself into a corner.   He wanted me conditionally, based on the behavior he idealized.  I am going to need to face this engulfment trauma in my next relationship and try to cope with it in a healthy way.

If you consider how some children are raised, you can see where this trauma might develop into a worldview.  "Mom only loves me when I behave.  The rest of the time she threatens to leave me at the grocery store alone or give me up for adoption," is the reality for some kids.  They internalize that their behavior is loved, not them.  They feel worthless when they aren't behaving in a way that is perfect and pleases their caregivers.  Therefore if they want someone in their life, it's important to figure out what behavior they want and deliver it.  Sometimes it's easier for them to push you away than to keep up that facade of perfection in order to be loved.  Sometimes they will find people who have low standards and take less work to please -- an easier contract, if you will.  The sense of failing to fulfill the expectations is always imminent, because they always failed to be perfect kids.

These are people who had caretakers who turned on them when they messed up, rather than hugging them and talking about how to do better next time.  Anyone who has experienced this will want a partner who accepts apologies, moves on, lets bygones be bygones, and doesn't keep a long record of wrongs.  They want to know that they are loved for themselves, not just their behavior, because they're not sure that that could actually happen to them.
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« Reply #38 on: July 18, 2016, 11:06:43 PM »

Maybe this is a bit of an oversimplification, but I'd sum up my point with this:

-Abandonment fear is the fear that your partner will fail you.

-Engulfment fear is the fear that you will fail your partner.

Abandonment fear results in a sense of being out of control, and things like suspicion, jealousy, accusations, etc.  Engulfment fear results in a sense of being restricted to activities and behaviors that make the individual perfect in the eyes of his/her partner, and therefore a loss of personal autonomy.

Engulfment fear might help explain why some replacements are such a step down.
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« Reply #39 on: July 18, 2016, 11:23:14 PM »

In the devaluation phase, my pwBPD would fluctuate between "I feel like I'm losing myself in this relationship" to "I need to find out who I am" to "I feel empty." I think her fear of engulfment might have been more extreme had there been any sense of "self" to engulf.
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« Reply #40 on: July 18, 2016, 11:26:17 PM »

This is why in the beginning of relationships, where there is little real intimacy/familiarity, there is also little or less of this behavior.  And as more intimacy/familiarity is developed over time, more disordered feelings present in the pwBPD.
Wonderfully phrased! I understood it.
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« Reply #41 on: July 18, 2016, 11:32:30 PM »

Fear of engulfment is basically the fear that you will have to deeply and radically change yourself to keep the relationship working.  

Very nice insight.  I'm really enjoying this thread and some of the very thoughtful and obviously experienced ideas about this disorder.

As I stated earlier, I don't really believe that my ex feared losing herself as much as she feared change.  Change is scary for someone who has so much to hide.  Change may cause a pwBPD to become vulnerable and transparent.  And god forbid we get a peek at the real them...they hate themselves and if we see them we will hate them to.  That's their fear of intimacy.  
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Larmoyant
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« Reply #42 on: July 18, 2016, 11:44:31 PM »

Oh dear, I’m confused. Reading all of these responses leads me to think I’ve failed to grasp the concept of engulfment correctly. I thought it was fear of intimacy, a fear of losing oneself in a relationship or possibly feeling controlled? Here are a few examples which I 'think' reflected his engulfment fear:

We were shopping together, holding hands, choosing paint, when suddenly or so it seemed, he switched moods, told me that perhaps it would be a good idea if I went home.

Another time, cuddling on the couch, discussing our future, ten minutes later he’d be on the computer booking a holiday that I wasn’t allowed to go on.

After a lovely romantic, intimate evening and morning suddenly telling me that I’m preventing him from seeing his friends.

And, I’m not sure if this is engulfment, but once he went into a rage, and ended up dropping me off at my home, barely letting me get out of his car, and then screeching off down the road. What was this?

I’m trying to work out how they can experience fear of abandonment on the one hand and then fear of engulfment on the other, and what is the bigger concern if there is one, but it would probably be a good idea if I understood engulfment first!
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« Reply #43 on: July 18, 2016, 11:58:00 PM »

I often want to ask my Ex's husband what his wife's biggest fear is,  to see if he really knows her.  I spotted it right away in our r/s: fear of being alone.  Maybe young out on a limb here, teeing off of a diagnostic criterion, but perhaps it goes back to "chronic feelings of emptiness." That is,  the Empty Self needs a mirror,  or validation of the Self which is "dis-integrated" as my T would say, in order to allay the anxiety of not feeling whole while alone.
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Wize
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« Reply #44 on: July 18, 2016, 11:58:56 PM »

Lar, I believe fear of intimacy is the fear that if we get too close we might see them as they see themselves.  Which in their minds means certain abandonment.

Fear of engulfment does mean just that; being engulfed by the other person and losing yourself in the process.  This is a very real possibility too as they've already shown a very shallow or absent sense of self during the idealization phase which was a lot of mirroring.  Something so small-the sense of self-could easily be engulfed by another person.  So the push starts.  

But as I said, one must have a sense of self in order to fear that self being engulfed.  At least, that's my logic.
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Larmoyant
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« Reply #45 on: July 19, 2016, 12:12:16 AM »

 Bullet: contents of text or email (click to insert in post) by Wize "But as I said, one must have a sense of self in order to fear that self being engulfed.  At least, that's my logic".

Yes, how can they fear losing their sense of self if they haven't got one or a fully established one in the first place?
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« Reply #46 on: July 19, 2016, 09:46:56 AM »

Consider it may not be that they don't have a sense of self. It's probably closer to a matter of instability in whatever is there for them at the given time.

Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self. (link)
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« Reply #47 on: July 19, 2016, 10:51:25 AM »

Bullet: contents of text or email (click to insert in post) by Wize "But as I said, one must have a sense of self in order to fear that self being engulfed.  At least, that's my logic".

Yes, how can they fear losing their sense of self if they haven't got one or a fully established one in the first place?

Great train of thought here.  Consider the goal of a borderline: to attach, to fuse, with someone to become whole, to make a complete person, a replaying of that earliest bond with their primary caregiver, before they were capable of distinguishing between "me" and "her", to the borderline they were one person, and the failure to attach and weather the resulting abandonment depression is what caused the disorder to begin with.

So think about that.  Two adults come together as autonomous individuals and create a thing between them called a relationship, and even though they're in a relationship, they never lose their individuality, they're still their own people.  Not so with a borderline: when a borderline attaches to someone it's perceived as a fusing of psyches and of beings, so first off, where do you draw the line between the two people?  You don't, there isn't one, inherently unstable.  And then obviously losing that bond would be bad, so fear it, fear of abandonment, but also, if there is no line, and the other person seems to be a fully formed individual, and the borderline has taken on the 'good' they see in that person as their own, part of the point in attaching, there's a fear of losing themselves entirely within that other person.  Fear of engulfment.

And none of that is conscious or could be articulated by a borderline, because order became disorder early in their development, before cognitive thought was possible, so it just shows up as feelings, conflicting feelings, which shows up as push/pull behavior and all the rest.
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