Enmeshment Types Narcissist’s, Codependent’s, Borderline’s

Uploaded 8/16/2023, approx. 12 minute read

Engulfment, merger.

Fusion, sounds like good sex. Symbiosis, bring it on.

But actually, this is the central dynamic in any relationship, intimate interpersonal relationship with someone who suffers from a cluster B personality disorder, possibly with the exception of the psychopath.

And today I'm going to ask the question, what are the differences between the enmeshment, the engulfment, the merger, the fusion, the symbiosis of the narcissist, in those of the borderline, in the codependent?

Welcome to my channel. My name is Sam Vaknin, I'm the author of "Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited", a former visiting professor of psychology and currently on the faculty of SIAS.

Good for them, I hope.

Okay, start with the narcissist, of course. He is always number one. Numero uno, the narcissist.

Don't listen to self-styled experts online in general and don't listen to them when they tell you that narcissists do not experience merger or fusion or enmeshment. That is expressly untrue.

This is a central dynamic in relationships with narcissists.

Narcissists in intimate relationships try to recreate the symbiotic phase that they used to have as babies with their mothers.

And this is the principle of dual mothership.

Now, of course, we don't use the word symbiosis or the phrase symbiotic phase anymore, but it's still a valid point. The child is one with a mother. The child sees the world through his mother's eyes. Mother brings the world to the child and the child can't tell the difference or the separateness between itself and the mother.

And this is the symbiotic phase. It's one organism, psychologically speaking.

Whenever the narcissist comes across a potential intimate partner and even to some extent, friends, family and so on and so forth, they try to recreate the symbiotic phase.

Of course, the symbiotic phase involves by definition merger and fusion with a maternal figure.

It's a precondition for the shared fantasy. It is instrumentalized in the case of the narcissist.

The narcissist recreates the symbiotic phase to allow him to separate from the intimate partner and to become an individual. He reenacts his early childhood conflicts within the relationship to allow for a much better resolution, this time becoming his own person, acquiring personhood.

But still it's there. It's temporary, but it is stable.

The narcissist suffers from object inconsistency. And so he experiences separation insecurity, known colloquially as abandonment anxiety.

And the way he resolves this is by converting the intimate partner, converting external objects in general, but especially the intimate partner into an internal object, into an avatar, into a representation in his mind.

And this process is known as internalization, introjection, incorporation, identification.

Identification is the key word here.

The narcissist identifies with his intimate partner to the point of making her disappear in his mind's eye and reappear inside his mind.

So henceforth, from that moment on, the narcissist continues to interact only with the internal object, the introject, the avatar, the snapshot that represents the intimate partner out there.

The narcissist refuses to recognize the externality of the intimate partner, her separateness, her independence, her autonomy, her agency and her self-efficacy.

This is the ultimate form of enmeshment and engulfment and merger and fusion and symbiosis.

And anyone who tells you otherwise knows nothing about narcissism or close to nothing.

Now, the borderline.

Similar to the narcissist, the borderline suffers from separation insecurity, abandonment anxiety, but hers is existential, it's much heightened, much more intense, much more all pervasive, and it is triggered by her own imagination and anticipation, not necessarily by real life events.

So the borderline is clinging. She clings to her intimate partner in order to make sure that he sticks around. Her engagement leads to anxiety as well.

So the borderline shackles relentlessly and inexorably between two poles, abandonment anxiety, the fear of being ignored or rejected or humiliated or shameor abandoned, and engagement anxiety, the fear of the opposite, the fear of becoming one with the intimate partner, of merging and fusing and getting enmeshed with the intimate partner.

Consequently, borderlines display a behavior known as approach avoidance repetition compulsion. They shuttle, as I said, between these two behaviors. They approach and then when reciprocated, they avoid. And then they approach again. And all this reflects symbiosis, reflects merger and fusion and so on and so forth.

While the narcissist merges and fuses on a temporary basis in order to accomplish separation individuation from an eternal figure, the borderline merges and fuses on a permanent basis, but her own and government anxiety keeps disrupting the enmeshment and the engaugment.

The enmeshment and the engagement are instrumentalized.

When the borderline tries to do, she tries to become one with her intimate partner. She says to the intimate partner, you're my life, you're my world, you are my reality. And indeed, the intimate partner fulfills one of the main ego functions, reality testing.

What the borderline does, she externalizes her regulation.

In normal healthy people, emotions are regulated internally, moods are stabilized internally.

The borderline outsources these functions. She expects and demands of her intimate partner to do it for her, to regulate her emotions, to stabilize her moods.

And so to accomplish this, she opens herself up. She becomes hyper vulnerable.

Whereas narcissists present a facade of invulnerability, the signal invulnerability. The borderline signals maximum vulnerability.

And that draws the intimate partner in when he tries to act as a saviour or a healer or a fixer.

And then she merges. It's like a carnivorous plant. She opens up her beautiful petals.

And when the fly comes in, she devours him.

So then she closes in on the intimate partner and renders the intimate partner an extension of herself. The exact same way the narcissist does.

But the narcissist treats his intimate partners and regards them as extensions in order to ascertain control, to make sure that he is in control. It's a reflection of his underlying insecurity and inferiority and shame and so on.

The borderline makes sure that the intimate partner conforms to her demands and edicts and wishes and so on and so forth. And she treats the intimate partner as an extension, but an instrumental extension.

In short, a tool, in every sense of the word. Someone who would do things for her and replace internal regulation. With external regulation, as distinct from the narcissist, the borderline does have object constancy.

What she doesn't have is introject constancy. She is unable to maintain an inner representation of an external object.

So out of sight, out of mind, the external object exists for the borderline only as long as he is physically present or as long as there is the potential for such physical presence.

But the minute the borderline kind of detaches from the intimate partner or even goes on a trip or goes to a bar or whatever, the minute the intimate partner cannot form a part of any narrative or the relevant narrative, that minute she loses sight of the intimate partner. She can't even remember him. She can't conjure him up.

It's like his gun and this is introject in constancy.

And so the borderlines enmeshment and engulfment, they're intended to convert the intimate partner into a source of external regulation and to compensate for introjecting constancy by becoming one with the partner while the narcissist uses enmeshment and engulfment to recreate the early childhood environment with a substitute maternal figure to allow him to proceed into separation individuation at the same time, mitigating attendant separation insecurity or abandonment anxiety.

The narcissist doesn't have object constancy or permanence. So his exact opposite is a mirror image of the borderline in this sense.

Finally, the codependent.

The codependent controls her intimate partner from thebottom. She controls by being helpless, by being needy, by clinging. She is very reminiscent of the borderline, but whereas the borderlines only demand from her intimate partner is essentially, please regulate me, please stabilize me, please be a secure base for me, please be a safe place for me.

The codependent actually demands total service, total room service from her intimate partner. He's supposed to do everything for her.

Her helplessness is not only learned, but it's practiced and ostentatious. Her neediness, her vulnerabilities, they're all on display, conspicuous, intended to motivate the intimate partner to take over, simply to take over. And then she has no responsibilities and obligations and no duties, and she's scored three.

Now, this is very reminiscent of what babies do.

Babies cry in order to elicit attachment responses. They cry so that mommy comes and picks them up or gives them food or something.

Codependent does the same. She baby-fies, she infantilizes herself in order to provoke these instincts or reflexes in her intimate partners and others, by the way, and provide her with a full monopoly of services, mental, psychological services.

Now, this is called control from the bottom. Control by being helpless, control by pretending to be the plaything or the victim of others. And this control from the bottom allays and mitigates separation insecurity, abandonment anxiety.

The codependent has abandonment anxiety, equal in intensity and strength and pervasiveness, as does the borderline.

But her solution is different.

Her solution is different, and she does not have an engulfment anxiety.

The more engulfment, the better. The more enmeshment, more yummy, merger, infusion to the very end.

The codependent wishes to disappear, literally vanish and reappear inside her intimate partner, of course, all the time with the ability to manipulate him and control him from the bottom.

The codependence, abandonment and engulfment are instrumentalized.

She feels that life is meaningful only when she has an intimate partner.

Her interactions with the intimate partner in view reality with some sense, give her direction, goals, a purpose, the unity, the dyad, the couple, the union. They are the world as far as the codependent is concerned.

She shuts off reality by immersing herself in the equivalent of the narcissist shared fantasy.

And so this gives meaning to her life, direction and goals.

Now, the codependent possesses or is possessed by an object, inconstancy, and in this sense, she is very similar to the narcissist and her separation insecurity, abandonment, anxiety leads to clinging, manipulativeness, Machiavellianism and so on.

So one could easily say that the codependent is a combination of narcissist and borderline. Indeed, all narcissists are codependent and many borderlines display codependent behaviors.

Now, this would aggravate and irritate and provoke many people when I say this, but I do really think that codependency, aka dependent personality disorder, is a form of narcissism. It is very egocentric or egotistic. It is very manipulative.

So there's an element of Machiavellianism. There's no dysregulation involved. So it's distinct from borderline.

There is a lot of control from the bottom by displaying ostentatious selflessness and clinging and so on. So it's a combination. It's the bridge between borderline and narcissism.

And very often codependence laps into one condition or another under stress, anxiety, rejection, abandonment, humiliation, shame, especially public shaming, mortification in a way, codependency become narcissistic, highly narcissistic, or highly borderline, highly emotional, dysregulated.

Okay. I hope I succeeded to make some sense and to introduce some order into this very fuzzy region, the Venn diagram, you know, the part that is common to all the circles. And I hope I have counted the myths and nonsense spewed by self-staged experts online.

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