The dark side of caregiving. Shall we overcome or be overcome is the question?

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Simply put, the dark side of caregiving is enmeshment.

An enmeshed relationship is one between two or more people in which personal boundaries are permeable and unclear. This often happens on an emotional level in which two people feel each other's emotions, and and over-concern for others leads to a loss of autonomous living. One does not have or no longer has a life with their own separate thoughts, feelings, beliefs, opinions, hobbies and so on.

Several online articles about this word help unpack it further.

There are at least 4 types of this dark side which may stand alone or even overlap one or two.

1. The eternal child.

They have been groomed by a parent to always respond like they are still the little girl or little boy, plus that is how the parent continues to see them and treat them despite all of the adult things they do in life.

Psychologically this is called infantalism. This is also a form of emotional abuse.

I have a relative who is still in bondage by this in her early 60's and somehow her marriage has lasted, but not well. She's been to therapy, but quit. She at times wants someone else to fight her war for her, but she will not fight.

2. The hurting child.

They seek to compensate for something that was absent from their childhood. They very often will endure abuse that not one else would in order to possibly see the parent become the loving, non-abusive parent that the never were. Sad to say, but they never will despite all presumptive hope that they will be the exception. We read plenty of this here.

3. The parent/child.

The overly responsible parent/child who is groomed emotionally to feel responsible for the parent almost as if there were their parent. That's called parentification and is also emotionally abusive.

4. The partner child.

This is called covert or emotional incest. This language is a hard pill to swallow, because we normally think of incest only sexually, but the partner child/parent is not sexual. However, it is emotional child abuse.

The partner child is when a parent makes a child their emotional partner either because the spouse is gone because of divorce or death.

Some do this with a child because they are not getting such emotional support from their spouse and it is easier to do this than deal with the marriage problems.

Very often in this relationship the parent will share things with the child that should never be said.

I have a very close relative that this happened to. Their same sex parent told them all about their sex like with their other parent. I'm surprised they got their own life and got married, but I'm glad they did.

In my opinion this is the absolute deepest and by far the hardest to get out of.

Those married to the partner child often feel like there is a third person in their marriage and it can get so bad as to also feel like being a single parent though married or basically single though married.


Magnum, I respect your psychological approach to understanding the dynamics of various aspects of caregiving, and I think it's helpful to a lot of people, especially those in similar situations.

But I would like to just clarify something in your statement of the "dark side of caregiving" that "One does not have or no longer has a life with their own separate thoughts, feelings, beliefs, opinions, hobbies and so on."

I can understand that this happens to some, but want to emphasize that many of us are not swallowed up in this duality of shared thoughts, interests, etc. I think that's obvious from some of the posts here of caregivers fighting to retain their individualism.

I also feel quite strongly that some caregivers, including me, will NEVER under any circumstances adopt some of the beliefs of our parents, especially religious ones and what I consider meddling by outside, holier-than-thou religious influences especially.

Perhaps your post is intended toward those who have become prey to this identity trap. I'm assuming that's the case and that you're not making an assumption that these "dark sides" apply to all caregivers. If so, I do understand that.
You are correct, my post is intended toward those who have become prey to this identity trap.This identity trap goes hand in hand with the Fear, Obligation and Guilt battle.

I"m glad many are fighting for their individuality, but feel sad for those who are trapped because they can't see it or although seeing it are understandably afraid to stop dancing with the emotional blackmailer.
This is a very enlightening post in my opinion. I can see it applying to my wife and FIL whom lives with us. I am opening my eyes to her behavior and attitude/hesitation about pursuing AL for him. I see #3 and 4 with my wife and her dad, as she is basically what Dad wants he gets, and I am on the outside of a lot of their private conversations, and her hesitation to open up to me as her husband. I am working more on my own as to AL possibilities, and am also going to enlist a family member (her cousin) she is very close to, to move forward. It is not just for OUR relationship that he needs to move on, but for HERS as well. Thank-you for this post!
If you've suffered emotional abuse, blackmail and emotional abandonment all your life you never truly get over it. It's like PTSD and it's not going away as soon as you walk away or your abuser passes, however on reflection you can step back and see it for what it was. In my case I believe my mother was mentally ill her whole life. She passed away a few weeks ago.

Prior to her passing my blood pressure was out of sight I'll go back to the doc in early spring but I've decided to spend the winter months quietly at home, out in the country, just me and my critters, reading, sewing and relaxing. After a lifetime of stress and abuse it's going to take some time but I'll get there.
I hear you and am glad this is enlightening. Maybe one day you could write one or two books or at least an article on your experience like this.

There is a book about the partner child. Silently Seduced: When Parents Make Their Children Partners by Adams. It has a chapter about the daughter/dad emotional partnership. Adams also wrote a book about mom enmeshed husbands.There 's even a book with the title, When the Other woman is his mother.

However, neither Dr. Adams nor anyone else has written about about dad enmeshed daughters and the husbands who are married to them. or When the Other Man is her dad.

I hope and pray for the best with your situation, but you have enough material right there for the making of a good article or book that could help other men and their wives who confront the same thing.
As with sexual abuse, one never gets completely over emotional abuse, blackmail and emotional abandonment. Plus, them dying does not solve it all either for those memories can try to rule from the grave. However, I do hope you will pursue professional help to get as much freedom that you can get. I would agree that it is like PTSD, it's a parent-adult child PTSD. Once you have wound down some from her death, do not try to go it alone, but get help. You are not alone. There are others who have been where you are. There are therapists out there who are both educated and experienced enough to help you on your journey forward. It is a labor intensive journey, but worth it in the end. Prayers, love and cyber hugs
It's important to realize what's happened so you can work on yourself and heal. It doesn't help when you realize you are in work situations with an emotional abuser. Especially if they are your boss.

If you don't know what your triggers are, you can't protect yourself.
I intend to keep a close eye on the situation in my home, as this is between my wife and her father whom lives with us. But the last year now is making more sense after reading this post, and I have more to think on before reacting. But I also realize that I do need to act soon, as this could potenitally damage our relationship if it goes on much longer. I am thinking that my FIL going to AL will be initially painful for her, but in the grand design bennificial as time goes on as my WIFE will come back.
This may be hard to hear and harder to do anything with but your inaction actually is action which enables your wife to get tighter and tighter with daddy as his little girl. I would be curious to know what her relationship over the years was like with her mom vs her dad? Anyhow, what matters now is to not over think this and take action. The action you take might be as simple as seeing a professional who can give you an objective third opinion about what you are about to about to decide to do. Take care and keep in touch.
I really appreciate your post I see a little of all of the dynamics you discuss regarding the dark side of caregiving. I believe all of those dynamics shed light on many of our problems. My father has decided to take my husband away from me. When we visit him, his first question is why did you bring her? And then I usually AM ordered into the other room because my father can't hear my husband when I'm in there jibber jabbering. It's so bad sometimes we have to leave the room because were laughing so hard. At least we can still laugh about that because he makes such an ass out of himself in assuming my husband would rather be spending his time caregiving and listening to old war stories then being with me. BTW we have heard all the stories 100 + times....and we would be still okay with that if he wasn't so abusive and so demanding. He feels so entitled to every bit of our time and energy, anyway I'm getting off topic. I for one really appreciate your post.

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