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


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.

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Ashlynne, you have a great perspective, and a great plan. For some reason, the concept of spending a winter with one's pets, engaging in pleasant activities, and just staying out of the nasty weather seems restorative to me.

Sandwich, I've had a few unstable bosses but never even considered the worst one to be an abuser. Interesting concept.

Jessie, you make some good points, especially about what I would consider sometimes overanalyzing a situation. I don't question or challenge the need to understand dynamics, but caregiving creates situations that raises so many issues as it is. And I think it's easier than people realize to begin seeing patterns of models in our behavior and becoming focused on that.

I would also agree that it's a challenge to avoid being drawn into or meshing with dysfunction. And actually, that term has been used so much it's almost diluted to the point that it could be applied to so many situations. We're not like the Borg, so we're all different, with our own coping mechanisms.

I wonder sometimes about the wisdom of creating so many "syndromes." I suppose the purpose is to create some sort of rationalization so that personal issues can be addressed and hopefully resolved. And in some ways it's a method of quantification, of creating more substantive and analytical factors to behavior.

But I think therein lies the difference between us and nonhumans. We're each individuals and there are going to be some differences, some of which others may consider unusual or aberrant.

And that's not to challenge anyone who finds this topic helpful; we each have our own perspectives. I am learning from the responses. And actually, I was completely unaware of these different variations of relationships.

Beretta makes some interesting observations that explain his wife's behavior; I had never make those kinds of comparisons before, so I'm learning from others.

GardenArtist, you and I so often think along the same lines. Mostly what I see in the group is people trying to pull back from the dysfunction, instead of meshing with it. I do see a potential problem with the old FOG model, because in caregiving concern and responsibility can look a lot like fear and obligation. And guilt... well, show me any caregiver who doesn't have some guilt no matter what they do.

I think to be healthy emotionally we have to put aside worrying that we are afraid or feeling obligated. One bad things about psychological modeling is we can start being trapped by the model itself and start fitting things to the model. If we get too caught up in the FOG model, we could fit any caregiver of an abusive parent into it. I mean, why else would they do it if not for the listed reasons?

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

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.

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 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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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