There is a mass of literature available on narcissism and codependency and a quick search on the internet will reveal hundreds of websites. It has become very fashionable to label a kind of self-centered behavior as narcissism and the “victim” as codependent. While there are truly many cases of this kind of emotional abuse, one must be cautious in rushing to diagnose. However, one of the best books on the subject is The Human Magnet Syndrome by Ross Rosenberg and it offers some interesting insights into why we attract the people we do. While most of the book is standard fare, describing various personality disorders and trying to ascertain why people have either narcissist or codependent tendencies, one theory he puts forward stands out.
He highlights the Continuum of Self Value in a range from minus 5 to plus 5. Minus 5 being in his words:
” A codependent who is completely absorbed with the love, respect, care and needs of others while completely ignoring and devaluing their own. This person is often powerless, unable to or unwilling to seek the same from a romantic partner”
Contrast that with a plus 5 :
” An emotional manipulator. Unable and unmotivated to love, respect and care for others. Is consumed with fulfilling their own love, respect and care needs with no intention of reciprocation. Has great difficulty exhibiting empathy, unconditional positive regard or love. When this is given, it is temporary and highly conditional. Is not able to accept criticism and fights back using direct or passive aggression”
We can see that these two highly dysfunctional individuals might well be attracted to each other. On the continuum, Rosenberg highlights that relationships between two individuals who have lower numbers on the scale are more likely to be “stable” and dysfunction comes when the “numbers are out of balance”. He also suggests that attraction is based on our exact opposite. If we are a plus 3, we are likely to be attracted to a minus 3 and so on. Let’s look at two examples :
Stable : Plus 1 and Minus 1
Plus 1 people have a healthy balance between loving, respecting and caring for self and others. Tends to participate in relationships where reciprocal distribution of love, respect and care is given. Has individual personal and professional goals which are confidently pursued. Even though these goals are important, meaning and happiness is derived from effortlessly showing LRC for his romantic partner.
Minus 1 : Also a person with a healthy balance between loving, respecting and caring for self and others. Typically seeks out relationships where needs for LRC are satisfied. Although meaning and happiness are derived from helping others, boundaries are healthy and toleration for selfishness is low. Enjoys caring for others but there is no identification as a martyr or caretaker. Is fully able to ask for needs to be met.
Unstable: Plus 2 and Minus 4
Plus 2: A person who prefers relationships where the pursuit to fulfill individual goals and ambitions are encouraged. In romantic relationships, seeks attention and affirmation. Although, this person can “hog the spotlight”, he is willing and able to fulfil his partners’ wishes. Is mostly centered on own LRC needs and doesn’t react strongly when asked to fulfil others needs. However, any changes made are usually temporary.
Minus 4: A person with highly codependent tendencies who seeks to fulfill the LRC needs of others while only intermittently seeking the same. Is generally afraid and unmotivated to ask for LRC needs to be met. Afraid of conflict and upsetting their romantic partner, any request for LRC is done so nervously and with a true sense of guilt and neediness.
Even though this is, by Rosenberg’s own admission only a theory that has little in the way of scientific testing behind it or in fact goes any way towards explaining the complicated, multi-faceted concept that is attraction, it is an extremely interesting theory that does provide some clear answers to the Narcissist/ Codependent dance.