Much of the content available online paint narcissists as monsters and codependents as victims. As most of the personal blogs that carry this content are seemingly written by people who have had a relationship with a narcissist that went badly, it is hardly surprising that they feel hard done by. The word narcissist is too easy to use as a label for selfish and self-centered people who may or may not be one and I do truly have the feeling that anyone who ends a relationship badly is quickly ordained with this moniker. By doing this, people are putting themselves in victim status and suggesting that they were “caught” or “had” or “deceived” and in many cases, that could be the truth but is it the whole truth? Are we too quick to use the Narc label to avoid responsibility for own failings?
While it is quite likely true that there are men, narcissist or not, who prey on vulnerable women, it is too simplistic to suggest this is all that is happening. We have to look at people’s motives for getting into a relationship in the first place and this is where codependency and narcissism can share some common ground. Shared issues but different approaches to the problem.
While we can be very comfortable alone, we are all looking for “the one”, who will help us navigate this difficult world. Humans by nature, are not solitary beings and we all prefer to be with someone who cares about us and loves us, even if most of us have no idea what love is. In the adulation phase of the relationship, namely the first six months, we tend to lose our heads somewhat in the euphoria of a new relationship. Boundaries and limits and some might say common sense, go out of our minds in the process of attraction. I am reminded of an experiment held on the BBC concerning how our brains work during this process. Full of hormonal leanings, the couples highlighted who were attracted to each other started to mimic facial gestures, body language and even opinions that they admitted they didn’t hold before. Oh, how our brains trick us.
It is in this euphoria that codependents are often prey to someone who might use their need to connect to their own advantage and due to the reasons stated above, are not always aware or open to being made aware of potential issues. Many times in therapy, I have asked a client, to no avail, to take it slow and find out who their new partner really is. It often falls on deaf ears with disastrous results waiting further down the line. When it comes to the narcissist-codependent dance, it is often a case of inferiority complex meets superiority complex and something has to give.
While there appears to be a clear difference between the narcissist and the codependent, they come from the same background. While there is little known about the causes of narcissism, an abusive childhood full of toxic shame is one factor that is an obvious one. With this in mind, they live in an extreme shortage mentality that means they must take what they need. Not surprisingly, most are men who are traditionally taught not to show emotion or especially anger. It creates a self-esteem void that must be filled with input from others to the advantage of the narcissist. Whatever their needs are, they will take them through manipulation and severe control of their target. Whether it is sex, admiration or just because they can, they destroy their victims for their own benefit. I have seen women take years to get over such an encounter. Amazingly, these people are also present on the internet, advertising themselves a the narcissist who can help you with your narcissist partner. This is always a scam to attract and entrap the vulnerable and naive who might actually believe what they are saying is true. In one such case I know, it is virtually impossible to leave once subscribed as the victims face such things as having their reputations ruined, websites hacked into and other repugnant measures. The sad element of this is that the people who do this are so into the “cult” figure that runs the website, that they will do anything for whoever is behind it. Such is the seductive nature and power of the narcissist.
Codependents are also created through toxic shame but come from the problem from a different angle. Starved of affection and connection as a child, they are taught that they are not good enough and have to work for everything they get. Codependents are often workaholics or overachievers and bring that attitude to relationships. There is not much a codependent won’t do to gain what they need. They also have a self-esteem void which needs filling and this is where comparisons can be drawn with the narcissist.
In my recent podcast with Jane, I asked her what she was getting from a relationship with her narcissist partner. She was surprised when I brought up the idea that by trying to be indispensable in his life, she was trying to control the narrative of the relationship. She was giving all to get something and filling her self-esteem void by trying to make him secure and subsequently herself too. The issue always is that nothing is genuine with a narcissist and the only security he will allow is through manipulation. I have often stated that a relationship with a narcissist is doomed the day a new partner meets them. They will stay physically longer but will gradually emotionally detach after the adulation phase. Something akin to a tornado of increasing strength that blows through leaving destruction in its path.
This is where the similarities can be seen. The self-esteem void needs to be filled. They just do it in very different ways. Let’s not forget though that codependents can also show “nasty” aspects of their character too. Meant codependents are very angry people who use this and playing a perpetual victim to control their partner. This is often mixed up with silent treatment and statements like “look at everything I do for you!”.
Maybe this determines why the two personalities on either end of a long spectrum often find each other.
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Dr. Nicholas Jenner, a therapist, coach, and speaker, has over 20 years of experience in the field of therapy and coaching. His specialty lies in treating codependency, a condition that is often characterized by a compulsive dependence on a partner, friend, or family member for emotional or psychological sustenance. Dr. Jenner’s approach to treating codependency involves using Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, a treatment method that has gained widespread popularity in recent years. He identifies the underlying causes of codependent behavior by exploring his patients’ internal “parts,” or their different emotional states, to develop strategies to break free from it. Dr. Jenner has authored numerous works on the topic and offers online therapy services to assist individuals in developing healthy relationships and achieving emotional independence.