The Narcissist and the codependent: a match made in hell.

Codependents lack a healthy relationship with self. They are prone to put others first before their own needs. This is unhealthy.

Narcissists also have an unhealthy relationship with self. They put themselves above all else. They use others toward their own ends and exploit relationships without feelings of guilt or remorse. They push blame off on others and are unable to see their own part in wrong doing.

It is like two pieces of the puzzle coming together. One is the easy mark for the other. But there is a deeper connection.

It is found that there are familial links to this interaction. If you have one parent who is narcissistic you are likely to become either codependent or narcissistic yourself. If you have two narcissistic parents the same holds true.

Once a person begins to recover from codependency, they are able to begin setting boundaries and standing up to the narcissist. It is very difficult for all humans to conceive of someone who is totally bereft of the ability to empathise and learn from previous mistakes. The primary mistake the codependent makes is to give the benefit of the doubt to the narcissistic partner because it is so hard to fathom someone could be so selfish and unyielding. Thus the dynamic begins.


1. Preoccupation with relationships

1.2 Family Origin

2. When a narcissist is also a codepenedent

3. How narcissists form abusive and co-dependent relationships

3.1 How narcissists emotionally manipulate and exploit victims

4. Assessing your relationships

1. Preoccupation with relationships

We live in an era where relationships get so much attention through books, seminars, magazines, television, web sites, therapy, among others, and are the focal point of so much conversation. We have an insatiable interest in how to have better relationships. And that is good. We are created to be in relationship with others, feeling most whole when in meaningful relationships.

Yet as preoccupied as we are with how to do relationships better, we seem to be doing rather poorly on the whole.

  • Prevalence marital problems/divorce rate (50%+)

  • Teen-parent problems

  • Manager-employee conflicts

  • The revolving door of dating that is common among young adults that involve casual sex and no commitment.

High rates of cohabitation (about 60%) and those who do marry have a higher divorce rate than those who do not co-habit.

So, how is it that we have so many resources (many that are very good) yet those resources and our preoccupation with better relationships don’t seem to be moving us closer toward applying what we know in order to build healthier relationships overall?

1.2 Family of origin

Though many factors play a part in the breakdown of relationships, the single most potent reason is that we are far more influenced by our past relationship experiences than we are the knowledge we accumulate about relationships.

In other words, we learned most of what we know about relationships from the family we grew up in. We unconsciously draw upon those developmental years in our present-day relationships.

Regardless of whether you had two biological parents, a single parent, multiple parents, or other adults who took on the responsibility of raising you, they “taught” you about relationships.

They were your “teachers” of how relationships were to be understood and practiced.

Your family was the training ground where you learned to talk, listen, fight, resolve, withdraw, empathise, care, apologise, etc.

These experiential lessons were “caught” by virtue of growing up in whatever environment you were in.

If those primary teachers conveyed lessons (words, behaviour, values) that were healthy, nurturing and consistent, you probably have a reservoir of emotional resources inside you to draw from that sustain you fairly well and most of your present-day relationships are probably satisfying.

If you didn’t have healthy teachers or an abundance of good “lessons” growing up, the relational reservoir that you repeatedly draw from may be low or even completely dry.

If this is the case, you are left to guess you way through the pathway to good relationships. It’s like taking a comprehensive exam at the end of the year without having studied. Sometimes you guess correctly, but most of the time you guess wrong.

2. When the narcissist is also a codependent

Codependency is a disorder of a “lost self.”

Codependents have lost their connection to their innate self. Instead, their thinking and behavior revolve around a person, substance, or process.

Narcissists also suffer from a lack of connection to their true self. In its place, they’re identified with their ideal self.

Their inner deprivation and lack connection to their real self makes them dependent on others for validation.

Consequently, like other codependents, their self-image, thinking, and behaviour are externally-oriented in order to stabilise and validate their self-esteem and fragile ego.

Ironically, despite declared high self-regard, narcissists crave recognition from others and have an insatiable need to be admired — to get their “narcissistic supply.” This makes them as dependent on recognition from others as an addict is on their addiction.


Shame is at the core of codependency and addiction. It stems from growing up in a dysfunctional family.

Narcissists’ inflated self-opinion is commonly mistaken for self-love. However, exaggerated self-flattery and arrogance merely assuage unconscious, internalised shame that is common among codependents.


Denial is a core symptom of codependency.

Codependents are generally in denial of their codependency and often their feelings and many needs.

Similarly, narcissists deny feelings, particularly those that express vulnerability. Many won’t admit to feelings of inadequacy, even to themselves.

They disown and often project onto others feelings that they consider “weak,” such as longing, sadness, loneliness, powerlessness, guilt, fear, and variations of them.

Anger makes them feel powerful. Rage, arrogance, envy, and contempt are defenses to underlying shame.

Dysfunctional Boundaries

Like other codependents, narcissists have unhealthy boundaries, because theirs weren’t respected growing up.

They don’t experience other people as separate but as extensions of themselves. As a result, they project thoughts and feelings onto others and blame them for their shortcomings and mistakes, all of which they cannot tolerate in themselves.

Additionally, lack of boundaries makes them thin-skinned, highly reactive, and defensive, and causes them to take everything personally.

Dysfunctional Communication

Like other codependents, narcissists’ communication is dysfunctional. They generally lack assertiveness skills. Their communication often consists of criticism, demands, labeling, and other forms of verbal abuse.

On the other hand, some narcissists intellectualise and are indirect. Like other codependents, they find it difficult to identify and clearly state their feelings.

Although they may express opinions and take positions more easily than other codependents, they frequently have trouble listening and are dogmatic and inflexible. These are signs of dysfunctional communication that evidence insecurity and lack of respect for the other person.


Like other codependents, narcissists seek control.

Control over our environment helps us to feel safe. The greater our anxiety and insecurity, the greater is our need for control.

When we’re dependent on others for our security, happiness, and self-worth, what people think, say, and do become paramount to our sense of well-being and even safety.

We’ll try to control them directly or indirectly with people-pleasing, lies, or manipulation. If we’re frightened or ashamed of our feelings, such as anger or grief, then we attempt to control them. Other people’s anger or grief will upset us, so that they must be avoided or controlled, too.


Finally, the combination of all these patterns makes intimacy challenging for narcissists and codependents, alike.

Relationships can’t thrive without clear boundaries that afford partners freedom and respect. They require that we’re autonomous, have assertive communication skills, and self-esteem.

QUESTION: is an empath the same as a codependent?

I don’t like when the term “empath” is used interchangeably with “codependent.” “Empath,” which has its origins in the spiritual and metaphysical world, was never intended to be a replacement term for codependency.

An empath is defined as a person with the paranormal ability to intuitively sense and understand the mental or emotional state of another individual. According to empaths I have spoken to and the information available on the Internet, they are highly sensitive to others’ emotional and metaphysical energy. If, indeed, this extra-sensory phenomenon exists, it is definitely not the same thing as codependency.

3. How Narcissists Form Abusive, Co-Dependent Relationships

How narcissists emotionally manipulate and exploit victims.

Some narcissists enjoy attracting co-dependent relationships. They target prospects who may be innocent and unsuspecting, are going through difficult times, are struggling with self-esteem, or have other vulnerabilities, and come to their “rescue” like a knight in shining armor (or an enticing temptress).

The moment the targeted victim accepts the “rescue”, a dependent/co-dependent relationship is formed, with a disparity in power between the “rescuer” and the “rescuee”.

Soon, the narcissist may reveal his or her true colours by placing ever-increasing demands and judgements on the victim, while claiming “I’ve done everything for you, and you’re so ungrateful.”

He or she keeps the victim in line with routine abuses verbally, emotionally, and in some cases physically/sexually. The narcissist may hold the victim hostage mentally (gaslighting), materially, and/or financially, constantly shaming the victim for her or his inadequacies, threatening to leave the relationship if the victim does not fall in line, and demand being catered to his every whim.

This type of narcissistic relationship is the very definition of psychological abuse. Various studies have linked narcissism to infidelity, domestic violence, and sexual addiction.

Below are three types of Co-Dependent Narcissistic Cycles

The Co-Dependent Enabling Narcissistic Cycle: Initial charm, increasing criticism and abuse, contrition and apology, restitution and bribes to “win” the victim back, repeat pattern.

The Co-Dependent Coercive Narcissistic Cycle: Initial charm, increasing criticism and abuse, coercion (threaten to withhold emotional, psychological, sexual, material, or financial support), gain compliance through duress, brief period of calm, repeat pattern.

The Co-Dependent Guilt-Beating Narcissistic Cycle: Initial charm, increasing criticism and abuse, profess disappointment and blaming the victim (“I’ve done so much for you, and this is what I get in return!”), gaining compliance through eliciting partner’s guilt, brief period of conciliation, repeat pattern.

What all three co-dependent narcissistic cycles have in common is that, in each case, the victim is enabling her or his partner’s narcissism (narcissistic supply), while the narcissist is enabling the victim’s codependency/victimhood.

4. Assessing your relationships

The good news for the codependent is that there is hope for recovery once they fully understand that the narcissist lacks that ability of compassion, which defines us as humans.

Since codependents are quick to blame themselves for problems they are able to work well with a therapist to make changes.

Not so for the narcissist. They are stuck in their own world of non blame and hence are pathological unable to change. How can one change if they are unable to see that there is anything wrong with them?

Here are some questions for reflection to help you assess your understanding of relationship and get you started on a new path in the areas that need help:

1.When you look at the family relationships (parents, spouse(s), children, siblings) in your life, how satisfied are you with how they have played out thus far? Rate each relationship with the following scale: very satisfied, satisfied, or very dissatisfied.

2. What is your greatest strength that you bring to your relationships? How does it make the relationship stronger and healthier?

3. What area of relationships do you need to keep working on and how will you intend to do that?

Let’s face it, healthy relationships are hard work. It takes time and deliberate effort to nurture relationships that are important to us. But, if you had difficult or unhelpful relationship teachers growing up, it doesn’t mean you can’t change those patterns. The starting place is to recognise where those changes need to be and start making concrete efforts to break out of those patterns. It isn’t easy, but with time, insight and practice applying new principles to break the old habits, you can see the most important relationships become the satisfying connections you desire.

As always please do let me know your thoughts. I am interested dot hear.If you were bale to catch the live discussion, you can watch it here.

#narcissticabuse #emotionalabuse #narcissist #relationships #introspection







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