Codependency and Narcissists: What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (Part I)

For this discussion, we are going to stick with our understanding of codependency as a system of distortions that exists on a continuum. Codependents learn personality traits that interfere with knowing one’s self and others. The people-pleasing aspect of codependency might drive the ignoring of who we are trying to please.

The focus of wanting approval may keep us from acknowledging abusive behaviors coming from the very person whose approval we seek.

The need for harmony might prevent us from realizing we are enabling abusive behavior. Or any combination of the above. We don’t have the tools to deal with abusive behavior, so this also drives us to avoid bringing it to consciousness. And we probably have a history of being abused or exploited, so it feels familiar.

A green light for perpetrators. When we have a society of codependents, they become a magnet for the narcissists of the world.

Now let’s look at a working definition for Narcissist. Three significant distinctions of the narcissist are grandiosity, seeking excessive attention, and lack of empathy. A book I recommend often, Why is it Always About You: The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism by Sandy Hotchkiss, can shed some light on the challenges of the narcissist. I think, for our discussion, it would be interesting to look at these sins:

  • Shamelessness — Can’t process the shame they have.

Digging into the Seven Sins

And now let’s look at some landmines the narcissist so adeptly sets up for the unsuspecting codependent.

As a good codependent, I will accept you putting me down because I can pretend it is not happening. I have numbed myself to people putting me down and this numbness will save me. When people point it out to me, I will go deeper into my numbness so I don’t experience any emotion. Numbness is one of my very powerful tools. You can count on me to enable your arrogance!

  • Envy. It would never occur to me that you might envy me…because that would require self-esteem. I’ve probably locked up and thrown away the key to any self-esteem I might have had. If I had self-esteem, I wouldn’t subscribe to all this obsequious behavior. When you put me down and minimize any accomplishments I might have because you don’t want to envy me, I probably find that comforting and familiar. And it gets us back to me controlling you like me.

I am trained to ignore the abuse or being taken advantage of because I am focused on being liked. I won’t notice the exploitative aspect of our relationship as negative and it will probably feel familiar. If someone should dare point it out, I am competent at rationalizing. Rationalization — or the defense mechanism where I can justify and explain away bad behavior — is a very important tool in my toolbox. I also have a sense of pride in all the abuse/exploitation I can handle. I see it as a strength. It probably will be easy for you to exploit me financially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. As we discussed, I won’t want to see this, because I won’t know how to handle your “bad” behavior if it comes into my consciousness. I want harmony, not confrontation. I don’t have the tools for what I call “confrontation” and others call “being honest.”

Can you see where one might say “Houston, we have a problem?”

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Originally published at on January 5, 2018.



Psychotherapist, Speaker, Coach, and Author of “Backbone Power The Science of Saying No”

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