I like to think in terms of continuums when I start labeling people. When it comes to narcissism I have always thought of the person that is extremely narcissistic as being on one end of a selfishness continuum and the codependent, because so many codependents are good caregivers, being on the other end. The middle is made up of what I would call well adjusted and balanced people.
However there is something about that which doesn’t seem right and that is the need of the codependent to fix a situation and control the outcome. Isn’t that how the concept of codependency first came about? Weren’t women with alcoholic Fathers marrying alcoholics in disproportionate numbers so that they could fix their partner in a way that they weren’t able to fix their Father? But isn’t the need to control one of the characteristics of the Narcissist? Well adjusted people don’t have this need. This lead me to the next logical step of placing the codependent in the middle of the continuum and the well adjusted person at the far end away from the narcissist. Once I did that the pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place.
Let’s think about the main characteristics of the narcissist. He or she has little empathy for others, is decisive because decisions are based on what is good for them, and is quite willing to use others and to control them without feeling the least bit of guilt. The narcissist just has very little in the way of filters.
Now imagine the codependent as deep down very similar to the narcissist but with a very significant difference, and that is the presence of filters that control behavior. These filters could have been placed there by parents, by the influence of organized religion, or through life experiences. These filters carry messages like a good person is not selfish, or that pleasing others is a desireable goal, or that it is not good to get angry.
Given the need of a codependent to fix a person by definition they will end up in difficult relationship. If two well adjusted people are in a relationship no fixing is required and the relationship will be comfortable, but comfortable is not a word to describe the codependent’s relationship. The problem is that people are not easily fixed or controlled. Furthermore, when faced with a difficult interpersonal situation the codependent’s filters will kick in so they are faced with the internal conflict and indecision associated with trying to control while also trying to be be a good boy or girl. As frustration increases because of the inability to fix a situation the frustration can create anger and resentment maybe resulting in either a blow up or a passive aggressive response. Because nice boys and girls don’t get angry a general feeling of guilt can set in.
So now all of this helps explain why there are so many relationships between narcissists and codependents. One school of thought is that the codependent is easy prey for the narcissist because of the codependent’s willingness to please and the narcissist’s eagerness to take advantage of that desire. Certainly that is part of it but it is not the whole story and it doesn’t explain why the codependent often stays in an a abusive relationship with the narcissist.
Well, remember that the codependent is underneath a narcissist. In addition to there being something about the narcissist they are trying to fix they also admire the narcissist. Here is someone that doesn’t have all those filters that have created internal conflict, indecisiveness, frustration and guilt. Deep down the codependent wants to be free of those filters and be a narcissist too.
But why stay in an abusive relationship? Well, as the relationship was going through its stages the codependent was feeling the frustration of not being able to fix whatever it is about the narcissist that attracted them in the first place. There is a strong desire to be with the narcissist but to also get rid of that frustration. That is what ultimately leads them to surrender to the narcissist and to let them be in charge. Also gone at that point is the struggle to create boundaries and to make decisions about their own life and what is best for them. It is only if the codependent has enough self esteem to completely break free from the narcissist’s hold on them, perhaps at some defining moment in the relationship in which a difficult choice has to be made which conflicts with their value system, that the codependent will begin to wake up and become free. At that point true healing can begin for the codependent as they learn how to achieve a balance between their narcissistic side and the filters that have plagued them allowing healthy boundaries to be developed in all of their relationships.