Codependency Anxiety and the Hook of the Narcissist
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Codependency Anxiety and the Hook of the Narcissist

codependency anxiety metaphor

Codependency Anxiety and the Hook of the Narcissist

Codependency anxiety is the apprehension a codependent person feels at the potential of being abandoned by their partner, friend, work colleague, sibling, parent or other significant person.
The narcissist, anxious of being abandoned, plays on this feeling by creating insecurity in the relationship. They then offer their affection and attention as bait to attract the codependent back on to their hook, reeling them back in to perform their true function – feeding the narcissist’s ego.
Yes, both narcissist and codependent are vulnerable and in fear of losing the relationship they equally depend upon.
Anxiety is so ingrained in the lives of both parties that it often forms barely more than a background hum – until one or both do something to rock the boat.
It’s like two people trapped in a tiny boat but too scared to jump into the water. Whenever they upset the status quo, the boat rocks, the fear sets in and both perform their ‘safety’ routines to restore the balance.

Between Hell and a Hard Place

Both narcissists and codependents fear abandonment and demand proof of their importance in the other’s life. The difference is in the instinctive way that goal is pursued.
The narcissist has to be the centre of attention with other people’s needs taking second place. When they feel their power of attraction fading they will create a situation to enable them to recover it. For example, they might make a huge benevolent gesture or they might insult their spouse – anything goes as long as full attention is restored.
Even worse, the fragile ego of the narcissist is often breached by their own insecurities rather than any external event. But unable to admit weakness, they will ensure that the fault lies elsewhere. No matter how perfect their partner, friend or family member tries to behave, the narcissist will find a flaw – and turn it into a major deal, triggering the codependency anxiety that will inevitably ensure their partner fixates even more strongly on meeting their needs.
The codependent also wants to be the centre of attention but rather than demanding it by virtue of who they are, they seek to become indispensable by what they do. In complete self-sacrifice they can deny their own problems as they work tirelessly to control the perception of their partner, employer or sibling. Unlike the narcissist, who will blame those around them when they feel insecure, the codependent will blame themselves and do everything in their power to ‘do better.’ This can lead to a host of problems from codependency anxiety and depression to eating disorders and overwork.
If narcissists and codependents find themselves with psychologically stable partners, the relationships rarely last. The narcissist will refuse to stay with someone who is independent and who won’t pander to their will.
The codependent will feel insecure whenever their healthy partner finds support outside the relationship or from within themselves. This will be taken as rejection and their attempts to strengthen the connection will be felt as needy.
Get the two types together though and the jigsaw is complete – although the picture it reveals is horrific!
The narcissist will have an endless supply of attention from their selfless partner while the codependent will be able to lose their own identity and problems in the pursuit of perfection. Neither will ever be satisfied since the root cause of their insecurities are left untreated. The narcissistic and codependency anxiety remains yet both find it more bearable than rocking the boat and risking being cast adrift entirely.

Why Going it Alone is So Hard

Making the decision that you are going to leave a narcissistic relationship or change your way of relating to a narcissist is a big deal. You need to be aware that changing yourself literally changes everything. Not only will you trigger your own codependency anxiety but you will also realise your narcissist’s worst nightmare – independence from them. If you have ever tried changing or leaving the relationship before you will already know that your narcissistic partner/work colleague/parent/sibling is the one person who knows best how to push the reset button!

If a narcissist can’t coerce or guilt you into resuming your subordinate role they might try to influence others against you, turning you into the villain. On the other hand they might ghost you completely, walking out of your life and cutting all ties as if you had never been together. This is often a tactic designed to force you to succumb to your codependency anxiety and beg them to take you back.
If this fails, they are likely to move on to another target but don’t expect this to be a clean break! The narcissist will want to come out of the situation looking like the victor and the wronged party. They will work hard to convince their circle that it is them who have escaped from an unhappy relationship and you who have let a good thing slip away.

Sourcing Support for Codependency Anxiety

The first thing to say is the earlier you seek professional help for your codependency anxiety the better. Nobody ever tells me they wish they had delayed a bit longer before getting support. One of the hardest aspects of my work is accepting the wasted years that people have spent in unhappy and toxic relationships – if only they had seen me two, five, ten years before!
It is important to work with a therapist with experience of dealing with codependency anxiety. They will be able to hold you as you battle your instinct to cling on to the boat while helping you to change those beliefs, thoughts and behaviours that keep you biting at the narcissist’s hook.
Over time, as you begin to realise that the open water isn’t shark infested after all, you can begin to believe in a new life of true freedom and security – one that is borne of trust in yourself rather than your outdated fears of childhood abandonment.

For more information and guidance about understanding, unhooking and recovering from a narcissistic relationship, please see my book: ‘Narcissism & Co-Dependency: Both Sides of the Coin,’ available on Amazon and Apple iBooks.

Image Copyright: mikekiev / 123RF Stock Photo

2 Comments
  • Amanda Williamson
    Posted at 07:53h, 24 October

    Really useful article Michael. Have shared via Facebook/Twitter. A very accessible book on the subject is Breaking Free of the Codependency Trap by Weinhold & Weinhold. The authors draw on their own experience of being former co-dependents. It’s quite an old book (1989 I believe) but sets everything out clearly. I sometimes recommend to clients. Do you have any book recommendations Michael?

  • Michael Acton-Coles
    Posted at 19:13h, 11 November

    Thank you for sharing Amanda. Have you had a chance to read my own book, ‘Narcissism and Co-dependency: Both Sides of the Coin’? It was written to be clear, concise and manageable for codependents to understand, unhook and recover from their relationships with narcissists. It incorporates a real life case study throughout.

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