17 Mar Narcissism: Two Sides of the Coin
We need to feel special in our relationships. It is also perfectly normal and healthy to prioritise the needs of our partners and others to show you care and make them feel good about themselves. As a bonus, you, as the caregiver, feel that nice warm glow from knowing you are needed and can reach out to a loved one. This is our reward for being kind and caring.
DANGER! In some cases our nurturing instinct gets blown out of all proportion. Rather than consciously choosing to sacrifice our needs to help our partners, friends or work colleagues, we are sometimes compelled to do so, fearful of losing the security of the relationship should we fail to take good care of others. In such circumstances, the pain of separation and disapproval outweighs any of the damaging effects on self-esteem that our own martyrdom can cause. In fact, in embedded cases, the person has lost all sense of a boundary between self and those to whom they are attached, if they ever had such healthy boundaries to begin with.
The only accepted clinical diagnosis for people who behave in this manner at this time is having a ‘passive dependent’ personality, but the recognition of the trait in families blighted by alcohol abuse led to the creation of a new term: codependency. Codependency is generally used now across the board.
Codependents (those with an abnormal fear of loss so subservient in nature) will do anything to be that ‘special one’ in the lives of those affected by addiction or a personality disorder, in effect extending the illness to the whole family. Whereas a mentally healthy individual would see that a drug abuser or narcissist needs to face up to and overcome their pathological addiction to a substance or supply of attention, the codependent unwittingly perpetuates the problem, making excuses for the other party and living in denial. Put love in the mix and any of us can be placed in this power imbalance.
For codependents in a relationship with a narcissist, this is particularly dangerous, especially when the narcissist decides that the codependent is not providing them with enough of the right kind of attention. As the narcissist begins to humiliate and abuse the codependent, they fall back on their natural defence mechanism of denial and try even harder to win approval.
Escaping a Narcissist
How do we get a person or ourselves out of this suffocating and demoralising position? Tough love and a lot of work to UNDERSTAND what we are mixed up with, UNHOOK ourselves (or our friend) from the toxic bind and then start the process of recovery and work on ensuring this doesn’t happen again because people will go back and repeat this pattern otherwise.
The deadly dynamic between a narcissist and codependent is the subject of my book: ‘Narcissism: Both Sides of the Coin,’ a practical guide to understanding, unhooking and recovering from a narcissistic relationship.