10 Jul Wake Up and Smell the Poison
Narcissists are well-versed in the art of seduction and a co-dependent is programmed to put others on a pedestal. Together, the result is inevitable:
O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
But like the invisible worm in Blake’s poem, narcissists have no interest in helping the rose to bloom. They seek only to extract the goodness within before discarding what’s left. Even worse, narcissists’ venom is injected slowly, over time, hardly noticed at first. However, it does leave traces and the sooner a co-dependent can realise what is happening to them, the more chance there is that they can wriggle out of their attacker’s clutches and escape with their identity and soul intact.
5 Ways to Detect the Poison
What happens when you try to develop yourself? Does your partner or significant other (boss, mother, brother, etc.) throw their support behind you and offer encouragement? Or do they undermine your efforts and mock you for your ambition? Narcissists’ poison acts to stunt growth so that nourishment seems to come from them alone.
Have you tried to leave narcissists before but been hooked back in? This is a common pattern since narcissists perfect the cycle of abuse while co-dependents fear being cast aside – a fear of really being unlovable and alone for eternity. Physically walking away from narcissists is not enough; victims need to strengthen their psychological defences against this type of relationship addiction.
Just Can’t Seem to do Anything Right?
Narcissists are experts in subtly turning the tide of life against their victims.
Receiving an offhand comment here and an implied criticism there will gradually build up to an inner feeling of not quite being on the ball. Not realising that it is their very own narcissist who has changed their behaviour, replacing their sham care and concern with their natural indifference, the co-dependent is manipulated and puts down the loss of connection to their own shortcomings.
If you are starting to feel that whatever you do is never good enough – in love, in work, in the home – the narcissist’s poison may be at work, eating away at your sense of self and reducing your ability to function independently.
It’s not about you, baby
Have you heard the McFly song: ‘It’s All About You?’ Well, narcissists often claim that to be the case in the fulfilling early stages of a relationship but when they have their partner ensnared the pretence will gradually fall away until they become nothing more than a plaything.
Narcissists manipulate kindness and feelings around guilt. If they feel their co-dependent partners are coming around to the reality of the situation they may throw out some more hooks with apologies or more gushing praise. But this is only another dose of the narcissists’ venom. Once they feel their victim is back under their control they will go back to ignoring their needs.
You know when you are at this stage as your narcissist can make your world great or a disaster in a moment; but remember this is your co-dependence at work too.
Where did the fun go?
One of the hallmarks of a narcissistic relationship is the huge contrast between the lovely, idyllic initial stage (the whirlwind romance or the star treatment at work) and the barren period that follows. Do you still enjoy it when you are in the other person’s company or do you find being with them a challenge now? Is your enjoyment too wrapped up in their behaviours? Are they, in effect, in control of your happiness?
If you find that the fun has gone out of your life, it may be that you just need to take steps to find new activities (or rediscover old ones) to rekindle your enthusiasm. However, if you find your efforts being deliberately undermined by your partner or relative, warning bells should definitely start sounding.
Where did you go?
When you cast your mind back to the time before you became involved with your partner, work colleague, employee, etc. how have you changed? Development is natural but if you have changed in a negative way – become more withdrawn, less confident, less adventurous – then your relationship may be destroying you from within and you are enabling this.
Do you even recognise yourself as the same person anymore? Or, have you heard yourself say, “this never exists in any other relationship I have; no one else would ever treat me like this (nor would you let them!).” We only repeat these familial learnings in intimate relationships where our co-dependent nature is sniffed out.
If one or more of the above ring true for you, perhaps you need to make a clean break.
5 Steps to Unhooking from Narcissists
So how can those trapped in co-dependent relationships with narcissists escape? How can they can start putting the wheels in motion which will help them to untangle themselves, build up their defences against reinfection, re-energise and start reclaiming their authentic self?
Recognise the problem
There will be little chance of success in breaking free from a poisonous relationship if the victim remains in denial. However, once they have recognised their damaging dynamic for what it is then escape is possible. If you are still wondering if your relationship is worth it, remember that a healthy relationship will have its difficult moments but won’t leave you drained all the time. You may not get the response you want or need all of the time but you won’t be left feeling chronically unwanted either. And you may have to make sacrifices but so will the other half of the relationship; it is a push and pull compromise/negotiation. Put your relationship under the microscope and be honest with yourself (am I healthy here?)
Understand what keeps you going back for more?
People who have never been in a co-dependent relationship with a narcissist fail to grasp the two-way dynamic that forms the bond. Having been absorbed in and entwined with the concerns of someone else for so long, the co-dependent may feel unable to function as an individual. If this sounds like you, think about what you receive from the toxic relationship. Is it a sense of security, power or connection? Is your very identity bound up with your partner’s? Identifying the benefits of being in a damaging relationship will help you as you start to look for new ways to satisfy those basic needs elsewhere.
Fill your life
Like an addict withdrawing from their drug, the loss of the narcissist from your life will leave a hole that craves to be filled. Time will eventually close it over but, in the meantime, the fuller your life is, the easier it will be for you to move on. Take up that hobby you’ve always promised yourself when you ‘get time’. Call up some old friends or make some new ones.
Forgive your past weakness
Once the co-dependent accepts their own role in propagating the toxic relationship there can be an upsurge of self-directed anger and shame. These emotions need to be released and replaced with the conviction that you are worthy of real love and genuine attention.
Read Narcissism & Codependency: Both Sides of the Coin
For a more in-depth examination of the codependent-narcissist dynamic, drawing on real-life examples from ‘the chalkface’ of therapy, consider obtaining a copy of Narcissism & Codependency: Both Sides of the Coin, available via both Amazon (hard copy) and the Apple store (digital version). Together with the strategies above, this resource is focused on helping codependents to understand, unhook from and recover from their poisonous relationships with narcissists.
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