Narcissism & Codependency: You Can’t have One without the Other.

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The term “narcissism” seems to get thrown around like confetti.

My view on labels is: psychological diagnostics in the system don’t work, precisely because everyone is given one in the system if they want their insurance to pay for it.

Usually labels are arbitrary, and after working in the system for the majority of my adult life, I’ve seen people diagnosed with totally different diagnoses by different doctors. I’ve also seen people, who seemed perfectly sane to me, but from really f*cked up families, diagnosed with a ridiculous amount of disorders simultaneously, because they don’t fit into any one category.

I’ve known someone who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder when she was coming down from a three-night meth stint. I haven’t been up for three days straight, but I have no doubt that if I were to, I’d display schizophrenic and bipolar symptoms too. Still, that diagnosis is a part of her written history.

What’s most important here is the pattern at play, not the labels. No one is right or wrong in this piece.

It’s said that if you put 100 people in a room and two of them are on acid, those two people tripping will inevitably find each other, and end up leaving together. They say this is also true of bipolar people. They find each other by vibe alone.

People of like vibes find each other. This always leaves me to wonder about people with like voids.

Narcissism is the shadow counterpart of codependency. Narcissism doesn’t exist without the codependent. This makes me think, when the dance is in motion, it’s because we’ve found ourselves someone with a like void.

If everyone on the planet had a healthy self-concept, except narcissists, the narcissism wouldn’t last long because no one would care enough to play the game. Our idea of a “healthy person” wouldn’t be jeopardized, thus jeopardizing the entire game the narcissist plays.

Narcissists are out to punish other people the second their sense of self (which is false even as they see it) is rattled. This diverts attention from their own flaws while positioning themselves as the superior who’s got it all figured out. However, the narcissist really wants someone else to carry their pain.

Codependents go out of their way to please when their self-worth is rattled. Usually, they’ll overcompensate for their own perceived flaws with niceties, bending over backwards to “fix” someone else’s problems—including themselves—if the someone else makes the codependent out to be the problem.

They genuinely seek to be good, and never want to make anyone feel pain because they name themselves the carriers of the world’s pain, and don’t want other people to have to carry it.

This is a radical assertion for sure, but hear me out…

What if, at the simplest level, narcissism and codependence are the flip side of the same coin, and that coin is titled “I have no f*cking clue how to be comfortable with intimacy—but I desperately want it”?

Someone comfortable with intimacy is someone who’s got a solid sense of character that can’t be defiled in the sense that they don’t feel their worth is contingent upon the approval of another. They won’t deviate from their integrity because they’ve likely never had to defend themselves to maintain it in the way someone with a volatile sense of intimacy has had to.

Both the narcissist and the codependent have likely had to defend themselves for reasons that made little sense to them, because they didn’t originally intend to be “offensive” which made them feel “wrong.”

The narcissist externalizes feeling wrong by projecting all of their fear of their flaws onto the codependent, making the codependent feel totally crazy—especially if the codependent is highly empathic. The narcissist becomes offensive to control their own defence.

The codependent internalizes feeling wrong, and seeks to be better in hopes of proving they meant no offence, even in situations where none is assumed.

They’ve both built up, time and time again, tactics to combat the feeling of extreme unworthiness.

The narcissist is incredibly inauthentic. They don’t know, without the validation of others who will concur with their projected identity, what their true worth is. To point out an inauthenticity in a narcissist will always lead you down a path of burning coals.

A codependent may or may not be inauthentic, but they definitely hide their authenticity. In far too many cases, they may only offer up their authenticity to the narcissist, making some kind of sacred offering for truth that’s an exclusive deal between the two of them. The narcissist is then given free reign to experience authenticity vicariously through someone else with one objective in mind: to own it for themselves. When they realize they can’t, they’ll stop at nothing to demolish it.

Narcissists give a lot of sh*t—codependents take it. Narcissists take a lot of energy—codependents give.

Narcissists are toxic. Truly.

They’ll make you fat, suck you dry, spit you out, drown you in their criticisms that are often disguised as backhanded comments of praise, but without the praise. They’ll be the marionette and you’ll be the puppet in your own mind. They will assess your weak spots, and tease you with them until those weaknesses are ready to choke you. And then, they will come and save you from your weakness, so you owe them for their generosity.

You will be made to feel guilty. You will be made to feel confused, small, and ashamed for having needs, and you will not understand a f*cking thing that’s going on. Yes, it’s toxic. It sucks, and it needs to stop.

Now, let’s get to the codependent part. No one who was truly comfortable with self-intimacy would ever engage in a narcissist’s game.

If the voids are the same, both colored in “I’m not enough, but I desperately want to be,” the narcissist gets to be the perpetrator, the codependent the victim. Both, the abuser.

One abuses others as a means of not facing the self.

One abuses the self as a means of not facing others.

How does one abuse the self as a means of not facing others? By choosing to love a narcissist who’s probably never seen the real you a day in your life with utmost appreciation for your being and continuing to show up at their back door, never to be let in, because our truth is, we’re afraid to be seen for who we truly are. So, we pick a narcissist who won’t see us anyway, and get to call ourselves a victim in the end.

But, I’m here to say, our victimhood is upheld by our “not enough-ness,” and not by the narcissist.

As a reformed highly empathetic codependent, I’m not going to focus on the narcissist, nor will I try to save them. If there’s anything the narcissists who’ve shown up in my life have taught me is: we’ve gotta save ourselves.

Sadly, most of my codependent peeps haven’t considered saving themselves a day in their lives. They’re always busy saving someone else. Dare they be so “narcissistic” as to only think of themselves? Yes, that’s what I’m here to tell you to do.

If you’re codependent, I want you to be even more selfish than your narcissist told you you were, and actually wholeheartedly own your space—your mental and physical space—the space where you make life choices. Your expansion requires you to do so. I assure you.

Your best asset to combat the effects of narcissism is, hands down, self-care. Whether you’re in a codependent relationship right now or you’re out of one that’s a fresh wound, the insidious ramifications of narcissistic abuse don’t leave easily.

They daze you for as long as you’re still focused on the narcissist and not on yourself (in a healthy way, not an internalization way). Which is ironic, because the narcissist demands we focus on ourselves in the most negative light. They provoke weaknesses, like a cat and mouse game, just for fun. And, even though you’re the mouse trying to figure out how you’re going to make it out of the maze, your sole focus is on the cat.

No clarity can come when they’ve got us split between focusing on the cat and the maze. We become so distorted we forget we’re a mouse. Sometimes, we even think we’re the cat.

Self-care isn’t just new age fluff, it’s spirit and science. It’s essential to be in alignment with your source, your strength, and your essence. Self-care doesn’t have to be a weekly pedicure or massage, or going to the gym three days a week. Self-care can be, and is as simple as, looking in the mirror and saying to yourself, “Wow, I haven’t seen you in a while. It’s so good to see you.”

You are not the things they’ve made you believe about yourself, so please my love, do yourself a favor…tap into that gorgeous pumping heart of yours, feel it out, and write about it. Write your heart a love note from your head for all it’s been through.

Self-care is being grateful for who and what you are and the sensual experiences you’ve called into your life and are capable of having. Self-care is knowing you don’t have to defend yourself, nor are you responsible to sugar-coat your truth for the sake of someone else’s feelings.

Self-care is giving yourself permission to walk away. Giving self-love a greater foundation in your heart than the foundation of fear that’s kept you imprisoned to a toxic relationship.

Self-love isn’t rehashing why it happened or how you’re going to handle the backlash of leaving. It’s thinking about what you want—and moving your ass in the direction of it, at all costs.

If you wanna save someone, save yourself.

Only when we, as codependents, fill our own voids and get willing to face our fears of not being enough by letting ourselves be authentically seen in our lives, is when we become impermeable to subconsciously inviting the narcissistic pattern into our lives. Self-care is the first step.

Nothing outside of you is holding you back—not even the narcissist.


Author: Stacy Hoch
Image: Unsplash
Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Copy Editor: Emily Bartran
Social Editor: Taia Butler

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Stacy Hoch

Stacy Lee Hoch, M.A., CLC is a psychotherapist, life coach empoweress in private practice who works with anxiety and codependent prone women all over the world to heal, love, and trust themselves. She’s a holistic mother of three, an earthbound misfit, lover by choice, fighter by necessity, and the author of every woman’s must read book, Imperfectly Sane, available on Amazon. Stay connected to Stacy Lee’s daily whatnots on Facebook or subscribe to her newsletter.

Doris Mueggler Nov 16, 2018 11:08am

This is the best article I ever read about Narcissism and acctually the codependent. I grew up with a violent, narcisst father and a codependent mother and reading this I can also see how they both changed roles in their dance. I'm already a long time on a healing path, but somehow I never saw the codependent part so clearly. The big learning for me is to see and accept that I was trained by good teachers and I can dance both parts, but usualy I was busy saving someone else.

Shivani Laura St George Nov 15, 2018 12:18pm

Wow. This had me in tears. So well-written. Really helped me see into things more clearly. Thank you. I continue to walk away.

Rebecca Mckown Nov 15, 2018 12:18pm

Thank you for making clear the reality of the codependent narcissist relationship. This took me years to understand. What a wonderful resource you’ve offered to the codependent.❤️

Leah Dal Santo Nov 14, 2018 2:26pm

Bullshit. Gaslighting is a real thing. Narcissistic people may prey on personalities that are more than likely to adhere or be more conducive to their way of thinking. Even if there is a strong person in the relationship , they are never heard. Could try to work it out...but it is futile.

Sukriti Chhopra Sep 7, 2018 5:34am

Wow, it seems you have written each thing as I went through it. It is uncannily accurate to what I've undergone. Thankfully I am fresh out of it, and will follow your advice how to fill that void inside me, without seeking it outside of me. Thank you Stacy.

Bonnie Valentine Sep 6, 2018 7:24pm

Thank you.. for real.

Denise Kahn Sep 6, 2018 2:59am

I think it’s sad to love a person with such a complex brain. But I’ll always love them, but now from a distance.

Robin Acklin Aug 13, 2018 9:23pm

I think you just saved my life; or at least, my sanity. Thank you.

Daniel Massao Dobrasil Jun 2, 2018 10:01pm

codependent people can create narcissists; it is not the narcissistic person fault if that is the case both victim and narcissistic position are bad. codependent need others to be narcissist, otherwise their victim shield view will fall-down and they will feel hopeless and suicidal. so they trigger others to be narcissists . they dont love. who would be so cruel to make another person narcissistic to validate one own feelings? and who would ignore others needs and live like big babies narcissists? people with heart-root-solar chakra illness . superating both narcissism and codependence is about taking resposability to one's action and position in the world as adults and let go of anger hate - resentment issues that keep blinding your heart.

Lisa Anne Zoubek Apr 26, 2018 3:05am

I was married to a Narcissist and I'm not Codependent I never tried to fix him I just did what I could to eventually get away from him!

Scott Sullivan Feb 1, 2018 12:11pm

A very interesting and thought provoking article. Thank you for sharing.

Ruby Starr Dec 6, 2017 3:44am

"I’ve known someone who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder when she was coming down from a three-night meth stint. I haven’t been up for three days straight, but I have no doubt that if I were to, I’d display schizophrenic and bipolar symptoms too. Still, that diagnosis is a part of her written history." So many things to say about this. Did she tell her dr she was coming off a 3 night meth stint? I'm guessing not, if she was diagnosed with both. She is responsible for giving her Dr a full honest account of her behavior. I get that it could put her healtthcare at risk because of drug use, but really. Clarity is important here. If we are talking metrics for diagnosis, honesty in substance use would make a HUGE difference. If she wasn't honest for fear of losing healthcare, or judgement from her Dr, that's a whole other issue that should be addressed in a different article. This person sounds like more of a candidate for rehab. Honestly, I didn''t get beyond that before responding, for me, that anecdote is a flaw in your reasoning. I have been through rehab, and there were SO many people who later were diagnosed as bipolar, who were self medicating with substances. The issue is incredibly complex, considering our healthcare system. Reading the rest of the article now.

Layne Baumgardner Dec 6, 2017 2:39am

I disagree that attracting someone of a certain "vibe" or "diagnosis" is because you are of the same. I seem to find a lot of bipolar people and I'm not bipolar. But I am pretty sure my mom is. I think it's totally possible to attract vibes you're used to "handling" because you know how to relate to them. It could be that they feel "safe" and "normal" because you were exposed to them in your family of origin.

Allison Reid Dec 5, 2017 3:01pm

🎯! I've read lots of articles explaining this dynamic, (aka my life) but this one resonated w/ me in a way that no other has. Its a crazy thing. I work in social services & am fully aware of all the unhealthy behaviors& thought patterns at play in my relationship. It's about learning how to get my heart to take my brains advice at this point. This spoke to me on that level. Thank you for that😊

Josie Menendez Oct 25, 2017 3:41am

This is so healing.More clarification that I was in an unhealthy relationship and was strong to walk away.Self care is amazing!

Stacy Lee Aug 14, 2017 9:22pm

Oh my heart.

Nancee Tanner Aug 13, 2017 12:16pm

I would like to personally "bow at the shrine" of Stacy Hoch, but there probably isn't one. I have spent 25 years writing two books in trying to find answers about my crazy life, which at the age of 72 is continuing to be lived alone, disillusioned and wondering just exactly what how a mental healthcare professional would diagnose ME! I have always been there for other people and as a senior citizen I am left high and dry with nothing but books that have many answers and explanations, but no cure or bandage for my "winter" years. Stacy....dear Stacy...whereever you are.....This article has soothed my soul like nothing else in my entire existence. Please take this note (hopefully you will see it) as the greatest, heartfelt, thank you I have ever expressed to any human soul. You gave me truths that will help me begin to better love myself to my dying day. TI don't mean to be overly dramatic, but truthfully, this article has helped me want to live again. Nancee Tanner, author of TRUE CONFESSIONS OF A SINGLE MOM and TRUE CONFESSIONS OF A TRANSFORMED WOMAN. P.S. I would love to send you complimentary copies when I get them in a few weeks....but you have already heard many harrowing stories... one more will just be one more....I look forward to reading your book.

Chris Conover Aug 12, 2017 3:51am

There are several truths in your writing. Thank you.

Shannon Walker Aug 11, 2017 7:22am

Thank you.

Jerry Ferguson Aug 10, 2017 8:27pm

Sometimes we need a different perspective to understand ourselves better. This was a very moving piece. Beautifully done, Stacy Thank you

Deborah Whatts Aug 10, 2017 3:42pm

Spot on.I liked reading it.Fabulous.

Tata Mendez Aug 10, 2017 2:41pm

absolutely beautifully written !!!!

Shelly Denise Aug 8, 2017 3:02am

Kara Wethington

Stacy Lee Aug 7, 2017 9:04pm

When the only mirror we have, and the only lens we've seen through is one that's this kind of chaos, inevitably, we will play out both roles. Both tendencies (narcissism and codependence) are learned patterns embedded in our neuropathways. Essentially both sides become addicted to the kinds of situations that will envoke those neural receptors to fire, even if we say we don't like it. Role reversal might happen as a means of keeping the system in it's equillibrium, even if it's a system we know we're stuck in and isn't healthy. Say the temperature of your relationship is at 62 degrees. That may be cold for you, but it's comfortable for you. Essentially, you've learned to be most comfortable in the discomfort. When one person, say the narcissist, shifts to a warmer perspective, it'll be natural for the codependent to flip to a cooler temperature in order to balance out the discomfort of having the relationships temperature change. Thus, they may mirror the tendencies of the other person to hold on to the dynamic as they've known it. Even if we want it, we fear change. Awareness is key because role reversal only happens to maintain the dysfunction - again, likely because we're dealing with two people who are truly afraid of staring in the face of intimacy, so when one looks at the other, the other looks away and vice versa. And, in my opinion, the narcissist is WAY more dependent on the codependent than the other way around because the narcissist needs the codependent to be inferior so they can be superior. The codependent is ok with equality, the narcissist, is not. Seems like what you're asking though is more about a couples addiction to the pattern itself, than an addiction to the role they play in the pattern. Hope this is clear Maria! XO

Maria Grace Aug 7, 2017 6:49pm

Hello This is a really good read - thank you. I'm working seeing what your thoughts are about couples who may role reverse in this ? That is the narcissist become co dependent and vice versa.