The man exudes confidence and is highly personable, getting along with everyone. His charm, talent, success, beauty, and charisma cast a spell on the unsuspecting woman. What the woman fails to see is that behind this impressive display is a self-loathing man with low self-esteem and deep-rooted insecurities. The man has an inflated sense of his own importance and a strong need for admiration. One might say he is puffed up with pride. But the woman is so enchanted by his spell that she gets into a relationship with the man.
She is a giver. She gives and gives in order to get the love and attention that she needs to feel whole. Meanwhile, the man becomes more inflated knowing that he has control over this woman. If he ignores her she does more and more in a desperate attempt to get his attention. He knows he can pull the strings, and he chooses to do just that. She is exercising extreme selflessness while he is exercising extreme selfishness. The energy flow is one sided, but the problem lies with both people. The woman is codependent on the man, constantly working for his approval, while the man is dealing with narcissistic tendencies and a desire for power and control in the relationship.
When a codependent and narcissist come together in a relationship, their dance unfolds flawlessly: The narcissistic partner maintains the lead and the codependent follows. Their roles seem natural to them because they have been practicing them their whole lives (more on this later).
The difference between a narcissist and a codependent is that narcissists are selfish, self-centred, and controlling while the codependent is a giver, consumed with the needs and desires of others. The codependent reflexively gives up their power; since the narcissist thrives on control and power, the dance is perfectly coordinated. No one gets their toes stepped on.
The similarity between a narcissist and a codependent is that they both are carrying on to a trauma of being hurt, abandoned, abused, neglected, and/or deprived as a child. Because of enduring trauma at a young age these people may be stunted in their psychological growth, leading them to be overly needy, like a young child is needy with it’s Mother. Because they didn’t receive the amount of love and attention they needed in their developmental years they don’t feel whole, so both the narcissist and the codependent depend on each other to feel whole. The trauma pulls these two types of people together; the one who gives too much, and the one who gives too little. As you can see, the two puzzle pieces fit perfectly.
A relationship like the one being described is not dissimilar than that of a drug addiction. For the codependent, trying to get out of a relationship is like trying to give up a drug. When the relationship ends, the codependent will usually have withdrawal symptoms, but instead of thinking “oh another hit of cocaine won’t hurt”, they are thinking “oh just a text message won’t hurt”. And next thing you know, that pattern starts again. It is not the thought of the drug that consumes their mind, but the thought of the ex-partner. Their withdrawal pains are of utter loneliness, a symptom of the trauma of being neglected as a child.
Ross Rosenberg, an expert in this area, states that both codependents and narcissists come from narcissistic parents. Whether a child becomes a codependent or a narcissist depends on how one adapted to the narcissistic parent. Children can sense their parents and adapt in order to get the love they need.
The child thats going to become codependent is this intuitive child that learns (s)he will be loved and attended to if somehow (s)he can make their parent feel good about themselves. And that adaptation continues with them through their life forming the basis for codependency. The relationship one had with that parent carries on over into romantic relationships.
Alternatively, if a child is not the way their parents expected, they may consciously or unconsciously react to that child as a disappointment, or as the bad child. They can’t see the children for who they really are because of their own narrow view of what a child should be like.
The child that can’t adapt to be the pleasing child is traumatized much worse than the one who has learned to please the parent. The child that was unable to adapt became the recipient of narcissistic injuries due to not getting the unconditional love they needed. The parent, being so into themselves neglects the needs of the child. This is why, as adults, they develop personality disorders and are unable to access the memories due to the trauma being so severe. To avoid being hurt again, they try to control their external circumstances and become the narcissist themselves, a behaviour inherited from the parent. So you can see that the trauma comes from the same place, but it’s the way that the child adapts to it that differs.
When a victim suffers from a traumatic event at the hands of another person, the only real way for the victim to truly heal is through connection with other people. The fundamental experiences which are central to abuse are powerlessness and disconnection from others. Therefore recovery depends on the empowerment of the survivor in order to bring them out of the state of victimhood as well as the creation of new, supportive and lasting social connections. Trauma which occurred (as abuse always does) in the context of human relationships can only be healed within the context of human relationships. The victim must be welcomed into an environment where they are enabled and helped to rebuild the damaged faculties of trust, identity, intimacy, capability, faith, autonomy and love. Though it is true that a survivor of abuse must be the initiator of his or her own recovery, it is up to society to provide the support, love, affection, advice and care which enable that recovery.