Codependency and Narcissism: 10 Similar-Yet-Distinct Patterns You Need to Break (to Free Yourself) By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

On the surface, the dance of narcissism and codependency consists of two completely opposite dance partners. There are at least 10 similar,  in the patterns between the two, and seeing these patterns gives us a glimpse of what is really going on to keep both addicted, stuck repeating the same dance steps, despite all the evidence they make things worse.

First, to see what’s really happening in a couple relationship with these dynamics, we cannot ignore that the steps of codependency and narcissism are based on deeply ingrained and socialized gender roles for men and women, that keep both partners primarily focused on the “needs and wants” of the male partner — at least, this is what has social approval.

Awareness, in this case of similarities between the two, is always the first step to break free of an addictive relation pattern, and set ourselves free to love with our whole heart.

1. Both feel “needed” on the basis of perceiving the other as “weak, incapable” child.

The codependent feels “needed” on the basis of seeing the narcissist somewhat like a child, “weak” and incapable of handling their emotions and certain situations, such as signs that someone disappointed them or failed to give them preferential treatment, and so on. Adept at propping up egos, she monitors the environment around the clock, to protect his ego, provide safety and comfort, in nearly exact ways that a mother would attentively care for a small child.

The narcissist feels “needed” on the basis of of seeing the codependent like a child, in nearly exact ways that an authoritarian parent, with “rights and responsibilities” to correct, to scold, to punish, to mold, to lecture, overall, to dominate and obtain one-side “respect” (which really means “obey without question”).

2. Both anxiously protect their own illusion of “how things are.”

Codependents believe they are capable of being a super-human source of everything he needs, to rescue him from feeling any upsets, disappointments, to include using her like a drug to numb — rather than feel the pain — of his cruel actions. rescue a partner addicted to numbing their pain with either substances or persons; this is part of maintaining the illusion that they can be a source of everything for the other, to include a buffer that absorbs all the pain in the relationship, so the other doesn’t have to feel any.

The narcissist is ever on the alert around the clock lest anyone break the illusion he holds of himself as superior and entitled. He also “needs’ others to view him as independent, impervious to the emotional needs of others, incomparably superior especially to his partner, and thus entitled to preferential treatment. Anything that threatens to tarnish the illusion, or the discovery that his wounded ego needs to be propped up like a house of cards, is what he most fears.

 3. Both are in a heated competition for some arbitrary “prize.”

The codependent is in a “competition” of sorts, with regard to who is going to win the “giving their all for the other” prize, etc. Of course this is not “seen” as a competition, however, the “giving” person is riding a train that is energized high frequency power. They attract others to themselves. This makes her feel worthy, alive, and she anxiously hoards most of the giving “power” in the relationship. Expecting little or nothing in return, she makes sure to stay one step ahead of the narcissist, so that he doesn’t have to stretch himself to say or do something beneath him, ever there to comfort him, and others who get in his way.

The narcissist is in a ferocious competition for what he thinks is “real” power, that is, the power to dominate, subvert one’s will for own use and pleasure. His philosophy of life (relationships) is based on the concept of “might makes right,” ruled by jungle-animal instincts, governed — not by the higher brain and frontal cortex, and rather — by the lower brain’s survival system, which is hyper-vigilantly on guard for any signs that his partner is attempting to take over control of their den.

4. Both hold limiting beliefs about having “magical” powers.

A codependent believes her worth, as a human being, depends on proving to the world that she can “keep her man” and relationship in tact, and that they way a woman does that is with the “magical” powers that only women have to make or break a man’s masculinity. Thus, she must never do anything that would make him feel “uncomfortable” as a man, such as to ask him to be romantic, communicate like two partners, make suggestions, try to influence decisions, say no to something he wants (especially sex), and in general, to never expect him to be interested in any “things” that only the female-sex, or gays, should be interested in.

A narcissist believes his worth, as a human being, either overtly or covertly, depends on proving he has “magical” powers to “fix” (socialize) his partner, similar as a parent does with a child, to get her to never question him, to feel ashamed or fearful of every bringing up her “emotional” stuff, etc., but especially to get her to  “man up,” to be more callous, cruel and detached in dealing with her own or the children’s “softness” or “hurts”; and thus to “fix” and eliminate any of her tendencies toward emotional “craziness,” whining for closeness, connection, and the like.

5. Both have unrealistic expectations for self and other. 

The codependent is consumed by expectations that, if she makes sure her only pleasure is making him feel loved, respected, important and valued, and never thinking about her own needs, wants, dreams, pain, etc., she will gain his approval and trust, and that then somehow or someday he will express love and kindness in return, and will see all her efforts and the pain she’s had to endure, and thus, all her efforts were not in vain. Thus, once she satisfies all of the requirements, the narcissist will somehow grant her the fairy tale life, because he will at last want to give her the love and appreciation she yearns for, without her ever asking.

The narcissist is consumed by expectations that, if he makes sure he stays in control, doesn’t give her an inch of “control,” display his superior use of skills, strategies, fear- and punitive tactics, etc., like a child, she will realize this was for her own good, and will willingly want to obey and be grateful for all his efforts to fix her “emotional craziness,” and understand she was born to bring him comfort and pleasure, and deny her own self. Thus, once he trains her to only attend to his needs, wants, pain, pleasure, that he can shape her behavior, emotions and thoughts, so that she not only obeys at will, and never complains about what he does or how cruel he is, she will also somehow see this was her only pleasure all along, and that living with him is like heaven.

6. Both are “needy” or dependent on the other to feel worthy and alive.

The codependent depends on her partner to fulfill a “neediness” to prove her self-worth, by sacrificing her self and needs, ultimately gain the other’s approval, to feel deserving of love and affection, appreciated for all her sacrifice.

The narcissist’s unhealthy “need” is an unhealthy “neediness” for others to subjugate themselves, their needs and wants, in order to make them feel that they have proven they are “good enough” and have proven their superiority, and ability to dominate.

7. Both are addicted to the power they feel they have over the other.

The codependent is addicted to the power of giving, needing him to turn to her like

a continual source of attention that enables the narcissist to stay dependent on her to rescue him from ever feeling or learning to heal and handle his own — and her — emotions of vulnerability.

The narcissist is addicted to the power of feeling worthy and alive from finding someone he can dominate, own, use as a continual source of emotional energy, so that he can maintain the illusion that “the emotional void” inside him is a sign of strength and superiority.

8. Both judge, and look down on the other, as weak.

The codependent judges the narcissist for being “insensitive and clueless about what really matters in life,” such the emotional connection between them, the way he treats her or the children, and so on.

The narcissist judges the codependent as “inferior and weak” for being emotional, for not seeing all the tricks he uses to get her to feel crazy, confused, distract her from having the shared communications, togetherness, etc., she wants to feel.

9. Both hate feeling inadequate in the relationship.

The codependent hates to feel inadequate, and they often do, whenever there are signs that they are not making the other happy, not creating the illusion of loving and stable relationship, and especially fearing they may fail their job of making the relationship work

The narcissist hates feeling inadequate, and they often do, at signs the codependent is not doing what he’s advised or asked, not keeping the rules, and especailly, not keeping her place, by whining about how he treats her, talking about her needs, wants, feelings.

10. Both are controlled ultimately by how they think others (and God?) will judge them.

The codependent’s dance steps are, ultimately, controlled by fear, more than love, that society and the world will judge her by how she uses her power to either make her man feel like a man, or to emasculate him.

In a nut shell, if change in the dynamics occur in the direction of healing both, it starts with the codependent partner, making conscious choices, based on a set intention to set herself free — whether this means to leave the relationship or learn to adapt in ways that you let go of your own life-draining dance steps, and start life-enriching patterns instead.

Ultimately, the same applies to both to set themselves free. Each needs to first want to connect to  their own life-affirming yearnings within, their emotion-drives, and it always starts with growing their awareness of what is really going on.

Together, working as individuals, it’s up to each to break the spell of the tale of beauty and the beast from impacting your heart and mind, brain and body.

Note to a codependent partner who may be reading this:

You can only heal you. And that means, you can only control your dance steps, your partn, your thoughts, emotions, etc., in a relationship.Your own love, respect, acceptance is the only source that can heal you.

narcissist’s dance steps are also, ultimately, controlled by fear, more specifically, that the world will judge him, as a man, by how he uses his power to prove his masculinity and worth, by keeping her at a distance, never giving in to the emotional “closeness stuff,” and avoiding any possible contamination like the plague, always being wary of her “love stuff” as the biggest threat to his masculinity.

Keep in mind that a narcissist partner will rarely, if ever, admit needing to change himself, to get unstuck, etc. And if you’re waiting for him to initiate this change, not going to happen. Remember, he’s on the alert around the clock lest anyone break the illusion of himself as superior and entitled, discover his wounded self, propped up like a house of cards. This is what he fears most.

So if this article starts you thinking about pointing out how he and you are stuck, etc., beware. Nothing brings out the big lion-roars more than evidence from you that he has some weakness. In a flash, he’ll likely turn the tables on you, with personal attacks and gaslighting, sidetracking the focus by enumerating your flaws. It may be with a screaming tirade, or profuse denial that he’s angry in a condescending tone, to make you think there’s no getting through to him (though his face is flushed and jaw muscles are clenched).

In the words of one reader:

“The narcissist appeared to be the answer to all my prayers … but gradually he destroyed everything we had. He simply could not be fixed. I thought I could make him feel loved and safe and secure … but it simply wasn’t – and isn’t – possible. He will never be ‘fixed’ – he will never admit to needing to be fixed.”

Again, you can only heal you.


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