Among my patient group (and circle of friends), there are people who continually allow others to take advantage of them, continue to give and stay in very toxic relationships. They attempt to make themselves indispensable for their partners (and everyone else) and become the local and family martyr. They are the codependents who keep on giving. It is also very often the case that these people are either in or have been in a relationship with someone who has narcissist tendencies. In fact there are indications that suggest that they might even seek out such types.
There is a dance in codependency that involves the intimate relationship between codependents and narcissistic types. Codependents lack a healthy relationship with self. They are prone to put others first before their own needs. This is unhealthy.
Narcissists also have an unhealthy relationship with self. They put themselves above all else. They use others toward their own ends and exploit relationships without feelings of guilt or remorse. They push blame onto others and are unable to see their own part in wrong doing. It is easy to see how codependents and narcissists get hooked up. It is like two pieces of the puzzle coming together. One is the easy mark for the other.
Codependents have an external point of reference and find it hard to set emotional and psychological boundaries. They often obsess about what their narcissist partner is or isn’t doing. They generally constantly try to find empathy and compassion in people who are unable to show this. They continually give the narcissist the benefit of the doubt as it is difficult sometimes as humans to believe such behaviour exists. The cycle starts and continues until the narcissist has complete control over the relationship.
The narcissist, being generally bereft of the ability to show true emotion and empathy saps emotional energy from the codependent. The narcissist’s relationship is with him/herself; he sees a partner as an extension of him/her self and they need to simply fit in. Partners of narcissists are often times confused, hurt and feel abandoned. Yet they stay with them because the narcissist will lure the partner back in by occasionally exhibiting once more the charm, excitement and attention they initially gave, leaving the partner with a sense of hope that things will get better. In public, narcissists display their charismatic feigned self. People are drawn to them and find them charming and entertaining. Back at home they show their true colours and revert back to belittling their partner and perhaps the person they were just entertaining.
The good news is that codependents can be helped in therapy. As they tend to shoulder responsibility for all and everything, setting of healthy boundaries and developing a sense of true Self meeting their own needs, can eventually help them draw away from the narcissist. At this point, no-contact in any form is the advised way forward. This is often difficult initially due to the unhealthy patterns of interaction that have been set. As for the narcissist, they are stuck in their own world of non blame and hence are pathologically unable to change. How can one change if they are unable to see that there is anything wrong with them?