In a relentless and often uncompromising pursuit of perfection and admiration through various methods of enhancing their self-image, a narcissist (a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder) inevitably feels drawn towards those who exhibit so-called ‘codependent’ traits: they maintain and boost the narcissist’s self-image, providing narcissistic supply, as well as enabling their toxic ways and influence.
At the incipient stage of the relationship, whilst the mask hasn’t slipped and reality hasn’t seeped through the well-fabricated illusion, the pairing seems like a match made in heaven. But in time, it becomes obvious they are both quite damned, as their relationship starts morphing into something toxic.
Since narcissists are not in touch with their feelings and true selves, and co-dependents derive their sense of self from their relationships – particularly from the feeling of being needed – they’re often incapable of forming a meaningful bond with one another. Without an awareness of self-sabotaging patterns that trap them in dysfunctional relationships, the co-dependent might find themselves on a path of disempowerment.
Outwardly, it might seem like narcissists and codependents are polar opposites that complete each other through their differences. […] In reality though, the behavioural patterns of both narcissistic and codependent individuals share a key similarity: an unsubstantial sense of self that requires a coping mechanism.
The narcissist’s adaptive response is to create a false, idealised self that revolves around worshipping their self-image at the expense of the authentic self – which tends to be cast into oblivion. The codependent, on the other hand, relies on a self-concept that is defined in relation to their partner: if the relationship fails or they fail to satisfy their partner, they perceive themselves as a failure, and their self-worth plummets.
Both approaches are unhealthy and not conducive to genuine self-fulfilment, and this becomes apparent over time. By that point, however, the two will probably have become entangled with each other to a degree that makes it seem impossible to escape.
Their identities will have merged: the narcissist tends to see the codependent as an extension of the self, they interact with their partner as a mental construct, or, in psychoanalytic terms, as the “internal object” (the inner symbolic representation of another) in a way that simply reaffirms their ego superiority. At the same time, in the mind of the codependent, boundaries between the self and the other are blurred, as they become engulfed by the relationship.
Check out my full articles on Talking Mental Health for an in-depth analysis of the power dynamics between narcissists and codependents:
Narcissists and codependents: Part 1 – What brings them together? https://www.talkingmentalhealth.com/post/narcissists-codependents-what-brings-them-together
Narcissists and codependents: Part II – How their relationships turn toxic https://www.talkingmentalhealth.com/post/narcissists-codependents-how-their-relationships-turn-toxic