While codependency and narcissism might seem like opposites, the reality is much more complicated. Often, the two often go hand in hand. To understand why, we first must understand how each work.

Let’s look at what codependency and narcissism are individually, and then at how they tend to work together.

What Is Narcissism?

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a diagnosable mental disorder. It is defined as showing at least five of these nine identifiers:

  1. Arrogant behaviors and attitudes
  2. A sense of self-importance
  3. Enviousness of others or believing others are envious of them
  4. A lack of empathy
  5. Taking advantage of personal relationships
  6. A strong sense of entitlement
  7. Needing constant admiration
  8. A belief that they are special and deserve special treatment
  9. Fantasies of power, authority, and success

What Is Codependency?

Codependency is a trait of unhealthy relationships where there is a heavy power imbalance.

Typically, one person gives all their time, energy, and emotional labor to another. Codependent partners may have an extreme fear of abandonment and experience anxiety in the relationship. Did they do something wrong? Are they good enough? Will their partner leave them?

They also struggle to socialize with people outside the relationship and may take on their partner’s struggles as their own. Often (and unfortunately), codependent relationships include emotional and/or physical abuse.

How Are They Connected?

Narcissists and codependent partners will sometimes form partnerships because the two disorders feed each other. These can quickly turn into toxic, unhealthy patterns of behavior and communication, including resentment, exploitation, manipulation, and burnout.

Narcissists are usually only concerned with themselves, and codependents are preoccupied with others. Codependents lose their self-esteem in over-caring for their partners. On the other side, narcissists gain self-esteem from others’ admiration. The mutual desire to feel needed ties them together. Because one person gives and the other takes, they find a sense of security in the relationship.

But what does this look like?

An Undefined Sense of Self

Both narcissists and codependents lack a wholly individual identity because their identity relies on others. They have each developed an idealized version of themselves.

Narcissists believe they’re more important than others and deserve power over them. Codependents see themselves as martyrs defined by their selflessness.

In reality, both personality types are masks for the deep shame and inadequacy they feel. The idealized versions of themselves are created for the outside world, leading them to lose connection with their own true identity.

Dysfunctional Communication

Shame and denial are key parts of narcissism and codependency. Both symptoms create big problems for communication.

When someone is in denial about their feelings, they can’t admit those feelings to anyone (including themselves). Therefore, their strategy is to mask their feelings with anger and conflict.

As a result, when shame and denial aren’t confronted honestly, a person develops unhealthy communication skills. The codependent denies their reliance on their partner, and the narcissist covers their shame with arrogance. Both lead to an inability to truly connect with others.

Lack of Boundaries

Dysfunctional communication is how codependents and narcissists are unable to keep healthy boundaries. Their relationships are marked by projecting thoughts and feelings onto others.

This manifests itself as a desire for control in relationships. The codependent is terrified that their partner will abandon them. Therefore, this fear makes them cross boundaries to soothe their anxieties. The narcissist sees others as extensions of themselves and is unafraid to humiliate, accuse, and criticize other people to feel powerful.

Moving Forward

You may be wondering if you have narcissistic or codependent tendencies. If you’re in a relationship showing these traits, it’s important to navigate what’s happening with a professional.

A therapist can guide you toward developing healthy communication strategies and help you understand how your childhood and past trauma may be affecting your adult life.

If you’re looking for more information about diagnosing narcissism, getting out of codependent behaviors, and healing your relationships, please reach out to us.

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