There are so many articles and so much energy focused on narcissists and how mean, nasty, cruel and DANGEROUS they are, especially to their codependent partners. Narcissists are easy to loath and once you’ve been victimized by them, it’s comforting to know you aren’t alone.
I get it. Believe me, I do. In fact, learning about the narcissist is a turning point and a big “aha” moment for all codependents as they dig their way out of the mire in search of sanity. Your search to make sanity out of the insane, to find reason in the unreasonable, to find logic in the illogical, is what led you to blogs like this one. And it’s a very important step in your recovery.
But the biggest step towards recovery, and the one that, ironically, mostly goes unaddressed, is identifying why you are a perfect match for the narcissist. Because let’s be honest. The narcissist didn’t brow beat us into a relationship. We went into it willingly, gleefully, with reckless abandon. Most of us even felt, at least in the beginning, that we were lucky to have found such and awesome person and felt privileged that they would even give us the time of day. That was until they removed their mask and revealed their fangs.
“But they tricked me!” you say defensively.
Yes, sort of. If you are honest with yourself, there were red flags all along the way that you chose to ignore. Like, for instance, the speed with which the narcissist sucked you into a relationship. Or the cruel digs at your appearance/character/intellect, that the narcissist played off as joking, and if you dared react, accused you of being too sensitive. In fact, just as you did as a child, you learned that it was not safe to be your “self” around the narcissist, very early on. Yet you chose to stay and told yourself you were lucky that such an awesome person was “in love” with you.
Like the proverbial frog in a pot of boiling water, the abuse increased right before your eyes and you allowed it to happen because you had little to no self esteem and were an easy target for the narcissist. The reality is that a person with a healthy sense of self would have bolted, even if it was painful and embarrassing, as soon as the narcissist began abusing them.
In your quest to understand why the narcissist enjoys abusing you, did you ever stop to ask yourself, why you enjoy being abused by the narcissist?
“But I didn’t enjoy being abused by the narcissist!” you proclaim loudly in protest.
Perhaps “enjoy” is not the correct verb. No one enjoys being abused, do they?
What would you say if I told you that the reason you are a perfect match for the narcissist is not because you are opposites, and not because you enjoy being abused, but because you and the narcissist are almost exactly alike?
I know what you are saying to yourself. “That’s not true. The narcissist is a predator and I am the victim.”
But it is true. And here is even more ugly truth that you will no doubt have difficulty digesting. The narcissist is the very mirror image of you and he or she treats you with just as much love and respect as you have for yourself.
Ways that narcissists and codependents are exactly alike:
Abandonment of Self at an early age. Both the narcissist and the codependent learned as children, either through abuse, neglect or over-indulgence, that they are not valued, are not good enough and are not worthy of love. So as a young child, both the narcissist and the codependent abandoned their True Selves and decided, instead, that the only way they can ensure their survival is to either live for or through a third party.
Choosing to live vicariously through third parties. The narcissist chose to create a False Self as the third party. The codependent chose to live through the False Self of the narcissist. Let that sink in for a few minutes.
Fear of intimacy. Both narcissists and codependents have abandoned their True Selves so there is no possibility of intimacy. In essence, there are two emotionally unavailable people both working to foster the narcissist’s False Self, while both of their abandoned True Selves are shoved away somewhere in a dark closet of their mind, dying from emotional starvation.
Ways that narcissists and codependents vary:
Narcissists create a False Self to replace the abandoned True Self. This False Self is the narcissist’s emotionally immature embodiment of what a small child imagines a successful, mature adult would be. But because the narcissist has never had a healthy relationship modeled, and he or she lacks empathy, the narcissist’s False Self is that of the school yard bully or the high school mean girl. Because the narcissist has abandoned the True Self, he lives in an emotional state of darkness and emotional emptiness and is in a constant state of spiritual starvation. As a result, he or she views all sources of ego boost to the False Self (narcissistic supply), however temporary, as something rare and finite, resulting in black and white thinking. For the narcissist, it is all or nothing. You are either a winner or you are a loser. There is no in between or gray area. There is not enough narcissistic supply to go around. The narcissist has no allies. All people are either a source of food (narcissistic supply) or they are a rival for narcissistic supply. Often they are both. The narcissist must have it all. In addition to narcissistic supply being in short supply, the narcissist also believes all relationships are a competition, and that the only way to “win” is to dominate, control and crush their partners.
The codependent, on the other hand, has not created a False Self, but instead, hopes that if he or she feeds the narcissist’s False Self well enough, that the narcissist will be gracious and share in the spoils by “loving” the codependent, who is void of love for his or herself. Of course this never happens. Unlike the narcissist, because the codependent does not have a False Self as interface between herself and her True Self, the codependent feels Empathy. In fact, the codependent feels deeply and passionately for other people. But the codependent has no love or empathy for him/herself.
It is this toxic combination of dysfunction that results in the codependent staying in an abusive relationship with the narcissist, usually ending with the narcissist tiring of the emotionally depleted codependent and discarding them for new supply.
It doesn’t have to end this way, though. If you feel that you are the codependent person in a relationship with a narcissist, unlike the narcissist, you can heal. However, the likelihood of the narcissist destroying his arduously constructed and heartily fortified False Self, and to learn to feel empathy, is counter-intuitive. The narcissist, after all, enjoys destroying others. What possible motivation would he or she have to change when there are endless new sources of codependents available to latch onto the narcissist’s awesome False Self?
Because you, the codependent, have the ability to feel empathy for others, you can learn to divert that empathy to yourself, to heal your inner wounds, and to come to realize that you, the REAL YOU, is worthy of the love you are willing to give to others. YOU CANNOT GIVE WHAT YOU DO NOT HAVE.
Learning to overcome childhood programming is not easy, but it is necessary for your emotional SURVIVAL to do so. Because if you don’t heal these childhood wounds, you may escape from or be discarded by a narcissist, but you will continue to be attracted by and attracted to the narcissist’s False Self, if you have not coaxed your abandoned inner child out of that dark closet and out into the light.
Pam McCoy is a writer, author and co-host of Crazybusters