Dating a narcissist is not an easy thing to do. And when you combine codependency into the mix, the situation becomes even more of a clusterf*ck. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon situation to find yourself in. If we reflect, most of us have had at least one narcissistic partner with codependent traits at some point in our lives.
If this is you right now, I’d first of all advise you to simply exit the relationship. Swiftly. But I know that when emotions are involved, this is anything but simple. If you can muster the strength to leave, then you will thank yourself for it in future years. But it’s hard af. I know that. And I am not going to pretend that it is anything other than this.
So, if you must stay, then I understand. And I have empathy for that.
But in this case, please keep reading. This article is for you. I am about to address the 7 best ways in which you can mend a narcissist codependent relationship.
Table of Contents
What is a narcissist?
Narcissists come in several different packages, which I will discuss a little later.
For now, the main defining characteristic is a lack of empathy. Additionally, they tend to have a deep disdain for other people. Often not revealed until you are in a romantic relationship with them. And finally, they have a rather amplified, magnificent sense of themselves.
Due to their lack of empathy, a narcissist will quite easily feed off the emotional trauma of others. They use people. Frequently subjecting their partners to emotional abuse. This is to sustain and feed their narcissistic supply.
A narcissist thrives on attention-seeking. They need to boost their over-inflated ego through the approval of others. This is actually due to deep pain and poor self-esteem. But they would never admit to this fragility.
They seek to feel better about themselves by exerting power over their partners. Thus amplifying their sense of importance and superiority. A narcissist will put their partner down constantly, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
Sometimes this is done via passive-aggressive communication and backhanded compliments. Other times it is more obvious, via direct insults, complaints, and put-downs.
The dangers of being in a relationship with a narcissist
A narcissist will often try to tear down the relationships that their partner has with other people. Hence isolating them more and making them even more vulnerable and susceptible to narcissistic abuse. Being in a relationship with a narcissist can be nothing short of catastrophic for the psyche and mental health of a person.
It is important to point out that all of us have narcissistic streaks. This is a survival mechanism. We need to put ourselves first to sustain our existence in the world. Many people will show one or two traits of narcissistic personality disorder or narcissism. But you shouldn’t go pointing the finger and label everyone with one or two traits as a narcissist. If you truly want to know if someone is a true narcissist, pay attention to the lack of empathy.
If someone has empathy, then they cannot be a narcissist. They might be self-centered or self-absorbed. Or they may have a mean streak. But that does not make them a narcissist. Nor does it mean that they have a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Narcissism and empathy are mutually exclusive, and they cannot exist side by side in an individual.
There is more to this thread of narcissism and empathy. Remember that a clever narcissist can learn, through observing others, how to exhibit empathy. But this doesn’t mean that they are feeling or experiencing it.
The smarter the narcissist is, the harder they can be to spot.
Be careful. Learn the signs of a narcissist. Once you have entered a relationship with one, you can fall prey to their subtle manipulation tactics and not even realize what is happening to you.
Common traits among most narcissists are the following:
- Overly focused on meeting their own needs, rather than helping others to meet theirs
- Lack of understanding or intuition about the emotional needs of their partners, friends, and family
- Grandiose self-image
- Magnified sense of self-importance
- Lack of self-love
- Intimacy issues: both physical and emotional
- Tends to have dysfunctional relationships
- Poor understanding of other peoples’ feelings, and the impact of their behavior on those feelings (lack of empathy)
- Tendency to blame others for everything that goes wrong in their life.
The biggest red flag to look out for
Pointing the finger and labelling others as narcissists is something narcissists commonly do to divert the negative attention from themselves and project it onto others.
This is by far the most obvious, giant, screaming red flag that someone could well be a narcissist.
When you reflect on their attitude and words about their past relationships and friendships, a narcsissist will very often label their family members, friends and ex partners as having been such.
At first, this could throw you off-scent when trying to detect a narcissist. But don’t be fooled. They are manipulating you, and they don’t give a f*ck as to who they throw under the bus in order to taint your opinion of that person. This is a tactic employed to generate sympathy for the narcissist and paint a picture of them as the victim.
Now, it is important to point out that you mustn’t jump the gun with this sign. Many of us have indeed encountered, been parented by, or tried to have a loving relationship (LOL) with a narcissist. And it is natural to want to recount these horror stories to other people. But when someone is constantly speaking of ‘this psycho ex I had’, ‘my narcissistic boss’, or ‘my crazy ex wife’, this is a STRONG sign that they are lying, in an attempt to cover their tracks.
Often, the one who points the finger most repeatedly at others, is himself (or herself) the perpetrator. When I think of the true narcissists (only a few, might I add), they are almost always very fast to label others as narcissists. This makes their own behavior even more disturbing, as it clearly demonstrates total awareness, purpose, and a sense of malignancy underneath their words and behaviors.
Covert vs overt narcissists
Narcissists tend to fall into two categories: covert and overt.
Overt narcissists (also known as malignant narcissists) tend to be grandiose. They appear confident, and self-assured, and tend to be liked a great deal by the people they come into contact with.
An overt narcissist will seem to the outside world to have a healthy sense of self-esteem. On the surface, they are charismatic, charming, and highly sociable. It is only when you get close to them that you may start to see through the cracks of their facade, to the insecure and emotionally unhealthy being inside.
Overt narcissists tend to be the most dangerous. They are insidious. Their love bombing is overwhelming and intense. They will sweep you off your feet like no other has ever done so before. The attachment will run deep, and they can be incredibly hard individuals to leave.
But, if you learn to identify the traits of an overt narcissist, you can protect yourself. These individuals can be easy to spot once you know which red flags to look out for.
Covert narcissists, on the other hand, are more subtle and harder to spot. The clue lies within the name.
Hence a connection with them can creep up more insidiously. They are also far more likely to have codependent traits than an overt (or malignant) narcissist. The covert narcissist is thus more tricky to see coming and will be the focus of this article today.
Let’s uncover a few signs of a covert narcissist.
A covert narcissist very obviously has fragile or low self-esteem.
They may present as needy and lacking in self-worth. With a deep-seated belief that they are not good enough. Often presenting as victims with a resentful attitude towards the world, a covert (or vulnerable) narcissist is the total opposite of an overt narcissist.
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What makes a narcissist?
So what makes someone a narcissist? As with many psychological issues, the roots often lie within childhood.
Sometimes, these deeply wounded individuals have a borderline personality disorder. This is what’s known as a ‘cluster B’ personality disorder, and arises due to deep childhood wounds. For someone with borderline, intense childhood trauma created a Jekyll and Hyde situation. Whereby the person oscillates between states of extreme love/neediness and extreme anger.
Individuals with cluster B personality disorders often present with narcissism. These disorders are notoriously hard to treat. Many psychotherapists will not take on a patient who is cluster B. But borderline personality disorder is the most common and is the easiest to treat out of the 4.
Another reason for developing narcissism is having grown up with narcissistic parents. This would explain the lack of empathy.
World-leading expert on narcissism Dr. Ramini Durvasula says that when raising her own children to be good people, her main focus is on teaching and demonstrating empathy. Empathy is a learned behavior. Our parents must correctly model it to us. If they don’t, we can have a gap in our psychology and go on to become fully-fledged narcissists.
Sadly, a covert narcissist would often have suffered verbal abuse or even physical abuse as a young child. This diminishes their sense of self. It inhibits their personal growth and replaces it with fear. As a result, they are pushed to develop narcissistic traits alongside a false, amplified sense of self-importance. This is their coping mechanism for a fragile ego and fragmented self-concept.
Can you have a codependent partner who is also a narcissist?
A covert narcissist will likely also exhibit many traits of co-dependency. Covert narcissism and codependency are complementary roles.
They struggle with setting boundaries. And don’t fit the general mold of someone with narcissistic tendencies. But once you become closer to them, the narcissistic abuse can start, and their true self is revealed.
What is a codependent narcissist?
A codependent narcissist is someone who has strong narcissistic traits. Or they can be someone with narcissistic personality disorder, who ALSO exhibits behaviors of codependency.
Codependency is an overreliance on a partner to meet needs. Hand in hand with codependency comes enmeshment. There is usually a deep fear of abandonment, too.
A codependent narcissist will manipulate, use and control their partner. Whilst at the same time depending on them completely for their sense of identity, belonging, importance, and worthiness.
Hence it is quite a paradoxical situation. One in which the abuser also depends on the abused for their sense of identity and self-worth.
What does a narcissistic codependent relationship look like?
A narcissist codependent relationship will feature narcissistic abuse via control and manipulation. One or both partners will also have an inferiority complex.
As with all narcissistic relationships, there will be no empathy coming from the partner with narcissistic tendencies. They will only act to satisfy their own needs, rather than also addressing and meeting those of their partner. They might even try to alienate their partner from family and cut them off from their friends.
How do you tell if someone with narcissistic personality disorder loves you?
Due to their lack of empathy, it is questionable as to whether a narcissist is even capable of love. They could well need you and rely upon you.
But this does not equate to romantic love. In a healthy relationship, love flows freely and unconditionally between two people. Love is characterized by a willingness to meet each other’s physical and emotional needs. It also allows for a lot of personal freedom, self-expression, and mutual encouragement. Both partners can be fully themselves. Flaws and all. And they know that they will be loved anyway.
For the narcissist codependent person, ‘love’ is merely a word. They utilise it to disguise their vampirish behaviors. A narcissist has strategically constructed their ideas of what love equates to, and how to use the word to their own selfish advantage.
For narcissists, love is a coping mechanism they have established to maintain their narcissistic supply. To them, to love is to control and depend upon.
Who are codependents attracted to?
Codependent people are (usually) attracted to people who also have a weak sense of self or low self-esteem. These kinds of people are more likely to rely upon them, and it is usually one of the main search criteria when they go to seek out their victims. This is how mutually codependent relationships come about, which is something observed very frequently in clinical psychology.
When a codependent person also has traits of narcissism, this accentuates their need to be needed. A narcissist thrives exactly by creating an environment of dependency. This is done via guilt tripping and gaslighting so that they gain the sympathy and attention of their partner. Particularly with covert narcissists, this tends to be the end goal.
What are the three stages of a narcissistic relationship?
The three stages of a narcissistic relationship are generally classified as:
This is also sometimes referred to as the ‘love-bombing’ phase. During this phase, the narcissist will attempt to very quickly win over their partner by dazzling them with compliments and placing them on a pedestal. They may go to very extreme lengths to make their ‘love’ for their partner known.
This stage is usually right after the honeymoon phase of the relationship has ended – about 6 months. But sometimes, it is even sooner than this, just a couple of months into a relationship.
The devaluing stage is where the narcissistic person begins hurling criticisms, put-downs, and passive aggression at their partner. This is often so unpleasant and so intense that if it hadn’t been for the equal intensity (but the flip side of the coin) during the love bombing phase, the partner being devalued would leave.
When the narcissist has sucked their partner dry and feels that they have nothing more worth taking, they will leave them.
Sometimes the narcissist is the one that exits the relationship. Other times, they will behave so poorly (repeated cheating, abuse, etc.), that they force their partner to be the one that leaves them.
Either way, they find an exit strategy, whether direct or indirect, and take it. Swiftly.
What are the signs of a codependent relationship?
You can identify a codependent relationship by looking for a few subtle but obvious signs. If you recognize more than 3 of the below patterns in your relationship, it could well be that there is some codependence, or possibly narcissism and codependency at the same time:
- Your partner treats you like you are their savior. They may refer to you in other-worldly terms such as ‘angelic’. Although this may be flattering at first, it is a big red flag for codependency
- You feel guilty for taking care of yourself or engaging in activities that don’t involve your partner
- You struggle to be separate from your partner and want to be around them at all times
- Either one or both of you regularly cancels or avoids making plans with friends, so that you can spend more time with each other
- One person or both people in the relationship struggle to set healthy boundaries
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What are the top 10 characteristics of a codependent person?
The top 10 characteristics of a codependent person are:
- Neediness – if your partner presents with varying degrees of neediness, or wants to live vicariously through you
- Controlling behaviors – a codependent partner will often display signs of angst or unhappiness if you are living too much of your own life. Ie. going out with friends, pursuing your passions, etc.
- Unhealthy or poor boundaries between partners. Not knowing where one partner’s emotional needs end, and the other partner’s begin
- People-pleasing tendencies or feelings of wanting to subtly manipulate via the means of doing things to gain approval and win affection from the other person
- Poor self-image, mental health, or a lack of self-esteem in the codependent person (sometimes this is both partners)
- An inability to demonstrate abilities of self-sufficiency
- Reactiveness – very quick to feel feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment, anger, etc.
- Inability to have a healthy relationship where there is a balance between the partnership and the other areas of the codependent person’s life.
How do you overcome codependency in a narcissistic relationship?
Here are 7 ways to save a codependent narcissist relationship:
1) Watch out for the signs of manipulation, and don’t allow it to take place
The truth is that most interactions between people involve some degree of manipulation. We do things for people because it will help to bring them closer to us and make them like us more. Manipulation, therefore, isn’t such a terrible thing by itself. It is the intentions behind it that make it good or bad
Most narcissists with codependency will try to manipulate their partner into staying with them via guilt-tripping and shame. To stop this from happening, you need to be able to identify what it looks like. Once you know that you are being manipulated, you cannot respond in the way the narcissist wants.
2) Keep your family and friends close
A narcissistic person with codependency habits will try to isolate you from your friends and family. This is unhealthy both for the relationship itself and for the partner who is becoming more and more estranged from their support network.
They will most often do this by saying negative things to you about the individuals from whom they are trying to separate you. This is a method of poisoning your opinions about people by feeding you false truths about them.
If you sense that your partner is trying to pull this stunt on you, you must set a clear boundary. Explain that you will come to your conclusions about your friends and family. Outline just how important they are to you, and don’t stop spending time with them.
3) Maintain your dreams, hobbies, and goals
This one is key to preventing enmeshment, which ultimately ends with a total loss of self.
Do not allow yourself to fall into the stick, honey trap of the narcissistic relationship. You will lose your sense of self if you do, and your entire identity will start to crumble and fall away. Making you even more susceptible and vulnerable to manipulation tactics. You must maintain your own self concept in ANY relationship. Period. But with a narcissistic partner, it is even more paramount to your survival.
Most narcissists will try to diminish your hopes of ever achieving your life goals and ambitions. But you must hold onto these. Pursue them with ferocity and passion. This will reinforce your sense of identity.
By remaining independent from your partner, you will have the courage and the strength to be able to leave the relationship when and if it becomes necessary. Or if you choose to stay, you’ll be better able to stand up for who you are, and what YOU want.
4) Be assertive
Key to withstanding manipulation tactics from narcissists is maintaining a certain level of assertiveness at all times.
If narcissists sense weakness (inassertiveness), they will trample all over you with their condescending behavior and subtle put-downs. This reinforces codependency on your side as well as theirs – which is what they want. Codependency equals control, and control leads to codependency.
To stop them from being able to control you, you must therefore speak up. This can be hard, especially when you are feeling anxious or stressed, as is so often the case with interactions with narcissists. Try your best, and if you are struggling, share your experiences with a close family member or a friend.
5) Get couples’ therapy
This one is possibly the most crucial of them all.
Narcissists are rarely aware that they are narcissists. If they are aware, then they are usually in some level of denial and reluctant to change. Due to their lack of empathy, they don’t understand how their codependency issues are draining the life, blood, and soul of their partner. They feed off of their partner’s suffering and emotional anguish – even if they don’t realize it.
As I said at the start of this article… The very best advice I can give you for how to mend narcissist codependent relationships is to get out.
But if you must stay? Then involving the help of a therapist, an impartial, external mediator, and an evaluator of your relationship, is crucial.
They can help your partner with narcissism to finally open their eyes and see themselves for who they are, and what they are doing. There is no point in you trying to do this yourself. You will just get gaslit over and over. Until you are doubting your sanity and your ability to know what is happening to you.
6) Practice saying no
Saying ‘no’ sounds so simple. And it should be. But in reality, it can be very hard.
When we love someone, especially when they regularly intimidate, manipulate, criticize, and control us, to say no when they ask us to do something.
Whether it be to disconnect from a friend of ours that they don’t like, to cancel plans with our parents and stay in with them again, or something else. Saying no is difficult! And especially for people with people-pleasing tendencies. These are the kind most likely to end up with a partner exhibiting traits of narcissism. People like this often have no idea even how to say no.
But saying no is very important. It is one of the most fundamental ways in which we have boundaries. Boundaries help us to remember who WE are at our core. They enable us to maintain a healthy level of separation and individuality. This is KEY to surviving in a narcissistic relationship.
Too scary to start saying no to your narcissistic partner right away? If so, you can practice with other people whose responses you are less emotionally disturbed by.
7) Make sure your own needs are being met
Human beings essentially need to meet machines. The drive to have our physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental needs met is what propels us through life.
Inside a coupling, partners should be meeting each other’s needs most of the time. It should be a reciprocal, two-way flow. But this is unlikely with a narcissistic partner. The partner of a narcissist will rarely get many of their needs met. If any, at all.
Narcissists thrive on having THEIR emotional needs (gratification, praise, reassurance, admiration, respect) met by putting their partner down. They have no issue subjugating each one of their partners’ emotional needs to meet their own.
Hence to mend a relationship like this, you must have a conversation with your partner about what your needs are. And come up with a plan for how you can both work together to meet them.
An emotional reaction is essentially a response to having unmet needs. Most of the time, when we are feeling disturbed, upset, or hurt, it is because one or many of our needs are going unmet. Hence tackling this is key to mending a relationship with a codependent narcissist. They will try to make it all about them. But it is about YOU, too.
Dating a partner with narcissism is hard. And dating a partner with narcissism AND codependent traits is even harder.
The dangers of relationships with people with narcissism are huge. You should take them seriously. If you don’t, you could wind up in a lot of trouble with your own emotional and mental health.
You can spot a narcissist by their over-inflated ego and sense of self-importance. But the most important marker that is shared among all individuals with narcissism is a lack of empathy.
When it comes to codependency, a codependent relationship will feel suffocating. There will be a great deal of enmeshment, guilt-tripping, and an absence of self-concept.
You should ideally avoid getting into a relationship with a codependent person. And you can do so by watching out for the signs. Fragile self-esteem, weak or no boundaries, neediness, and controlling behaviors.
If you have found yourself in a codependent relationship with someone who exhibits narcissism, there are a few things you can do.
The first is to summon the strength to leave.
If you don’t want to do that, then you must stay connected to your family and friends and be assertive. Make sure that your needs are being met. Consistently. Practice saying ‘no’ to avoid being manipulated (easier said than done), maintain your hobbies and goals, and get couples therapy (essential!).
Healing narcissism through tantra
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Men's Relationship Coach
Steffo is the founder of The Tantric Man Experience, the #1 masculine mentorship program in the world. There he helps men in relationships reignite the passion to restore their marriages from the brink of divorce. And single men attract their dream women naturally with success. He's on a mission to guide men towards an intimate and meaningful relationship, and end the war with their sexuality, so they can finally become integrated men, fathers, brothers, husbands, and leaders in the world.
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