Aristotle claimed that human beings, men and women, are all social animals, meaning they need to be dependent on others. It is also true that if we didn’t depend on each other on some level, it wouldn’t be healthy. As nature would have it, human beings need contact with other human beings – on mental, physical, as well as spiritual level. Scientists have conducted several studies on human patterns. However, there are two distinctive types of human traits that are quite popular – people with the narcissist and codependent characteristics.
Interestingly, several researchers and writers have often categorized the narcissists and the co-dependents as opposites, whereas they have a lot of similar psychological traits. Someone with a narcissistic personality disorder shows core symptoms of denial, shame, unconscious dependency, and control. All these symptoms lead to critical intimacy problems.
While it is true that narcissists and codependents can find each other irresistible, their bond can only lead to a toxic, unhealthy relationship. It is also said that while a narcissist can be co-dependent, the reverse is hardly true since codependents do not exhibit a lack of empathy, entitlement, or exploitation.
So, how do you define a narcissist and a codependent?
Who is A Narcissist and Who is A Codependent?
In simple words, narcissists and codependents have different behavioral patterns but with the same needs. Both types of people suffer due to their inability to sense who they truly are. They often depend on others to define their identity. And, as such, they value others’ opinions about themselves with high regard.
People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) develop an intense and exclusive focus on themselves. They may exhibit no regard or empathy for others, except for when it is concerning themselves. Usually, they require someone else to constantly boost their ego and self-confidence. And, to do so, they need a constant flow of affection and admiration towards them. This is a “narcissistic supply”.
On the other hand, codependents have a strong need to focus on others. It may also feel like their only motto in life is to serve others, so much so that often they could come across as controlling. This controlling behavior from codependents arises from the fact their belief that they know what’s best for everyone. They don’t care much about praise. However, they do crave gratitude and the feeling of “being wanted and needed”.
How Do These Behavior Patterns Originate?
At this point, it is imperative to mention that no one is born a codependent or a narcissist. These traits are mostly a result of one’s childhood experiences. Children with verbally abusive, ignorant, codependent, or narcissistic parents can easily form these habits.
However, not everyone reacts to this the same way. For instance, two kids growing up in a family of such parents can have different attributes. One may develop low self-esteem and codependent patterns believing that their life is only worth anything if they can be useful to others, while the other may form inflated self-esteem as a protective mechanism against the abuse.
5 Signs of Narcissistic People
Yes. Though you couldn’t tell if a person is a narcissist within a few minutes of meeting them, several indicators help you see them for who they are over a longer period.
1. Need to be better than everyone
To begin with, narcissists have an insignificant ego which requires a lot of reassurance. More often than not, they portray an extremely inflated ego which is nothing but a cover-up for how they feel. The only way they can feed their ego is by making other people feel insignificant so they can feel big and important.
If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, you would notice that everything they say or do only has a singular purpose – their satisfaction. They always have the need to feel better than others, which makes them have no empathy or care towards anybody else.
People with NPD are also master manipulators. They can twist and bend any reality effortlessly to solve their purpose. Even when they have been caught, they show no shame and continue to try and manipulate others.
Gaslighting is a way of physiologically manipulating someone to a level where they doubt their sanity. The main purpose behind this is to make you question yourself to an extreme where you can’t trust yourself and your observation of reality.
And, when that happens, you will automatically depend on your abuser to take decisions of your life. Known as a favorite tool for people with NPD, gaslighting helps narcissists gain complete control over your head.
A person who has no shame in manipulating, lying, and degrading others just to inflate their ego and find gratification is extremely selfish and self-centered. They have no hesitation in using or abusing anyone to achieve their goal, nor do they exhibit any pity towards others.
If they see you hurt, it only reassures them that they have control over you. So, the more pain you express, the more powerful they feel.
Narcissists feel that they are entitled to everything – your time, your life, your belongings, even the air you breathe. Their sense of entitlement makes them believe that they can control everything and that they own you.
Additionally, they also feel that the world revolves around them and for them. And, if it doesn’t, there will be retaliation and backlash.
5. Public Appearance
One of the most crucial and dangerous characteristics of narcissistic people is their ability to charm everyone. They seem particularly appealing, kind, attractive, and smart.
You could never judge what they are capable of by just looking at them. They will present themselves as kind and considerate in the beginning just so you could open up to them about your weaknesses and insecurities – information that they can benefit from later.
An easy way to spot a narcissist is to concentrate on their speech. They are extremely selfish, and they need constant approval. Additionally, they are also very discreet about personal details and when they do, they always victimize themselves.
They would also try to isolate you from your friends and family so they can exercise complete control over you. And, they never take ownership of their mistakes.
5 Way to Spot Codependents People
Of course. Just like narcissistic people, codependents also have a certain set of attributes that distinguishes them from others. As we know by now, codependents cannot value themselves, and thus, they spend their entire life trying to cater to others. They need to constantly take care of others to feel their worth.
1. Define themselves through others
Everything about the life of a codependent is about someone else. They live their lives through someone else. And, essentially, they have no sense of self. Their whole purpose in life is to help others and to exist for someone else.
In doing so, more often than not, they also expect the same in return. While it is normal to care about someone you love or to try and please someone you genuinely care for, codependents believe that they do not have an alternative.
2. Inability to draw boundaries
As humans, we all need boundaries between ourselves and others. Though imaginary in nature, these boundaries help in defining what’s yours and what’s not. However, codependents find it extremely difficult to set boundaries.
These people feel that they are constantly responsible for how everyone around them feels or their concerns. And, they also believe that it is their responsibility to make others feel better or resolve their problems, even when no one asks them to do it.
3. Controlling nature
Codependents exercise control to feel secure. Though everyone wants a certain amount of control in their lives to avoid uncertainty and chaos, for codependents, control limits their ability to share their feelings and take risks.
Furthermore, as discussed earlier, these people tend to control others to help them. People-pleasing and taking care are two important ways they learn to control and manipulate those around them. Alternatively, they can also become bossy telling others what to do and what not to do – as they think they know what’s best for you.
4. Dysfunctional Communication
As harmful as it may be to their mental health, codependents lack the basic sense of communication. They find it highly challenging to communicate their thoughts and feeling for two primary reasons – one, they don’t usually know what they think, feel or need, and second, they don’t want to acknowledge the truth in fear of possibly upsetting others. They would rather pretend everything is okay instead of saying “I don’t like this”.
Codependents depend on others to feel like they are needed. They need to help others so those around them can make them feel liked or appreciated. Abandonment and rejection are two of their biggest fears. They always need to be in a relationship or with someone. Failure to do so leaves them depressed and anxious.
This particular feature makes it difficult for them to get out of relationships, no matter how abusive or hurtful the relationship is. And, as a result, they end up feeling and being trapped.
Can You Be Both At The Same Time?
As explained above, codependency and narcissism aren’t always the opposite. In fact, on certain grounds, they feel quite the same. There is a thin line between wanting to be needed and needing to feel important all the time. However, it is more likely for a narcissist to have codependency traits than codependents being narcissists. But, it is not completely untrue.
A codependent person may sometimes exhibit narcissistic patterns. For instance, a person may become codependent in their marriage and feel the need to cater to their spouse’s every want and need, however, they can show narcissistic tendencies in dealing with their children, and demand praise and respect from them always.
Codependents lack their sense of self. Instead, everything they do revolves around someone else’s needs, thoughts, and problems. Similarly, people with NPD also do not recognize their true self. Instead, they identify with their ‘ideal’ self. Both depend on others for validation – codependents seek it by way of appreciation and gratitude while narcissists demand to be felt the higher being by belittling others.
Ironically, narcissists crave validation and recognition from others and have a massive appetite for admiration, despite portraying themselves with high self-regard. This makes them dependent on others for the recognition or as it is called – narcissistic supply.
A core symptom to notice in codependents, denial is their way of rejecting their behavior as well as their feelings. Likewise, narcissists deny their feelings as well, especially those that show them as weak and vulnerable. Neither can accept their inadequacy, even to themselves.
Codependents also deny their needs which were perhaps neglected or shamed growing up. They act self-sufficient and never back down from putting others’ needs before their own. And, some demand others to satisfy their needs – of being needed and appreciated. Similarly, narcissists deny emotional needs too, because accepting them makes them weak and dependent on others.
Like codependents, narcissists cannot maintain healthy boundaries, mainly because theirs weren’t acknowledged growing up. They don’t consider or treat others as individuals but as an extension of themselves.
Consequently, they project their feelings and thoughts on them and blame them for their mistakes and shortcomings, all of which they cannot tolerate and accept in themselves. Also, these boundary issues make them act like a ticking bomb – defensive, highly-reactive, and taking everything personally.
Correspondingly, codependents also suffer from defensiveness, high-reactivity, and take things personally. While their behavior or direction of feelings may not be the same level as those with NPD, the core process is identical.
Both narcissists and codependents seek control over others. Control over those around us and the environment makes them feel good and in charge. The more anxious and insecure they are, the higher their need to control everyone and everything.
Because they are dependent on others for their happiness, self-worth, and security, what others say and do around them becomes of utmost importance to their sense of safety and well-being. They try to control others directly or indirectly – through manipulation, caregiving, people-pleasing, and even lies.
If they are frightened or ashamed of how they feel, they try to control them. Likewise, other’s grief and anger and such feelings could upset them too, so they try to control that as well.
Finally, no matter how attracted a codependent is to a narcissist partner, romantic relationships for both these types of people are extremely challenging. All the other factors lead to severe intimacy issues in both. Relationships do not survive without clear boundaries and between balanced partners. They require clear communication, self-esteem, and being autonomous to flourish – none of which is possible for either narcissists or codependents.
Can A Codependent Leave A Narcissist?
Before we answer this, we must understand the dance of narcissism and codependency. Research has shown that it is highly likely for codependents to form relationships with narcissists – romantic as well as platonic. Typically, in this arrangement, the controller narcissist and sacrificing and consumed codependent develop corresponding roles to provide for each other’s needs.
The dance of narcissism and codependency
The inherently dysfunctional codependency dance needs two balanced yet opposite partners – the codependent who is ready to pour theirs all into someone and the narcissist who has gladly found someone who will put them first. Like a perfect dance floor, the roles are perfectly composed – the leader and the follower.
As much as this dysfunctional codependency dance requires a codependent to give in everything and the narcissist addict gets their regular dose of admiration and validation, this kind of relationship can become unhealthy and toxic in no time, as what happens in most cases.
The codependent keeps giving a lot, mostly without receiving the same in return. This turns the relationship into bitterness, yet they are still stuck on the dance floor, with the codependent always waiting for their partner to understand their needs. And, since that never really happens, there comes a point when they may need to leave no matter how much they felt attracted to partners with the charming personality of a narcissist.
Leaving a narcissist
As we have learned by now, it is extremely difficult for a codependent to end a relationship, even when they are unhappy and being abused or manipulated. Doing so makes them feel like a failure because for them, saving the relationship is ‘their’ responsibility.
To even consider ending a relationship with a narcissist, the codependent must reach a breaking point, either through professional counseling or psychotherapy. Groups such as Codependency Anonymous offer codependents insights into how they can set healthy boundaries. These types of help can also help them see that the only way they will ever find a relationship they need and deserve is by acknowledging their presence and by loving themselves just as much.
Therapy can help them heal from the trauma that put them in such a situation and also from the trauma of being with a control addict for years. It isn’t an easy trap to get out of, but with proper help and guidance, it isn’t impossible to see yourself for who you truly are and value yourself.
Additionally, whether you leave or you are left, understand that you need to allow yourself time to grieve and get over the breakup completely so you don’t fall back into the same patterns with the same partner or someone else with similar tendencies.
Being more independent can also help majorly. Create a life outside of your relationship. Reconnect with family and friends, find a hobby, or get a job – whatever it takes to ensure that your partner is not the center of your world.
Keep in mind that if you are with a narcissistic partner which means being left would be a major blow to their ego and self-esteem. And, they will try and do anything to get you to stay. They will try to win you back with charm, kindness, fame promises, and even pleading.
If that doesn’t work, they will try to put you through guilt trips or threaten you. Do not give into it. Look through their behavior and patterns since you already know them for years.
Though it may be difficult to break narcissistic and codependency habits, it isn’t entirely impossible. With the right dedication and determination, codependents can break free out of the abusive relationship.
As long as you are not ashamed to ask for help and are willing to work on yourself, you should be able to make progress and learn to love yourself.
Namrata Singh is a dentist turned writer and clinical researcher. Eager to learn about anything and everything, she is what you would call a jack of all trades and master of none. With a zeal for reading novels, books and anything she could get her hands on ever since she was little, she embarked into a writing career purely out of luck. After indulging in a freelancing career for nearly two years, she can now write on anything - from dentistry to decor, travel to technology, medicine to management - but psychology remains her first love. Having dealt with mental health issues in the past, she hopes to raise awareness for the same and help people with her work in association with The MindFool team