Narcissists and codependents are usually considered to be polar opposites by most people because of their different patterns of behavior. The ways they interact with others seem quite dissimilar, as do the motivations for their behaviors.The codependent person appears to be excessively selfless, overly eager to please and may go out of his or her way to avoid upsetting others. A narcissist, on the other hand, believes the world should revolve around him or her, lacks empathy, and most of the time, comes across as extremely selfish.
Surprisingly, however, both codependents and narcissists tend to share many psychological traits such as an unhealthy reliance on other people, toxic shame, feelings of unworthiness, lack of boundaries, dysfunctional communication, and a lack of sense of self, all of which can lead to problems with intimacy in relationships.
In reality, codependency and narcissism can be viewed as two sides of the same coin – the same needs, but different behaviors. Both codependents and narcissists face similar challenges. They just tend to cope with them in different ways.
Where codependence and narcissism overlap and how they differ.
At the core of both codependency and narcissism is a fractured sense of self. People who are codependent or narcissistic do not know who they truly are. They rely on other people to define their identities, and they place a lot of importance on what others think of them.
Often, they have had similar childhood experiences, but adapted to them differently and developed different strategies for coping with the dysfunction they experienced during their developmental years.
Codependent people usually suffer from low self-esteem and seek proof of their value from others. Motivated by a desire to feel needed, they believe that they are only worthy of love if they are serving others or fulfilling others’ expectations of who they are or how they should behave.
They will try to seek love and approval by catering to everyone else’s wants and needs while putting aside their own. Typically, codependents crave gratitude and intimacy rather than admiration and praise.
Narcissists, on the other hand, crave praise and recognition. Inside, they may feel weak and insignificant, but outwardly they act superior, arrogant, or self-centered. They try to mask their low self-esteem by looking for others who will inflate their egos and make them feel important.
They crave constant validation to prove their self-worth. Narcissists feel entitled and will put their desires above those of anyone else. They manipulate others to get what they want and can be abusive when they don’t.
Sometimes narcissists may appear to behave like people-pleasers, but they do so with ulterior motives. They manipulate others to gain recognition, attention, and praise. Narcissists do not have the capacity to feel empathy; they don’t care about what others need or feel.
Codependent narcissist patterns that challenge intimacy.
Insecurity and shame.
Both codependents and narcissists tend to personalize the hurtful things that happened to them during childhood, mistakenly believing that it was because there was something wrong with them and that they were not good enough. However, the ways they learned to cope with these feelings of shame and insecurity differ.
Codependent people cope with their shame by people-pleasing and accommodating others. They seek love, affection, and approval by putting others’ needs ahead of their own.
Narcissists, on the other hand, act superior to others in order to mask their lack of self-worth. . They seek recognition, mastery, and dominion over others to avoid feeling inferior, helpless, or needy. They may also try to hide their vulnerabilities by acting as though they don’t need anything from anyone, setting up extreme boundaries and demanding that things be done their way.
Codependents deny their emotional needs that were neglected or shamed during childhood. Narcissists do as well, and often disown and project onto others the emotions they feel that they consider weak, such as fear, guilt, loneliness, powerlessness, or shame. Anger makes them feel powerful, and they may resort to rage, arrogance, and contempt as defenses to the underlying feelings they are trying to hide.
Dysfunctional boundaries.Because their boundaries weren’t respected during childhood, both codependents and narcissists tend to have unhealthy boundaries. While codependents have difficulty setting and maintaining boundaries for themselves, narcissists ignore and violate the boundaries of others. These behaviors may vary, but the underlying needs are similar. Both are highly reactive, defensive, and tend to take everything personally.
Codependents tend to be self-critical, blame themselves, and withdraw, as opposed to acting aggressively, being critical, or blaming anyone else. On the other hand, narcissists see people as extensions of themselves and will project the thoughts and feelings they can’t accept in themselves onto others, accusing them of their own flaws and weaknesses.
Both narcissists and codependents have dysfunctional communication skills and find it difficult to identify and clearly state their feelings.
Narcissists may express their opinions more easily than codependents, but they have more trouble listening and tend to be dogmatic and inflexible. Contrary to codependents who try to please and appease, their communication is often critical, demanding, and even verbally abusive.
Both codependents and narcissists experience anxiety and insecurity and seek safety by trying to control their environment. Their sense of well-being, security, and self-worth are contingent on how other people react to them, and what they say, do, and feel.
Codependents will try to exert control by people pleasing, whereas narcissists are more likely to use lies or manipulation.
Can a person be both a narcissist and codependent?The answer is both yes and no. Most narcissists are also codependent. However, the reverse is not generally true. Codependent people are not prone to exhibiting narcissistic traits such as exploitation, entitlement, and lack of empathy.
Narcissists are typically selfish people who think they are better than others and who don’t care about other people’s feelings. A codependent narcissist, however, will try to please others in order to satisfy his or her need to feel special and important. This may make them look like a codependent, but the motivation is not the same. He or she does not care about the other person’s needs, and is only appearing to do so as a form of manipulation.
Traits of a codependent narcissist.
- Codependent narcissists think of themselves as highly independent, but in reality, they feel weak and insecure on the inside.
- Codependent narcissists need the validation of other people in order to feel good about themselves.
- Codependent narcissists have a constant need to be needed but are so focused on their own needs that they neglect the needs of others.
- Codependent narcissists are expert manipulators, who are often charming and complimentary at the beginning of a relationship.
- Once the codependent narcissist has gained someone’s trust, they become controlling and will often use shame to exert control.
- Codependent narcissists are unable to feel empathy or compassion for others.
- Codependent narcissists expect others to do things for them without being asked and will try to make the other person feel guilty if they don’t.
- Codependent narcissists can’t handle being criticized and will often react defensively.
- When things go wrong, codependent narcissists will try to lie or put the blame on others.
- Despite their show of bravado, codependent narcissists tend to have low self-esteem and a poor sense of self-worth.
- Codependent narcissists enjoy feeling superior to others and/or being the center of attention.
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Lancer, Darlene. “When a Narcissist Is Also Codependent.” PsychCentral. September 10, 2017. Psychcentral.com/lib/when-a-narcissist-is-also-codependent#1.
Villines, Zawn. “Codependency and Narcissism May Have More in Common Thank You Think.” GoodTherapy. August 7, 2018. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/codependency-narcissism-may-have-more-in-common-than-you-think-0807187#:~:text=Instead%20of%20praise%2C%20codependents%20often,excessive%20reliance%20on%20others’%20approval.
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