Codependency and Narcissism

Are you codependent?

Codependents are individuals who become dependent upon narcissists, alcoholics or drug addicts. The concept of Codependence is derived from the 'co-alcoholic' behaviour of spouses and children in chemically dependent family systems.1 Counselors observed that family members often took on the psychological defenses and survival behaviours of the alcoholic, thereby extending the disease from the individual to the entire family.

In the same way, codependents take on the psychological defenses and survival behaviours of the narcissist, thereby extending the narcissism from the individual to the entire household or workplace.

Codependents often don't know where they end and others begin. There is a lack of clearly defined ego boundaries.2

The following definitions of codependence describe how codependents feel and what they feel they must try to achieve:

"A pattern of painful dependence on compulsive behaviors and on approval from others in an attempt to find safety, self-worth, and identity."3
"The condition wherein one person tries to control another and to be responsible for the consequences of the behavior of that other person."4

This definition of codependence goes some way to explaining what causes codependency:

"A pattern of coping which develops because of prolonged exposure to and practice of dysfunctional family rules that make difficult the open expression of thought."5

Codependency is a condition that affects a large percentage of the adult population in varying degrees. Other terms often used for codependent behavior in relation to narcissism are 'enabler',6 'follower',7 'covert narcissist',8 'inverted narcissist'9 and 'co-narcissist'.10 Also the 'rescuer'11 in the Drama Triangle reflects codependent behaviour (see Karpman's 'drama triangle' in Wikipedia).

Codependents seek security both at work and at home, so they are drawn to individuals who are, or appear to be, confident, positive and self-assured.

Codependents avoid confrontation

Narcissists display these very qualities, displaying an air of superiority, grandiosity and self-importance. Codependents admire these qualities, and narcissists crave admiration.

Narcissists don't want their superiority challenged, so they engage in relationships with individuals who are prepared to remain subservient to them. Codependents, who have been brought up in an environment that ensures they will avoid confrontation if at all possible, are therefore ideal partners. Codependents also find it difficult to make decisions, always checking with others before making choices. The narcissist's constant need for attention fits ideally with this characteristic of the codependent, who ends up checking with the narcissist before making decisions.

However, by subordinating their needs to the narcissist, codependents puts themselves into a position whereby they feel the need to defend the behavior of their narcissistic partner, boss or friend. They take on the psychological defenses and survival behaviours of the narcissist. This ultimately results in codependent behavior characterized by dishonesty and denial.

If you want to understand more about the relationship between codependency and narcissism, read Narcissism: Behind the Mask.

1 Friel, J. and Freil, L. (1988), Adult children: The secrets of dysfunctional families, Deerfiled Beach, FL: Health Communications.
2 Hogg, J.A. and Frank, L. (1992), Towards an Interpersonal Model of Codependence and Contradependence, Journal of Counseling & Development, Vol. 70, pp. 371-375.
3 Laign, J. (1989), A consensus on codependency, Contact, Vol. 2, No. 2, p. 2.
4 Goff, J.L. and Goff, P.J. (1991), Organizational Co-dependence, Niwot, CO, University Press Colorado.
5 Lyon, D. and Greenberg, J. (1991), Evidence of codependency in women with an alcoholic parent: Helping out Mr Wong, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, No. 3, pp. 435-439.
6 Downs, A. (1997), Beyond the Looking Glass: Overcoming the Seductive Culture of Corporate Narcissism, AMACOM, New York.
7 Sandowski, D. (1995), The Charismatic Leader as Narcissist: Understanding the Abuse of Power, Organizational Dynamics, Vol. 23, Iss. 4, pp. 57-71.
8 E.g. Lowen, A. (1997), Narcissism: Denial of the True Self, Touchstone Books ISBN 0743255437.
9 Vaknin, S. (1997-2005), Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited, Skopje and Prague, Narcissus Publications ISBN 8023833847.
10 Pappoport, Alan (2005), Co-Narcissism: How We Accommodate To Narcissistic Parents, Article in press, The Therapist (See
11 Beattie, Melody (1987), Codependent No More – how to stop controlling others and start caring for yourself, Harper & Row / Hazelden, New York.