Codependent people feel responsible for other people’s feelings, problems, and behaviors often at the detriment of their own well-being. They sacrifice their own emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing (and even safety) in order to sustain their relationships and take care of their partners and family members.
Narcissists on the other hand are self-obsessed, feel entitled and places his or her own feelings, needs, and desires above those of anyone else in a relationship, and who lacks compassion and empathy.
You can easily see why they are drawn to one another. An extreme giver and an extreme taker.
I am a natural care-giver which can easily tip over into codependency with the right/wrong partner. I have always “gone with the flow” which until I started working on myself was actually me being completely passive and a people-pleaser. I wanted people to like me and so I did what they wanted rather than speak up about what I wanted. Naturally that lead me on a collision course for a toxic relationship.
A Toxic Match
Keep in mind, narcissists can be incredibly charming. They can swoop into your life and sweep you off your feet. You can feel a connection that you’ve never felt before, as if someone finally gets and see you. The term “soul mate” is often used by both parties to describe this “wonderful” connection. They may make grand romantic gestures and make you feel incredibly special with flattery and promises of future adventures. This behavior is sometimes referred to as “love bombing.” Once the narcissist knows they have you hooked, the adoring behavior slowly but surely starts to be replaced with disdain and criticism.
While the codependent desperately craves the love and attention the narcissist initially showered upon him or her, he or she will likely never experience it again. The narcissist has already moved on to his or her next conquest. And, the more the codependent tries to save or win back or recreate the relationship that he or she has always wanted, the more attention the narcissist receives from the codependent without having to give anything in return.
How do you chasing the high?
Codependents don’t typically see ending the relationship as an option, if only because they’d see doing so as a failure, and a personal failure at that. Remember, saving the relationship is the codependent’s “job.” The codependent sees it as his or her responsibility. The narcissist, finding it valuable to keep someone around who’s willing to sacrifice his or her boundaries and self to please the narcissist, will continue to string the codependent along and give them just enough attention to keep the codependent’s hope alive.
The narcissist will happily keep the relationship going as long as the codependent can meet their need for constant admiration, which is exactly how the codependent acts to chase the high. Therefore the narcissist will only break the cycle if the codependent stops being codependent.
Without therapeutic intervention or behavioral dynamic changes, the cycle healing on its own is highly unlikely.
However it is important if you are a codependent who is tired of chasing and wants to break the cycle, it’s important to become self aware. Start by asking yourself some questions:
- How happy or unhappy are you in this relationship?
- How satisfied are you in this relationship?
- Do you feel good?
- Do you feel terrible?
Recognise that your passive codependency is probably present in many of your other relationships as well. How many times do you say “I don’t mind, I’ll do whatever you want to do”? These behaviours probably started in childhood and have become so ingrained that you may not even recognise them in other situations. Start noticing when you are being passive. You don’t have to necessarily do anything right now but noticing is the start of change.
When you are ready you can start to assert yourself in safe friendships. The next time your friend asks what you want to eat for dinner, tell them instead of saying it doesn’t matter. If your order at a restaurant comes out wrong, nicely send it back instead of just eating it. These small steps will build your confidence to start drawing boundaries in your relationship.
Keep practicing. It won’t come easy at first but you can do it. But be aware that others will probably react negatively initially because they aren’t used to you behaving this way and they may feel threatened. Breaking the codependency cycle means maintaining your boundaries and assertiveness DESPITE other people’s reactions which can feel very uncomfortable at first as you are so used to putting others’ needs first and people pleasing. Putting yourself first is a new habit and one you have to be committed to practicing if you want to see change.