My name is Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.
In 1997, I wrote a series of articles suggesting that codependence and narcissism are flip-sides of the same coin.
In both cases, these are reactions to childhood abuse and trauma. Both reactions, codependence and narcissism, are pathological. They both involve fantasy as a defense mechanism.
The codependent has a pretty realistic assessment of herself, but her view of others, especially her intimate partners, is very fantastic.
On the contrary, the narcissist's self-image and self-perception are fantastic, delusional, grandiose, but he has a penetrating view of others, and it is blood-curdling accurate.
This is what I call empathy.
So, to summarize, the codependent fantasizes about others. She tends to idealize her intimate partner.
The narcissist fantasizes about himself. He tends to idealize himself. He tends to attribute to himself grandiose traits and qualities, such as omnipotence, omniscience, brilliance and perfection.
The codependent tends to devalue herself. The narcissist tends to devalue others.
As you see, codependence is a mirror image of narcissism.
But this raises a few interesting questions.
I've been asked in a recent seminar in London, what's the difference between seeking narcissistic supply and seeking validation?
The codependent also goes around seeking some kind of input, exactly as the narcissist.
The narcissist goes around looking for adulation, admiration, affirmation.
So, what's the difference between them?
Well, the difference is pretty big.
The codependent asks other people, especially her intimate partner, to give her a realistic assessment of herself, to help her restore her reality test.
Codependent wants others to calibrate her, to provide her with the appropriate dimensions of appraisal and evaluation.
She wants them to tell her, for example, that she's not crazy, that she perceives reality properly, that her actions and reactions are a bit too much, a bit too little.
So, she's looking for others to sort of show the path, kind of draw the trajectory that she should follow.
She is relying on others and on input from others to gauge reality, to perceive reality properly.
So, her validation is about restoring a sense of the real, not the fantastic.
The narcissist is exactly the opposite. The narcissist is looking for input from the outside, looking for narcissistic supply, not in order to restore some kind of sense of reality, not in order to feel better in the world or to fit in with the universe.
The narcissist seeks input from the outside to support and enhance and buttress his fantastic view of himself, his grandiosity, his delusions.
The narcissist wants others to help him avoid reality, escape reality, evade reality. He wants them to help him construct a Disney land-like kingdom in which he is king, ruler, judge, and jury.
Codependent wants others to help her restore a sense of reality.
Narcissist wants others to help him to construct an alternative reality, an alternate universe, a virtual reality in which he can be whatever he imagines himself to be, usually grandiosely.
So, this is the first important distinction.
Then there is an issue of, can codependents be narcissists? Can narcissists be codependents?
Well, some codependents, a very small minority, can be narcissists and are actually narcissists. I call them inverted narcissists.
These are narcissists who are covert narcissists. They are narcissists who are not able to obtain narcissistic supply except via another person.
These kind of narcissists who are, as I said, a subsection, a subtype of covert narcissists cannot obtain narcissistic supply because they are introverted and they avoid the limelight. They are avoidant. They are afraid of public exposure. They are terrified of rejection, shy, they are fragile, and they are vulnerable.
So, in order to obtain narcissistic supply, they must team up with someone who is exactly the opposite, who is extroverted, outgoing, the life of the party, and the center of attention.
So, they team up with a classic narcissist.
So, here we have a type or subtype of covert narcissists teaming up with a classic or overt narcissist in order to obtain vicarious supply, supply by proxy.
And yet, the inverted narcissist, who is a full-fledged narcissist, is also a codependent. So, that's the only subtype of codependent who is also a narcissist.
The overwhelming majority of codependents are not, and by definition cannot be, narcissists because they possess empathy and because of other traits. They cannot be narcissists.
The opposite is not true. The overwhelming majority of narcissists actually have codependent traits. They depend on other people for the regulation of their sense of self-worth, self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-image. They need other people. They need the input from other people. Without the input from other people, the narcissist crumbles like the proverbial vampire. He crumbles to dust. He requires input from other people, known as narcissistic supply, simply to maintain the precarious balance of his personality. And his personality as a record is composed or composed of two parts.
There is the dilapidated, degenerated dysfunctional true self, which is at the level of a four-year-old child to a nine-year-old child, frozen, ossified in space at the corner crying. That's the true self of the narcissist.
And then there is the fourth self, which is everything the true self is not. The fourth self is all-powerful, all-knowing, divine, God-like. It is perfect and relieved. The narcissist tends to identify to the fourth self to the exclusion of the true self. He becomes gradually, over the years, the narcissist becomes his fourth self. As he becomes his fourth self, this kind of narcissist becomes a drug addict. He develops an addictive personality, and his drug of choice is narcissistic supply. And without pushers around, without people who provide him with this supply, known as sources of narcissistic supply, the narcissist is totally dysfunctional.
So narcissists need input from other people in order to merely function, merely get up in the morning.
They, of course, react with severe dysphoria to the absence or deficiency of narcissistic supply. So narcissists are dependent on other people, and they do develop marked, pronounced codependent traits.
Isn't that an irony?
The narcissist who regards codependence as weaklings, as despicable human beings or sub-humans, it is the very narcissist who is actually, themselves, codependence.