When Narcissists Become Codependents

Uploaded 1/17/2014, approx. 6 minute read

My name is Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.

Sometimes, the breakup is initiated by the long-suffering spouse or intimate partner of the narcissist or psychopath. As she develops and matures, gaining in self confidence and a modicum of self-esteem, ironically, at the narcissist's behest, his capacity as her guru or father figure, but as these developments happen, she acquires more personal autonomy and refuses to cater to the energy-draining neediness of her narcissist. She no longer provides him with all-important secondary narcissistic supply, ostentatious respect, awe, adulation, undivided attention, admiration, and the rehashed memories of past successes, glories, and trials.

Typically, when this happens, when the spouse or the intimate partner of the narcissist initiates breakup because she has outgrown the relationship, when this happens, the roles are reversed. The narcissist then displays co-dependent behaviors, such as clinging, in a desperate attempt to hang on to his creation, his hitherto veteran and reliable source of quality narcissistic supply.

These behaviors are further exacerbated by the narcissist's increasing social isolation, psychological disintegration, decompensation, and recurrent failures and defeats as he grows older.

But the question of who did what to whom and even why is largely irrelevant. What is relevant is to stop mourning oneself, to start smiling again, and to love in a less subservient, hopeless, and pain-inflicting manner.

On the face of it, there is no emotional partner or mate who typically binds with the narcissist. They come in all shapes, all sizes.

The initial phases of attraction, infatuation, and falling in love are pretty normal. The narcissist puts on his best face. The other party is blinded by budding love or lust. A natural selection process occurs only much later as the relationship develops and is put to the test by the narcissist.

Living with a narcissist can be exhilarating. It's always onerous and often harrowing.

Surviving a relationship with a narcissist indicates, therefore, the parameters of the personality of the survivor. She, or more rarely he, is molded by the relationship into a the typical narcissist mate, partner, or spouse.

First and foremost, the narcissist partner must have a deficient or distorted grasp of herself and of reality. Otherwise, she or he is bound to abandon the narcissist's ship early on.

The cognitive distortion of the partner of the narcissist is likely to consist of belittling and demeaning herself while aggrandizing and adoring the narcissist. The partner is thus placing herself in the position of the eternal victim, undeserving, punishable, a scapegoat.

Sometimes it is very important to the partner to appear moral, sacrificial, and victimized. At other times she is not even aware of this predicament.

The narcissist is perceived by the partner to be a person in the position to demand these sacrifices from her.


Because he is superior and, in many ways, intellectually, emotionally, morally, professionally, financially, whatever. He is superior, she is inferior, he has the right to demand, she must comply.

The status of professional victim seeks well with the partner's tendency to punish herself, mainly with her masochistic streak.

The tormented life with the narcissist is just what she deserves, so she firmly believes, consciously or unconsciously. In this respect, the partner of the narcissist is the mirror image of the narcissist.

By maintaining a symbiotic relationship with the narcissist, by being totally dependent upon her source of masochistic supply, which the narcissist most reliably constitutes and most amply provides, the partner enhances certain traits and encourages certain behaviors which are at the very core of narcissism.

On the other hand, the narcissist is never whole without an adoring, submissive, available and self-denigrating partner. The narcissist's very sense of superiority, indeed, his false self, depends on the existence of such a partner.

His sadistic superego switches its attentions from the narcissist, whom it often provokes suicidal ideation, to the partner, thus finally obtaining an alternative source of sadistic satisfaction.

It is through self-denial that the partner survives. She denies her wishes, her hopes, her dreams, inspirations, sexual, psychological and material needs, choices, preferences, values and much, much else besides. She even denies her family and friends. She perceives her needs as threatening because they might engender the wrath, the rage of the narcissist's godlike supreme figure.

The narcissist is rendered in his partner's eyes even more superior through and because of this self-denial. Self-denial undertaken to facilitate and ease the life of a great man is more palatable and acceptable to the victim.

The greater the man, in other words, the greater the narcissist, the easier it is for the victimized partner to ignore her own self, to dwindle, to degenerate, to turn into an appendix of the narcissist and finally to become nothing but an extension, and merge with the narcissist to the point of oblivion and of merely dim memories of herself.

The two, the narcissist and his intimate partner, collaborate in this macabre dance.

The narcissist is formed by his partner in as much as he forms her.

Submission breeds superiority, masochism breeds sadism.

The relationships are characterized by emergentism.

The roles are allocated among the narcissist and his partner almost from the start and any deviation from the roles meets with an aggressive, even violent reaction.

The predominant state of the partner's mind is utter confusion.

Even the most basic relationships with husbands, children, parents, old-time friends, even these relationships remain bafflingly obscure by the giant shadow cast by the intensive interaction with the narcissist.

A suspension of judgment is part and parcel of a suspension of individuality, which is both a prerequisite too and a result of living with the narcissist. The partner no longer knows what is true, what is right, what is wrong, what is forbidden, who she is.

The narcissist recreates for the partner the sort of emotional ambience that led to his own formation in the first place: arbitrariness, capriciousness, thickleness, emotional, physical, sexual abandonment and denial.

The world becomes hostile and ominous. The partner has only one thing left to cling to, her narcissist. And cling, she does.

If there is anything which can safely be said about those who emotionally team up with narcissists is that they are overtly and overly dependent.

The partner doesn't know what to do, and this is only too natural in the mayhem that is a relationship with the narcissist, it's a roller coaster.

But the typical partner also does not know what she was and to a large extent who she is and what does she wish to become.

These unanswered questions, they hampered the partner's ability to gorge reality. She loses the reality test.

Her primordial scene is that she fell in love with an image, not with a real person.

The narcissist is a projection, the false self a concoction, the whole thing a confabulation.

It is the voiding of the image that is mourned when the relationship ends, not the real narcissist.

The breakup of relationship with the narcissist is therefore very emotionally charged. It is the culmination of a long chain of humiliations and subjugation. It is the rebellion of the functioning and the healthy parts of the partner's personality against the tyranny of the narcissist.

The partner is likely to have totally mistreated and misinterpreted the whole interaction. I hesitate to call it a relationship.

This lack of proper interface with reality might be erroneously labeled pathological. It's not, it's reactive. The narcissist provokes this quasi pathology in his partner.

Why is it that the partner seeks to prolong her pain in the first place? What is the source and purpose of this masochistic streak?

On the breakup of the relationship, the partner, but not the narcissist who usually refuses to provide closure, engages in a torturous, drawn-out post-mortem autopsy of what could have been a relationship and never was.

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Narcissist's Insignificant Other: Typical Spouse or Intimate Partner

Living with a narcissist can be exhilarating, but it is always onerous and often harrowing. Surviving a relationship with a narcissist, maintaining a relationship, preserving it, insisting on remaining with a narcissist, indicates therefore the parameters of the personality of the victim, of the partner, of the spouse. The partner, the spouse, and the mate of a narcissist who insists on remaining in the relationship and preserving it is molded by it into the typical narcissistic mate, spouse, or partner. The two, the narcissist and his spouse, collaborate in this dance macabre.

Victim of Narcissist: Move On!

The narcissist lives in a world of ideal beauty, achievements, wealth, and success, denying his reality. The partner is perceived as a source of narcissistic supply, and the narcissist pathologizes and devalues them to rid themselves of guilt and shame. Moving on from a narcissistic relationship involves acknowledging and accepting painful reality, educating oneself, and gaining emotional sustenance, knowledge, support, and confidence. Forgiving is important, but it should not be a universal behavior, and no one should stay with a narcissist.

Mourning the Narcissist

Victims of narcissistic abuse often struggle to let go of the idealized figure they fell in love with at the beginning of the relationship. When the relationship ends, they experience a cycle of bereavement and grief, including denial, rage, sadness, and acceptance. Denial can take many forms, including pretending the narcissist is still part of their lives or developing persecutory delusions. Rage can be directed at the narcissist, other facilitators of the loss, oneself, or be pervasive. Sadness is a paralyzing sensation that slows one down and enshrouds everything in the grave veil of randomness and chance. Gradual acceptance leads to renewed energy and the narcissist being transformed into a narrative, another life experience, or even a tedious cliché.

Loving My Narcissist HURTS so much!

Loving a narcissist is a painful experience due to their lack of empathy, idealization followed by devaluation, and inability to truly connect with their partner. The narcissist's inaccessibility and indifference can be devastating, as they often discard their partners without any emotional reaction. This experience can leave the partner feeling shattered, questioning their own judgment and ability to trust themselves and others. Ultimately, the pain of loving a narcissist comes from grieving the loss of who they used to be and the potential of what could have been in the relationship.

When YOU Discard the Narcissist FIRST

The text discusses the consequences of discarding a narcissist before they have a chance to devalue and discard you. It explains the potential outcomes of this action, such as narcissistic injury or mortification, and the subsequent behaviors of the narcissist, including seeking revenge or finding a replacement. The text also delves into the narcissist's internal processes and their need to complete the stages of grief and mourning for the disrupted shared fantasy.

Social Distancing: Isolation with the Narcissist

Social isolation with a narcissist can be compared to a hostage situation, with the victim experiencing trauma bonding. In this situation, the narcissist becomes paranoid and develops a need for control, which is displaced onto their spouse or intimate partner. The narcissist's frustration at being unable to obtain narcissistic supply and loss of control can lead to aggression, which can take many forms. The only technique that may work in this situation is background noise, but even this has a limited shelf life, and there is a risk of an epidemic of domestic violence.

Self-hoovering, Narcissism: Trauma or Role Play?

Narcissists devalue and discard their intimate partners, but in long-term relationships, the partner may engage in self-hovering, refusing to leave despite being discarded. This self-hovering is a trauma-bonding response, allowing the partner to remain in the relationship. The narcissist's voice in the victim's mind re-idealizes her, leading to a continued relationship with the internal representation of the narcissist. Narcissism is both a post-traumatic condition and a choice-based role play, with the narcissist unable to modify most of his traits but able to control his behaviors and the roles he plays in different social settings.

Your Role in Narcissist’s Shared Fantasy is Why He Hates You (hint: you make him feel himself – and human)

In summary, the narcissist's intimate partner plays a crucial role in the shared fantasy by fulfilling the roles of admirer, playmate, and mother. This allows the narcissist to experience maximal grandiosity and feel safe enough to separate and individuate. However, the intimate partner's presence also leads to the narcissist's self-hatred and inability to maintain meaningful communication with both the outside world and himself. The intimate partner ultimately becomes a threat to the narcissist, as they make the narcissist feel human, which is something the narcissist does not want to be.

Interpersonal Narcissist: Family and Relationships (ENGLISH responses, with Nárcisz Coach)

Narcissists engage in a power play in relationships, which is a zero-sum game that doesn't allow for intimacy or building something long-term. The narcissist will leverage whatever happens and whatever attributes of the relationship for their own gain and control. The longer you live with a narcissist, the more narcissistic you become, and it alters your behavior, identity, and self-perception. The contagion effect is disorienting and dislocating to the point of depersonalization, derealization, and dissociation.

Narcissistic Abuse: From Victim to Survivor in 6 Steps

To move on from being a victim of narcissistic abuse, one must abandon the narcissist and move on. Moving on is a process that involves acknowledging and accepting painful reality, learning from the experience, and deciding to act. It is important to grieve and mourn the loss of trust and love, but perpetual grieving is counterproductive. Forgiveness is important, but it should not be a universal behavior. Human relationships are dynamic and require constant assessment. It is not advisable to remain friends with narcissists, as they are only nice and friendly when they want something. Inverted narcissists who remain in relationships with narcissists are victims who deny their own torment and fail to make the transition to survivors.

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