In this instagramming-periscoping-twittering-selfie-absorbed culture, it seems almost everyone you meet is a narcissist. While there is a rise in people suffering from copious amounts of self-love, they’re probably not narcissists. Real narcissism, thank God, is rare. While I’m no mental health expert, there’s one thing I do know, and that is, for every true narcissistic updating their “friends” on the status of their abs, there’s a codependent lurking in the shadows.
Yes, narcissists get all the attention– no doubt because “codependency,” the most unsexy word ever, went the way of the door-to-door salesman – but you can be sure that wherever there’s a narcissist, a codependent is nearby.
The codependent is to a narcissist what Ethel was to Lucy, what Ernie is to Bert, what cheese is to macaroni. The narcissist thrives on control and domination and the codependent loves to give up their power. It’s a match made in “anti” mental-health heaven, if you will. If you find yourself continually attracting narcissists, it might be time to think about why they’re so darn irresistible.
1. You don’t value yourself.
Codependents don’t think they’re worth pursuing and narcissists are masters of the pursuit. They move fast, and if you try to slow them down, they say things like, “What’s wrong with moving fast? I know what I want. It’s YOU!” It sounds romantic, but it has nothing to do with you. They’re in the Idealization Phase; they’ve targeted you as their next “perfect” lover, the source of their narcissistic supply.
They’re obsessed with you, they don’t love you. If you, my friend, fear you’re unlovable, all this grandstanding makes you feel secure and … loved. Prior to meeting my last narcissist, I’d lost my job and my mother had just died. I felt crushingly alone, and on some level, I thought it was my last chance at love. Who was I to second-guess all the effort and attention being lavished on me by this seemingly powerful, charismatic man? Deep down, I knew he was wrong for me, but as I said, I felt like a loser, so I let the relationship continue.
Sure enough, after he “got” me, he started acting strangely – details to follow – but I was hooked. When you value yourself, you allow a relationship to progress slowly. And you don’t judge yourself harshly for needing time to build trust. People who value themselves never, ever think, “this is my last chance at love.” Seriously. Unless they’re like, a hundred years old.
2. You don’t trust yourself.
One of the hallmarks of codependency is a lack of self-trust, which often begins in childhood. By the time I was six years old, I was obsessed with trying to understand my narcissistic father, which was impossible. He would promise to buy me certain snacks, or take me on trips. He also promised to send me to private school, but later denied it. When I would ask about said trip or snack, he’d say things like, “What are you taking about? I never said that! You’re imagining things!”
It’s a manipulation tactic called “gas lighting,” and it’s what narcissists do to get you to shut up or stop using reason and logic, and it’s, well … effective. As an adult, I had a terrible time trusting my choices and I would constantly second-guess myself. When I discovered a woman’s razor in my narcissistic boyfriend’s bathroom, he told me I was acting insecure.
When he started getting calls from his “patients,” at midnight- don’t be ridiculous, kids have late night dental emergencies!- I started to question my sanity. If you’re a codependent, the narcissist’s opinion trumps your own experience. I never checked things out with myself or with people I loved, I just assumed the narcissist was right, and I was … well, crazy. These days, I don’t let anyone call me crazy. Besides me, that is.
3. You’re needy.
Contrary to popular opinion, narcissists don’t want love, they simply crave attention. Codependents crave approval. We value the opinions of others so much we’ll do anything to avoid disappointing. Above our own happiness and peace of mind is the need to look good. When my narcissist boyfriend and I broke up, he called my family and friends, telling them I had hit his young daughter – something I’d never, in a million years, do.
But, because I secretly believed I was a horrible person, I couldn’t handle the possibility of other people feeling that way about me, too. I was so afraid of being judged, I flew into full damage-control mode, calling everyone I knew, vehemently defending myself. Even though I hadn’t done anything wrong! As the old saying goes, I “jumped into the mud to wrestle with a pig. All I got was dirty, and it only made the pig happy.”
4. You trust others too much and/or too little.
Most codependents swing between being completely mistrustful to alternately, believing everyone and anything. Which, as you can imagine, makes for great relationships. Just kidding. When you can’t trust yourself to know whom to trust, life gets pretty crazy. In my case, my narcissist boyfriend tried to convince me to buy a house with him and I refused.
He knew I was working on my trust “issues,” so he’d often call my relative – with whom I had a tenuous relationship – to express his concern about my inability to trust him, of course. It was classic narcissistic behavior known as “triangulation,” engaging in character assassination disguised as “concern,” and playing me against my family. Ultimately, he persuaded this relative to stage an “intervention” with me. The problem? My inability to trust the best guy that had ever happened to me!
Because I was working so hard to overcome my tendency to alternate between being totally paranoid to being someone who’d hand my baby off to a stranger – really, I don’t even have a baby – I capitulated. We bought the house. And we put it in my name. As you can guess, he left me holding the bag. The house was short-sold and my credit was ruined for years, all because I didn’t trust the most important person in the equation: myself.
5. You can’t handle the truth.
More than art, fuzzy rabbits or, even sunshine, codependents love denial. At least I do. Did. My denial was so thick that when my narcissistic boyfriend – not the one that “bought” me a house, but the other one – told me he was giving free dental treatments to orphans on Thursday nights from five to midnight, I believed him. When he finally admitted his roommate was a woman who was staying with him for free because she had cancer, I believed him. Sort of. I mean, I knew something was off, but he wasn’t cheating on me.
If he was, he wouldn’t have told me about her! I know, I sound like an idiot, but I’m not. Being with a narcissist is baffling. I couldn’t begin to recognize my part in the problem until after the narcissist had disappeared. Which, by the way, they always do. They never stick around. And, when you’re codependent, you always find another one. Until you change your behavior.
Frankly, there’s a part of me that would rather not look deeply into “situations” that might be untidy or difficult. As I often say, “reality has never been a friend of mine,” but I’m learning to enjoy it. Reality’s not as enjoyable as say, s’mores on the beach or a brand new puppy, but most days I can handle the truth.
6. You don’t really want intimacy.
Codependents want love without giving up control, and we’re terrified of abandonment. Ironically, I chose narcissists who would allow me to feel safe while meeting some of my needs, but they’d ultimately abandon me. It was the illusion of intimacy. It looked like a relationship, but it wasn’t and it was painful. I was always handing my power over to someone else, refusing to take responsibility for my life. When things would fall apart, because the narcissist would do things that a narcissist does, everyone felt sorry for me. Which, by the way, is not a winning strategy for living, but it’s what I knew.
When I finally stumbled into a Twelve Step meeting and started working a program of recovery, I discovered it was my own fear of intimacy that made the narcissists so attractive. In time, I learned to have a relationship with myself. And not in that obnoxious, “self-love” kind of way, but in a way where I take care of myself first and allow other people to be themselves, without getting caught up in the crazy stuff. I can honestly say I really like myself. Most of the time. A lot of the time. More than ever.
If you see yourself in some of these stories, you might be codependent. Yes, I’ve made it sound like codependents are totally mental, but truly, it’s not that all that bad. After all, you could be a narcissist! Eventually, if you do the internal work, you’ll come to realize there’s nothing remotely sexy about narcissists. Okay, some of them are attractive, but is a short fling, or even a long fling with someone who will never love you, more important that your happiness or peace of mind? I concur. It is not.