Codependency and Narcissistic Abuse

Many of us have heard of codependency and narcissism. Codependency is when two people are locked in a life where they feed off on another, causing mental anguish. Narcissism is when one of the pair is self-centered, arrogant, and lacks empathy for their partner.


In this article, we shall tackle codependency in more depth. We shall also examine narcissistic abuse, a little talked about syndrome where children and adults are subjected to trauma by a narcissist.


What is Codependency?



Codependency is a hard condition to define as it is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition (DSM 5) so it is not considered a mental health condition.


Melody Beattie is the author of Codependent No More, a book that explores codependency and how it affects the lives of those who exhibit it. The book advises, explanations, and compassion for people who live with the overwhelming condition of codependency.


Beattie states the best definition could be as follows. “Codependency is a stress-induced pattern of behavior that dictates how a person treats another and how she allows that other person to influence her. The codependent obsesses over the other person and seeks to control them.”


Darlene Lancer goes further in her definition of codependency:


“Codependency is more than a relationship problem. Wounds of codependency affect our psyche and individual development. Make no mistake. It’s to no fault of our own. Codependency is adaptive and helped us survive growing up in a dysfunctional family system. But that change cost us our individuality, authenticity, and our future quality of life.”


Who are Codependents?



Despite the above definitions, it might seem to some that only weak people become codependent. That simply is not true. Codependency can happen to anyone under the right conditions, especially if you have a history of childhood neglect or abuse.


The codependent was first described in relation to those who enable their loved one’s destructive behavior, such as alcoholism, by putting out fires and preventing anyone on the outside from knowing about the alcoholic’s condition.


A codependent is one person who enables another in their self-destructive behavior. Codependency is known as a “relationship addiction” with emotional and behavioral behaviors that influence a person’s ability to have a satisfying and mutually agreeable relationship.


According to Very Well, an online magazine, the symptoms of codependency fall into five patterns: denial, low self-esteem, compliance, control, and avoidance.


Denial Patterns Include:


  • The inability to identify their feelings and how they are feeling
  • Denying or minimizing how they really feel about something or someone
  • See themselves as unselfish and dedicated to the well-being of other people


Low Self-Esteem Patterns Include:


  • Problems deciding for themselves
  • Feeling not good enough and judging themselves harshly
  • Unable to identify and ask for what they need or want


Compliance Patterns Include:


  • Compromises in the person’s values and veracity to avoid being rejected and to avoid other people’s anger at them
  • Extreme loyalty, even when the relationship is harmful
  • So sensitive to the feelings of others, they take on the same feelings


Control Patterns include:


  • The belief that people cannot care for themselves
  • Gets angry when people do not take their advice or accept their help
  • Uses sex to gain approval


Avoidance Patterns Include:


  • Avoidance of sexual or emotional intimacy to keep from feeling vulnerable
  • Allows themselves to behave in a manner that gives them the rejection, shame, and anger they expect from others
  • Is harshly judgmental of what others do or say


People who exhibit the behaviors and thought patterns described here, plus many more that were not included, are codependents and need help to pull away from the destructive life patterns they are caught up in.


Who are Narcissists?



Narcissists are people, most commonly men, who have an inflated sense of self-importance and an excessive need for admiration. A narcissist cannot handle criticism and shows a blatant disregard for the feelings of those around them. Narcissists also lack empathy and refuse to take the blame for their actions. Narcissists usually go for jobs that place them in positions of power and seek relationships to fulfill their need to bully.


Some symptoms narcissists exhibit are:


  • Narcissists exhibit a grandiose vision of themselves
  • Narcissists have an inflated sense of importance
  • Narcissists demand loyalty even when they do not deserve it
  • They have blurred boundaries and ignore those of others
  • Narcissists will not honor or acknowledge any boundaries you set
  • They believe they always know what is best for themselves and others
  • Narcissists cause others to “walk on eggshells” around them to keep them from attacking them
  • Narcissists are manipulative and will use another person’s flaws or vulnerabilities against them
  • Narcissists often will treat the people in their lives as though they can do whatever they will with them


Narcissists are people who will destroy the lives of those around them if they can do so.


What is Narcissistic Abuse?



Narcissistic abuse is where a narcissist uses emotional abandonment, withholding of affection, manipulation, and uncaring against the people in their lives to promote their own self-importance. This form of abuse may include raging, attacking, lying, and giving the silent treatment. Blaming and shaming and guilt are used against their victims to force them to fulfill the narcissist’s needs.


Victims of narcissistic abuse have the following symptoms. The list is not all-inclusive, as there are many more symptoms.


  • Always waiting for the next shoe to drop (an intense watch for danger)
  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Reliving the trauma from narcissistic abuse
  • Being easily startled
  • Depersonalization (feeling detached from one’s emotion or body)
  • Avoiding such situations as enormous crowds
  • Avoiding intimate relationships
  • Exhibiting a lack of emotional regulation
  • Being preoccupied with a narcissist
  • Having an inaccurate view of the narcissist
  • Have an overwhelming sense of guilt or shame.


As we shall see, the combination of a narcissist and a codependent is horrible.


Codependency and Narcissistic Abuse



Reading the descriptions of both a codependent and a narcissist, it is easy to see how the combination can alter lives. Narcissistic, abusive people and codependents feed on each other’s needs and desires, making both miserable.


People with codependency sometimes form relationships with narcissists, and they develop complementary roles. The codependent has found a person they can pour themselves into and the narcissist has found someone who will always put them first.


However, when narcissistic abuse involves children, it proves to be devastating and leaves lasting scars that color how the child sees the world both as a child and later as an adult.


Other ways narcissistic abuse affects children include:


  • They do not feel seen or heard
  • The child’s feelings and reality are not being acknowledged
  • The child is treated as an accessory to the narcissist (they are “hooked at the hip
  • They feel more valued for what they do for the narcissist rather than as a person
  • The child grows up not able to identify or trust their feelings and has crippling doubt
  • The child is taught to keep secrets to protect the narcissist
  • They are not helped to develop their sense of self
  • The child does not learn to trust others
  • They feel used and manipulated
  • The child does not learn how to set and manage boundaries
  • The child grows up vulnerable to forming codependent relationships


People who are codependent with a narcissist in adulthood do not form such a relationship out of the blue. Codependents are made in the crucible of a dysfunctional family that is led by a narcissistic individual.


Ending Our Time Together


Codependency and narcissistic abuse go hand-in-hand. Children who live in dysfunctional homes whose parents are narcissistic have a high chance of forming a codependent relationship in adulthood.


It is critical to recognize in yourself the traits of codependency and to understand when you were abused as a child. No one wants to admit to themselves they grew up in a narcissistic home where there was abuse, but the only way out of a trap is to realize its existence. Then you can rebuild your life and go through the healing process and finally live free.


“Narcissistic love is riding on the rollercoaster of disaster filled with a heart full of tears.”–Sheree Griffin.


“Realize that narcissists have an addiction disorder. They are strongly addicted to feeling significant. Like any addict, they will do whatever it takes to get this feeling often. That is why they are manipulative and future fakers. They promise change but can’t deliver if it interferes with their addiction. That is why they secure back up supply.”–Shannon L. Alder.


“Narcissists will destroy your life, erode your self-esteem, and do it with such stealth as to make you feel you are the one that’s letting them down.” Author Unknown.


Arabi, S., (2017). What it’s like to be a complex trauma survivor of narcissistic abuse. Retrieved from:

Beattie, M., Codependency No More Book summary. Retrieved from:

Lancer, D., 2020. Healing Psychic Wounds of Codependency. Retrieved from:

Complex Trauma, False Gratitude, and Letting Go




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