Narcissistic Abuse and Codependency: What’s the Link?

February 20, 2023   •  Posted in: 

You’ve probably heard of the term “narcissist.” The formal term to describe a narcissist is “narcissistic personality disorder,” and it’s an official mental health diagnosis that’s included in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual.

Not everyone with narcissistic personality disorder is abusive, and people can and do heal from this condition. However, when narcissistic personality disorder is left untreated, the person may start to emotionally abuse their partners and other loved ones.

Because of the nature of their condition, people with narcissistic personality disorder are often drawn to partners with codependent tendencies. Here’s information you need to know about how these two conditions relate to one another and how to heal if you’re impacted.

 

What is narcissistic abuse?

Narcissistic abuse is an informal term that’s used to describe physical, emotional, or sexual abuse perpetrated by a “narcissist,” or someone with narcissistic personality disorder.

Everyone experiences narcissistic personality disorder in different ways, so “narcissistic abuse” may look different in each scenario. In addition, it’s important to note that abusive behavior Is not a key feature or symptom of narcissistic personality disorder. Many people who exhibit abusive behaviors do not have narcissistic personality disorder, and vice versa — not everyone with narcissistic personality disorder is abusive.

So what, exactly, is narcissistic personality disorder?

Narcissistic personality disorder is a recognized mental illness that causes people to have an extreme preoccupation with themselves and their own needs[1]. People with narcissistic personality disorder tend to have ideas of grandiosity or feel they are superior to other people in some way. They need constant approval and attention and are often willing to go to any lengths to avoid feeling ashamed or inferior.

Some of the symptoms and signs of narcissistic personality disorder include:

  • Having a high sense of self-importance
  • Needing constant admiration from other people
  • Exaggerating accomplishments and qualities
  • Being preoccupied with fantasies about being admired or powerful
  • Expecting others to obey them or give them what they want without question
  • Often overstepping other people’s boundaries or pushing people down in order to get what they want
  • Lacking empathy; being unable or unwilling to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Feeling entitled to get everything they want
  • Appearing callous, cold, or unemotional to others
  • Reacting to criticism with rage or shame

There are effective treatments for narcissistic personality disorder that can help people learn better interpersonal skills. But often, a large barrier to treatment is that people with narcissistic personality disorder don’t feel they need treatment. The very symptoms of this disorder prevent them from being able to acknowledge they need help. People with narcissistic personality disorder have an excessive sense of superiority, and often don’t see themselves as having a mental illness.

Unfortunately, this means that many people, whose loved ones live with narcissistic personality disorder, are exposed to potential abuse.

Narcissistic personality disorder affects not only the person who lives with it, but the people around them as well – just like any other mental health condition. Again, not everyone who lives with narcissistic personality disorder is abusive. But because of the nature of this condition, many people report that their parents, spouse, or another loved one with narcissistic personality disorder has been abusive towards them.

People with narcissistic personality disorder may hurt or abuse the people in their lives without realizing it. Narcissistic abuse can be physical, but is often psychological or emotional. Some common signs of narcissistic abuse include:

  • Gaslighting, or making you feel like you’re “crazy” for being upset or that your feelings aren’t valid
  • Making you feel like the abuse is your fault
  • Shaming you or humiliating you in front of other people
  • Constant criticism
  • Name-calling to intentionally make you feel inferior (such as calling you “stupid” when you need help understanding something)
  • Inappropriate sarcasm
  • Demeaning or insulting you
  • Projecting their issues onto you instead of confronting them themselves
  • Threatening violence or abandonment
  • Lacking empathy for your feelings even when they are the ones who have hurt you
  • Persistent lying
  • Acting superior to you or making you feel less than
  • Feeling entitled to having every demand met – and becoming angry when that doesn’t happen
  • Withholding love, affection, money, or sex from you when they’re upset
  • Downplaying your accomplishments in order to make their own accomplishments seem more important
  • Monopolizing the conversation and never allowing you to talk because they only want to talk about themselves
  • Love bombing, or overwhelming you with affection and romantic gestures as a manipulation tactic
  • Hovering, controlling, or being possessive of you
  • Emotional blackmail or guilt-tripping
  • Always being in competition with you or trying to “one-up” you
  • Spreading malicious gossip or rumors about you in order to tear you down
  • Constantly comparing you to themselves or to other people
  • Isolating you from your community or other loved ones

Just like with any type of abuse, narcissistic abuse comes on a continuum. Often, people with narcissistic personality disorder are unable or unwilling to self-reflect on the ways their behavior impacts others. This can be an extremely difficult and painful situation for the person who’s receiving the abuse.

 

Dealing With Narcissism

Dr. Jantz helps define narcissism, and what you can do if you are in a relationship with a narcissist. This podcast helps you understand the victimization that can take place and provides actions and techniques you can incorporate to begin healing.

Listen to Podcast

 

What is codependency, and how does it relate to narcissistic abuse?

Codependency is a relationship pattern that can relate both to relationships as well as an individual. This concept was originally used to describe the partners of people with substance addiction. But we now know that many people can show traits of codependency, and many dysfunctional relationships, especially one in which one member is ill, can be codependent.

People who are codependent have a “need to be needed.” All of their attention and energy is spent on taking care of the other (“sick”) person in the relationship. They constantly put their partner’s needs above their own because they have lost their sense of self.

Often, people develop codependency after growing up in a dysfunctional family. Codependency is also called “relationship addiction” because of the way codependent people keep getting locked into abusive or dysfunctional relationships.

According to Mental Health America, some of the traits of codependency include[2]:

  • Feeling over-responsible for the actions of others
  • Having a tendency to want to rescue people
  • Lacking trust in oneself or others
  • Feeling addicted or overly dependent on their relationships
  • Willing to do anything to avoid abandonment
  • A need to control others
  • Having a hard time standing up for themselves or saying “no”
  • Excessive sense of guilt
  • Lacking a strong sense of self
  • Difficulty adjusting to change
  • Difficulty identifying one’s own feelings
  • Problems with maintaining personal boundaries
  • Chronic anger
  • Difficulty with healthy communication
  • Constantly putting another person’s needs above one’s own

Relationships between narcissists and codependents

It’s common to find people with narcissistic personality disorder enter into relationships with people with patterns of codependency. And when you examine how these two types of personalities feed off each other, this pairing starts to make a lot of sense.

People with narcissistic personality disorder, as we’ve already discussed, can be hurtful in relationships, especially if they haven’t received treatment. They may demean or insult their partner in order to feel superior. They may react with rage whenever they receive any criticism. Their entire world revolves around themselves and their own needs, and they likely expect their partners to revolve around them as well.

A person with unhealed codependency is perfect for someone who needs so much from their partner. A codependent person may have a difficult time speaking up for themselves or asking their narcissistic partner to behave differently — which works perfectly for the narcissistic partner who hates receiving criticism.

A codependent person also garners their only sense of self through taking care of and “rescuing” their partner. They already have a pattern of pushing their own needs aside to tend to the needs of their partners. This works well for a partner with narcissistic personality disorder, who needs the relationship to revolve around them at all times. The partner with codependency may even be attuned to the narcissistic partner’s needs without them even needing to express them.

The codependent partner may have a lot of underlying anger and resentment toward their partner with narcissistic personality disorder. But their codependency may prevent them from expressing their anger or leaving the relationship. As dysfunctional as the relationship may be, the thought of being alone may be even scarier.

These dynamics can quickly turn into a very unhealthy relationship, in which each partner is dependent on the other — the codependent partner needs a sense of purpose and self (which they find through ignoring their own needs and feelings and focusing on the relationship), and the narcissistic partner needs someone who will tend to their needs with no self-regard.

This isn’t to say that a relationship between someone with narcissistic personality disorder and someone with codependency can never work. But it’s likely this dynamic will only be healthy if both partners have received treatment and are willing to change.

 

Heal from trauma and codependency at The Center ● A Place of HOPE

Both codependency and narcissistic personality disorder are linked to childhood trauma. And people can heal from both, as long as they are willing to seek help. Neither people with codependency nor narcissistic personality disorder are doomed to dysfunctional relationships forever. Many people with these conditions come from dysfunctional families, but they can learn new and healthier ways to relate to people.

At The Center, we have a unique trauma recovery program to help you dig deep and examine the root causes of your current relationship patterns. Our Whole Person Care approach treats you as a unique individual with physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual needs. We can help trauma survivors regain their life, balance, and happiness.

In addition, if you have received narcissistic abuse, our emotional abuse treatment program can help you heal these deep wounds and emerge as your true self.

Please call during opening hours, Mon-Fri 9am-5pm PT, Verify Insurance or complete the form below.


[1] https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000934.htm
[2] https://www.mhanational.org/co-dependency

Dr. Gregory Jantz

Pioneering Whole Person Care over thirty years ago, Dr. Gregory Jantz is an innovator in the treatment of mental health. He is a best-selling author of over 45 books, and a go-to media authority on behavioral health afflictions, appearing on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN. Dr. Jantz leads a team of world-class, licensed, and...

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