There’s a thin line between a codependent and a narcissist. Both need to feed on other people for affirmation, admiration, validation, and praise. Both have an emptiness inside that must be filled through the eyes of other people.
The difference is awareness. The codependent can self-reflect, admit they need to change, and truly have a desire to change. The narcissist can not. The narcissist struggles to admit fault and usually only does so in an act of desperation, making empty promises they have no intention of keeping, and will return right back to the previous behavior as soon as they think you are satisfied.
The codependent may struggle to change, but desperately wants to and the narcissist will make sure to remind them constantly of their failure to do so. The codependent’s flaws are the perfect ammunition for the narcissist to keep deflecting attention from their wrongdoing.
The longer two people are in a relationship, the more they begin to act like one another, so if you were dating a real jerk, it’s no surprise you may eventually have behaved in a way you’re not proud of, giving the narcissist more ammunition and perhaps even convincing you that you’re the selfish narcissist.
The codependent may feel that no one else will ever love them the way the narcissist does. The narcissist may even tell the codependent outright that nobody ever will or ever could, keeping the codependent desperately clinging to the narcissist for love or survival, often holding on to a fantasy version of the relationship that died long ago.
Now we’re in a vicious cycle, dancing the dance of the codependent and the narcissist. The codependent believes they are worthless without the narcissist, that they could never make it on their own, and the narcissist wants them to believe this because the narcissist needs the codependent to supply their ego with validation.
Even when the narcissist has the codependent feeling worthless or invisible, the narcissist is unable to handle the thought of the codependent not needing them, and in many cases will sabotage the codependent’s efforts to stand on their own two feet, even though the codependent’s failure to do so will be used against them.
And why does the codependent stay in the cycle of abuse? The narcissist knows how to play the codependent like a fiddle. Just as soon as they’ve pushed the codependent a little too far…get ready for an unusually kind gesture. Roses. A romantic dinner. Thrilling make-up sex. It’s a chess-move the codependent, starved for their partner’s love, is eager to accept. Suddenly, everything is right again and all is forgiven, for an hour or a day.
Think of it like a gambling addiction. You’re no fool, If every time you put a quarter in the slot and pulled the lever you lost, you’d quit playing that game. The fact that you mostly lose but win SOMETIMES is what keeps you hooked. The little win is exhilarating enough that you can tolerate all the disappointing losses, and you may play that game until you die.
The codependent is like the gambling addict thinking “Maybe today is the day he will change! Today is the day he’ll be nice to me! See! He can be mean, but look how sweet he is sometimes!” The narcissist knows it takes only the tiniest bit of good behavior to keep the codependent hooked.
How does the codependent break this cycle?
The best-case scenario is, by the grace of God, something awakens in you and you decide you’ve had it. Something profound happens, maybe something devastating at the time, and reignites the flame inside of you that is connected to your inner-being and knows that this treatment is not worthy of a soul as sacred as yours…
Most of the time, it’s not a decision you’ll get to make for yourself. Usually, you’ll get discarded. The narcissist won’t leave until they have a new, more satisfying source of supply, but when they do, boy will your world turn upside-down. You’ll be devastated, terrified, and confused at how swiftly you were replaced.
But this is your blessing.
This is the challenge you were called to face in this life. Will you run into the arms of another charming manipulator promising to rescue you or will you learn the power of standing on your own two feet?
Will you blame yourself like you always do? Will you replay over and over all the reasons you were too fat, too ugly, too old, too pathetic, never good enough, and never will be or will you stand up and say, “NOT THIS TIME, MOTHER FUCKER?” Will you decide once and for all to be the source of your own well-being, your own joy, and your own power?
All along the narcissist was teaching the codependent exactly what areas they needed to heal in themself, and now, on their own, the codependent is free to heal them.
The codependent went looking for their value in the eyes of the narcissist, and in the beginning, the narcissist was eager to reflect it back. The codependent’s journey is to find themself, discover who they are, forgive their every last shortcoming, and love themself so unconditionally that no other person can effect how good or how bad they feel about who they are on the inside.
That means when the narcissist pops back up unexpectedly, ready to apologize and say all the things you’ve waited years to hear, not falling for it. When you have absolved yourself of need for the narcissist’s validation (because your validation comes from within), you’re free.
The co-dependent must be so rock solid that they won’t sacrifice themself, their values, or their dignity for the sake of something that feels like “love.”
When the codependent has achieved this, they are ready to make healthy attachments and will never again be a match to a narcissist.