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#5: Understanding the Co-dependent and Narcissistic ‘dance’

#5: Understanding the Co-dependent and Narcissistic ‘dance’

Previous ‘‘thought snippets’ looked at some client behaviours which caring professionals are dealing with everyday in their practice. My experience suggests that such behaviours are ‘spotlighting’ the underlying condition of co-dependency.

This ‘‘thought snippet’’ considers how co-dependents are drawn into dysfunctional relationships with a narcissist or someone who displays narcissistic behaviour. Caring professionals need to really understand this dynamic if they are to help their clients recover and free themselves from their bind of unhealthy and emotionally damaging relationships. What is a co-dependent?

Previous ‘thought snippets’ have shown that, at this stage of relationship addiction, the co-dependent has become an incessantly giving, self sacrificing individual who is consumed with the needs of another/others. In such cases, the co-dependent does not know how to emotionally disconnect from, or avoid, toxic relationships. They are also obsessed with, and dependent on, that relationship and actually need it to feel complete as a person. They are so enmeshed that their choice to leave the relationship has effectively been eroded. In this way, the relationship, and the behaviour of the other person, is in control of them.

What is a narcissist?

The narcissistic is a selfish, self-centred and controlling individual. They usually care more about themselves than their partner or their children. Narcissists usually lack empathy, they also do not respect boundaries and view their rights as being superior to others.

Narcissism expert and writer Christine Louis de Canonville4 explains that the narcissist has a fragile ego and suffers from low self-esteem. They cannot cope with the thought of being wrong – indeed, the resulting shame from being wrong can trigger intense violent rages that often become revengeful and sadistic. This usually results in emotional, and sometimes physical, punishing behaviour with the co-dependent at the receiving end.

As mentioned, one crucial aspect to the narcissist’s personality is that they lack empathy. Because of this, they don’t care about the co-dependent’s feelings and actually view the expression of these feelings as a sign of weakness.

Why are co-dependents and narcissists drawn together

A particularly noticeable feature of the co-dependent or addictive relationships is that it is an alliance between someone who needs external validation (the co-dependent) and someone who needs to dominate (the narcissist). It appears that the co-dependent is actually drawn to this kind of ‘domineering’ relationship as he / she needs it to fill the ‘internal validation’ vacuum left by childhood relationships.

Co-dependents admire narcissists because they perceive them to be successful. The narcissist seems to have power and control – and this is what co-dependents would also like for themselves. Because of this admiration, the co-dependent is constantly looking out for the narcissist’s approval. When any kind of positive affirmation comes, this shallow compliment will undo all of the previous abuse.

This explains why clients continue to stay in unhealthy toxic relationships, and why those who do move on find themselves caught up in the same pattern again!

Paradoxically, the narcissist also needs to feed off the co-dependent to survive. So, rather than push them away, the behaviour of the narcissist is designed to make the co-dependent even more dependent on them.

It is therefore easy to see how the co-dependent and the narcissist would be drawn together – they are like two pieces of a puzzle coming together. They need each other.

Learning to work with ‘relationship addiction’

My experience of dysfunctional relationships as possible sources of addiction, and the huge strides in recovery that are possible when it is named for those clients who are affected, has prompted me to put together a course which deals with this issue. It provides a real and meaningful resource for the helping professional who wants to give his / her clients the best chance of recovery from whatever is their issue or addiction. For further information, click to my website courses

4 Christine Louis de Cantonville – The Three Faces of Evil, Unmasking the Full Spectrum of Narcissistic Abuse -

Note: This is one of a series of ‘thought snippets’ through which I am hoping to bring co-dependency centre stage with caring professionals. By being alert to its pervasiveness, they can ensure that their clients reap the benefit of early identification. To read other ‘snippets’ in this series, click: margaretparkes snippets

For more information about the subjects covered in this blog, contact Margaret Parkes - phone: 086 832 0422 email:

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