There’s no debating it. Codependents are nice.
If you are codependent, people will usually describe you as sweet, loyal and selfless. But if you were to plunge an emotional stethoscope into the core of the codependent, you’d likely find fear, loneliness and neediness that runs contrary to their “I’m so nice and together” image.
The motto of many codependents would read something like this:
“If I am useful to others by taking care of them and their needs,
I'll be valuable and lovable.”
In my practice as a therapist, I regularly work with clients who have codependency issues.
I myself, am a codependent (in recovery), so I live with codependency as much as work with it.
After years of gaining deeper insights into what motivates and sustains codependency, I’ve begun to reconsider the reigning idea of codependents as martyr figures who are too nice; too good for their own good. This has made me wonder,
Is codependency a version of narcissism?
This might sound outrageous. But let’s first take a closer look at some of the hallmark signs of narcissism and codependency.
The DSM describes narcissists as:
- Having an exaggerated sense of self importance
- Tend to conceal their ‘weaknesses’
- Believing that they are superior, special or ‘unique’
- Hide traits that they think are weak by meeting other peoples’ needs as they gain approval and acceptance
- Set themselves apart by acting as if they don’t need anything from others
- Believe they are responsible for what the addict in their life says and does
TOO LITTLE SELF vs TOO MUCH SELF
Typically, codependents act selflessly and are considered as people who suffer from a ‘loss of self’ - whereas narcissists are self-centered and seem to suffer from having ‘too much self’.
Looking at it this way, there would appear to be no intersection between these two extremes.
Although codependents and narcissists appear to live very different types of lives, they might have more in common than you would think.
CODEPENDENTS AND ADDICTION
In the context of addiction, we often see codependents as the parents, spouses and/or children who are the ones most profoundly affected by their loved ones’ addiction.
As addiction gains momentum and becomes more destructive, these family members often end up finding themselves addicted to their loved ones’ addiction. The addiction ends up being a compulsive thought and fear, burrowing itself in to every crevice of the codependent's psyche to the point where they will make it their mission to manage (or if they are successful) stop the addiction.
Despite their best intentions to love the addict, codependent family members will often end up enabling the addict by making themselves indispensable to the addict.
We are all familiar with the parents who support addiction by becoming the addicts’ financier as they provide housing, food, and cash.
Codependent family members also find themselves walking on eggshells, monitoring what they say and do because they believe if they misstep, the addict will use.
This is dangerous territory.
When codependents think they have ultimate power over the addiction, they might as well put on a cape and assume superhero status.
However the reality is they are not superheros. They are human. And they are powerless over the addiction.
It takes a person who fundamentally believes that they are special in order to feel they have that much power and responsibility in the face of addiction.
CODEPENDENCY IN OTHER RELATIONSHIPS
Whether or not a relationship is romantic or platonic, codependents will skillfully orbit around another, making them the center of their galaxy.
Whether it involves rearranging your schedule, being the ‘go to person’ to solve everyone’s problems or not asking for help when you need it – the codependent’s focus is primarily to accommodate others. It's their most prized currency.
By prioritizing and meeting the needs of others,
codependents gain and secure value and worth.
This behaviour is compulsive and it can become insidious. As it progresses, the codependent will lose sense of their preferences. Their ability to identify their needs slowly erodes.
What ends up strengthening is the codependent’s belief that they are the only one who is strong and capable enough to glue back whatever falls apart in their life or in the lives of others. Because they believe everything is their responsibility.
The narcissism of codependency is about specialness.
The best codependents can throw out the life preserver out for other people but neglect to use one for themselves. They need to be strong and together. And they do this with a smile on their face no matter how they might be feeling.
If someone was actually capable of making life better for everyone all the time; If this person had power over addiction; If they never had needs of their own and never showed signs of weakness, would we not see them (and would they not see themselves) as special or even superior?
Which makes me wonder, are these traits of narcissism or codependency?