Do you find that in your relationships you tend to be the giver and attract takers?
Are you stuck in a pattern of over-functioning or sacrificing for your partner, while secretly harboring resentment and bitterness because deep down you doubt they’d do the same for you?
If you’re nodding your head, then this episode is for you. I’m going to be talking about codependents, narcissists, and the bad boundaries that tend to exist between them.
It really can be the perfect sh*t storm of dysfunctional behaviors, but raising your awareness around this toxic pairing can help you break the cycle and choose differently.
What are codependent behaviors? Codependency is behavior that includes disordered boundaries, where you are overly invested in the feeling states, the decisions, the outcomes, and the circumstances of the people in your life to the detriment of your internal peace and wellbeing.
If you are unsure whether or not you are a codependent here are some common ways it can show up in real life:
- You feel responsible for fixing other people’s problems.
- When things happen to others, it feels like it’s happening to you.
- You might feel used or unappreciated for all you do.
- You offer advice even when it is unasked for, and if others don’t take it, you can get frustrated or angry.
- You can have a tendency to take things personally.
- You take your value from what you can do for others, almost like you have to “earn your keep” for them to want to be in a relationship with you.
- You might feel unlovable, unworthy, or fundamentally broken in some way.
Codependency is really an overt or covert bid for control. We don’t want our friend or loved one to make a mistake. The thing is, even if your heart is in the right place if you are giving, fixing, and functioning from a place of fear instead of love, your boundaries are disordered.
Now let’s talk about narcissism. Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others” according to The Mayo Clinic.¹
There are different levels of narcissism, and while all of it is unhealthy, some are more toxic than others.
Someone with narcissistic personality traits and behaviors:
- Will manipulate, guilt-trip, blame, shame, and exploit your emotions to take advantage of you and achieve their own ends.
- They like to stir the pot. They will provoke, instigate, etc.
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance and thinks they are superior to you.
- Exaggerates their achievements and talents and feels entitled to the best of everything.
- Can be super charming, persuasive, and compelling.
- They care a lot about what other people think.
- Are major boundary violators. Think often they are above the laws and rules.
- Are bad listeners and interrupters. Always ready to put the focus back onto themselves.
- Is super ego-driven, but also thin-skinned and will flip out at the slightest criticism or perceived slight.
- Breaks promises and will manipulate the facts to get you to doubt yourself.
- Is unwilling or unable to recognize or identify with the feelings or needs of others (lack of empathy).
If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, everything is really about them and what suits them. They likely see you as an extension of themselves and it’s all about what they want. Being with a narcissist can be extremely isolating and painful.
Why is there an undeniable attraction between codependents and narcs? To put it simply, a codependent is someone who is perennially giving and a narcissist is someone who is perennially taking. In a way, these two dysfunctional personality types are the perfect dance partners. A narcissist is self-focused and compelled to control, while the codependent is outwardly focused and compelled to fix.
Especially early on in the courtship, a codependent might be smitten with a narcissist, who usually comes in full of charm, wit, and compliments. In the beginning, it might feel beyond amazing. Those with narcissistic personality traits can be master manipulators and will use tactics like love bombing to get you secured in their web.
If it feels too good to be true, beware. They might tell you things like how incredible you are, how you’re soulmates and twin flames, how no one understands them as you do. They might shower you with gifts or whisk you away to an incredible vacation or some other grand romantic gesture.
But when it comes to a relationship with a narcissist, there will inevitably be a point when there is a painful turn. The adoring behavior slowly but surely starts to be replaced with disdain and criticism. It might be provoked by you trying to set a boundary or a limit, or you telling them what your preference is about something. It might be provoked by nothing at all.
When you’re codependent, you are particularly vulnerable to a narc personality type, because over-giving is ingrained within you. Most codependents live to anticipate the other person’s needs, wants, and desires and are ready to be a part of someone else’s solution. But you can only go so long walking on eggshells and getting your worth from over-giving. There comes a point where you want to be seen, heard, and understood, and that is very unlikely to happen in a relationship with a narcissist.
These relationships can be extremely hard to break free from. Once you have “fallen from grace,” in the estimation of the narc, you might work overtime to get back in good standing. Going from the intensity of love-bombing to being devalued on a regular basis can be a shock. As a codependent, you’re likely not great at confrontation and might try to avoid their displeasure and disapproval at all costs.
The narcissist and the codependent both become mesmerized with this toxic cycle, because what’s really happening is they are both playing out unresolved injuries from childhood inside the relationship. Bad boundaries are basically the name of the game.
As the codependent, it is an unspoken agreement that you have no right to have boundaries in a relationship with a narcissist, and yet…if you want the pain to stop, it is your job to establish them.
How can a codependent avoid the trap of the narcissist?
Assert yourself early and often.
Have conversations about what you like, what you want, and how you feel. Question them on things and tell them when you disagree. You can do this in a neutral, non-confrontational way.
Expressing yourself and your preferences is one way you can see how the other person is going to react. Trust me, someone who is simply clueless or self-centered is not going to react the way a narcissistic person will react. A narc will try to make you wrong, shut you down, and make you regret asserting yourself.
If you can establish boundaries early and often, you will not fall victim to this kind of manipulation. You’ll be able to spot the red flags for what they are.
The best defense against a narcissistic abuser is a good offense–and that means having a proactive boundary plan and learning how to communicate effectively.
If you know you’re codependent and if you’ve had an experience like this before, bring this awareness into your next relationships. What did you learn about yourself? What did you learn from your past experience?
Set those boundaries early and often. You can do it gently and with kindness. This will reveal who they really are. Even if they are good at playing the game in the beginning, be consistent because there will be a point where they will not be able to contain their reaction to “the nerve you have” establishing a boundary with them.
The bottom line is – a relationship with a narcissist and a codependent will usually end in a crap-ton of pain, and I don’t want that for you. You do not deserve it.
One more quick PSA:
I rarely use the word “always” but I’m going to do it here.
Always assert your boundaries early and often in every relationship. Always.
Whether the other person is a narcissist or not, this is how you set yourself and the relationship up for success. Hold others to their word. Share your preferences, desires, and deal-breakers. Because you know what happens if you don’t? You’re setting yourself up for more of the same of what you just experienced.
You deserve better, but you have to be the one to set the bar!
If you are interested in learning more about boundaries and how to become a boundary boss, my Boundary Bootcamp Course is open for enrollment!
It is an eight-week course personally led by yours truly, and in it, I will teach you all the things that you need to know about setting boundaries with all the people in your life, including narcissists. I would love to see you on the inside.
In the meantime, I hope this episode added value to your life. If you liked it, please share it on your social media platforms and drop me a comment! I love to hear what you think, how you feel, and what your experiences are.
Have an amazing week raising the bar in your life and as always, take care of you.