There is so much to say on this topic as many of the victims of narcissistic parenting who come to me for help, are, in fact, codependent. They became this way as children in order to get love and attention from the self-involved parent. I know my own experience as a child was characterized by this co-dependence and I had to work very hard as an adult to recognize and avoid relationships that tended to draw me into co-dependency. It was familiar, and even though my co-dependence on my mother never got me what I really wanted, I continued to hope that if I could just satisfy her needs, listen to her, be her “perfect little girl”, I would get the authentic attention and love that I so craved. I found myself over and over again in these type of relationships as an adult, particularly with women. I craved reciprocity and kept hoping that if I gave enough, tolerated enough, allowed them enough space, I would finally get something back. It never happened. As I got healthier, I was able to “break up” with these people and find true satisfaction with the many other women friends I have had in my life who were able to give back, be reciprocal, and share a relationship as equals. I learned to discern when “support” for someone became co-dependence. This is one of the most valuable things I have ever learned in my life.
Some people on the narcissistic scale, which I talked about in my previous post, tend to live lives of high drama. They are always sick, always in horrible romantic relationships, forever in debt, failing at work, etc. Sickness, poor relationships, debt and career issues are real and valid problems. In a healthy relationship, one listens to the friend, offers support, empathy and love. These problems usually resolve. With the narcissistic, these problems are chronic and are maintained to keep the attention on themselves. There is usually no room for your issues, concerns, or life experience. It’s always about helping and listening to them. It’s at that point that one must decide whether continued listening to these problems, is helpful to the other person, and equally important, is it draining and exhausting to you. Does the other person simply feel entitled to take up all the space in the relationship? Do you keep hoping that the person will be there for you one day? When do you realize that someone who is so unable to manage their life, would probably have little to offer you should you need help, empathy or advice?
Good relationships are balanced: my turn, your turn. Celebrate these relationships, learn to recognize them, seek them out. Understand when support becomes co-dependency. Understand as well that co-dependency is behavior that allows someone else to continue on with their self-destruction. This is easier to see when one is dealing with an alcoholic or a drug addict. It is harder to recognize when someone is exhibiting behaviors that alienate most people because they are so self-involved. But you are co-dependent when you are the only person who tolerates the narcissistic behavior, and thus enables the narcissist to think the behavior is OK. I remember several times in my younger years when I felt that I was the “cheese” in the Old McDonald Had A Farm song; “the cheese stands alone”. Everyone else had cut relations off with the narcissist, but I alone remained to signal that the behavior was OK and to deny myself the pleasure of a healthy relationship. Perhaps if we stop being co-dependent, narcissists, especially those lower down on the scale, will actually change.