This is an interesting question that has a more complex answer than you might think. There is a proven relationship between codependency and narcissism as the two conditions often complement one another. It’s like two peas in a pod. That’s why it frequently happens that codependents and narcissists are in relationships together, but is it possible that a codependent person might become a narcissist from being exposed to constant narcissistic abuse?
There are many personality elements that codependents and narcissists share, like shame and a lack of boundaries, and it is possible for a narcissist to be codependent. It is not very common, however, that a codependent individual would become a narcissist and some people believe it is impossible.
To better understand the complexities of the relationship between codependency and narcissism, it is necessary to understand what both problems have in common and what makes them distinct. We’ll also explore why so many codependents wonder if they are narcissists as well.
What is Codependency?
Like narcissists, codependent people have also lost their connection to their sense of self. Because of that, and similar to narcissists, they are focused on others, but their focus is different. While they deny their condition and seek to control their environment, their focus is on catering to the needs of the people in their life, and they don’t display the narcissistic traits of lacking empathy, entitlement, and the desire to exploit other people.
Like most narcissists, codependents have usually grown up in a dysfunctional family, but they developed a different strategy for coping with the shame, insecurity, and lack of control that left them feeling. The strategy of the codependent is to try and seek love and approval by accommodating the needs of other people. They will often seek to meet the needs of those they love even at the cost of their own needs.
This characteristic of codependency is something that distinguishes this mental disorder from narcissism. The narcissist puts their own needs above those of everyone else while the codependent does the opposite.
How is Narcissism Different from Codependency?
Narcissists have also usually been raised in a dysfunctional family and they have lost their connection to their sense of self, but to cope with those problems, they seek mastery and domination over others. They feel a deep sense of shame, self-loathing, and insecurity, even despite the facade they show the world of confidence to the point of arrogance.
Because of the false self narcissists have constructed, they believe other people to be mere extensions of themselves and subject to their control. If the people in their life resist or criticize them, they can become intensely enraged and emotionally or physically abusive.
Like alcoholics, both codependents and narcissists deny their own feelings, but whereas codependents will deny their needs for the benefit of others, narcissists deny their feelings of vulnerability as they seek to manipulate the other people in their life.
Narcissists also tend to project their feelings of weakness or vulnerability onto other people in their life. They often accuse other people of what they are experiencing for themselves or what they know, deep down, that is true of them.
Narcissists Can Be Codependent
While narcissism is a distinct disorder from that of codependency, it is possible for a narcissist to be codependent. It’s usually covert or vulnerable narcissists that display more codependent traits.
Covert narcissists are those that sometimes get their narcissistic supply by helping other people. They aren’t doing this for any altruistic reason, of course, because they are looking to be praised for their actions.
But this one case where narcissists may put the needs of others above their own. These types of narcissists can be people-pleasers in much the same way as codependents, and similarly, they can become resentful of the people they are helping.
Other types of narcissists are unlikely to even consider the needs of other people. Instead, they believe everyone in their life should be focused solely on them.
Can Codependents Be Narcissists?
Most experts, like psychologist and author Ross Rosenberg, believe this is almost impossible. As Rosenberg explains, if a codependent person is even wondering if they are a narcissist, that’s a signal they are not. Narcissists don’t possess the insight to even question their behaviors.
Rosenberg says, “Codependents ask this question because of their distorted sense of self and personal boundaries. As susceptible victims of mind control and brainwashing, or gaslighting, their reality is turned against them.”
He notes that narcissists commonly project their own disorder onto other people using the manipulation tactic known as gaslighting. They do it to everyone in their life, but codependent people are particularly susceptible to believing it.
In Rosenberg’s view, it’s just impossible for a codependent person to become a narcissist. Most often, a narcissist has convinced a codependent they are the problem, and because of the deep-seated sense of insecurity and shame that codependents have, they believe what they are being told.
While codependents and narcissists share many personality characteristics, they are distinctly different conditions. Both feel a deep sense of shame, insecurity, and self-loathing, but the codependent lacks many personality traits that are integral parts of narcissistic personality disorder.
The narcissist puts themselves above everyone else while the opposite is true for the codependent. Some narcissists can be more codependent than others, specifically covert narcissists who become extraordinary people-pleasers in an effort to have others praise them for their efforts. Most narcissists, however, could care less about the needs of others because they don’t have the capacity to feel empathy.
Even covert narcissists are doing what they do because they feel empathy for other people. They just want recognition for what they have done. Additionally, while some narcissists might have more codependent traits, the opposite is not true.
Most experts believe that codependents cannot become narcissists despite their shared personality traits. They have problems associated with childhood trauma and the loss of their connection to self, but their coping mechanism for that is to put the needs of others above their own.
Now that you have some more insight into these two conditions, you might be interested to learn more from this blog article on the differences between codependency and narcissism.
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