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Codependency with a narcissist

It often starts off with a hushed phone call from a client I have been seeing for months, someone who tells me their partner is the best part of their life, their rock, etc. They tell me, “I can’t talk long because he doesn’t know I am calling you but I am locked in the bedroom because he is losing it.”

Another common situation is the police are called because of the intensity of fighting and my client is angry at the caller rather than the partner making the scene. The cop speaks sternly to my client about the danger of the situation – she is touched by the cop’s concern but has no intention of pressing charges.

Or a mic drop moment happens as a client hurries from my office, stating, “He doesn’t like it if I am not home when I said I would be.” My client will avoid eye contact and rush out of the room before there are any more questions.

During the assessment part of therapy a woman will tell me they used to have strong friendships but they haven’t seen those friends in a long time because, “I don’t have time” since they got together with their partner. They don’t recognize they are in a codependent relationship.

Codependency is when one person sacrifices for their needs and wants for another’s wants and needs. A codependent relationship with a narcissist is inherently unbalanced.

Most of my clients have never been hit by their partner or it was infrequent enough that they justify those incidents as being ‘in the past’ – they don’t consider themselves survivors or oppressed. They consider themselves ‘good’ at relationships in the sense they can maintain a relationship for a long time. They don’t question the compromises they make instinctually to maintain the relationship until the relationship gets rocky.

Without fail women come into my office looking for assistance with anxiety, depression and communication issues – slowly I learn their ‘issues’ come from being in an unsustainable relationship.

Their partner’s expectations are either impossible to meet or create a life without much joy.

There is no room for my client’s needs, dreams and emotions – they start off blaming themselves for their partner’s behavior, wondering if I can show them the perfect combination of appeasement and overfunctioning to make their relationship work.

What they don’t want to hear is that their partner doesn’t want the kind of balanced relationship they long for – it has no appeal. Rather, their partner craves the unbalanced relationship with the all loving mother/wife figure who intuitively knows and meets their needs. The problem of course is that you can’t sex with your mother or have a healthy balanced partnership with a child.

These are the things I wish codependent women knew

  1. A ‘nice guy’ isn’t a controlling guy. It doesn’t matter what he does for his kids or his mother, if he isn’t kind to you, he will not grow a conscience when you point it out to him.
  2. A partner that cannot tolerate hearing feedback about the pain they caused is not a partner. Don’t bullshit yourself.
  3. Beware of vague apologies – they aren’t actually apologies they are just attempts to get you to STFU.
  4. In order for this situation to look sexy to you in the first place, for you to tell yourself a story about why something that wouldn’t be okay for anyone else is okay for you – you need to acknowledge and explore how you were trained for this type of relationship. Where did you learn to live without – attention, respect and love? In childhood, how did you learn to ignore your own needs in order to care for an adult? How did that go on autopilot? The point isn’t to blame but to understand. You can’t grow without understanding what is wrong,
  5. If you are in this kind of unbalanced relationship you need to expand your circle ASAP- get a therapist, join the PTA, sing in a choir – do something that will help you get some distance and outside perspectives If you could have solved this solo without making anyone uncomfortable I promise you it would have happened by now.
  6. You are going to have to develop a tolerance for discomfort – your own and others. Looking at the whys of your behavior is not superficial work. You will need more than a book or a worksheet. You will change and discomfort will come along with that. You cannot have the balanced relationships you want without learning how to say no and experiencing the emotions you feel and that others express.
  7. You need to figure out what you believe – I know that sounds crazy, you are grown right? My clients that are in unbalanced relationships develop this behavior that I call auto-agree. They learn that disagreement causes problems so they just automatically agree with their partner without realizing it. My clients will come in and when I ask them a question that will tell me what their partner thinks without realizing they aren’t answering the question -what do you think? Exploring differences in points of view and the toll you have paid for auto-agreeing is painful.
  8. You have fears about feelings – your own and others’. This comes as a shock to my clients – they consider themselves emotionally aware and intuitive. And you are good at reading the feelings of others and keeping people buffered from discomfort. You are afraid of dire consequences that may happen if you stop buffering people. You are afraid of your own feelings when you are not tending others’ needs. You want to find out why, it is a belief that is learned.
  9. You have to give up the negative self talk, period. You can’t talk about yourself like you are trash and expect to not feel like trash. It doesn’t work.
  10. Your relationships with significant others outside your relationship will change once you start to change. Some will embrace your change and others will leave. Everyone has free will.
  11. The reasons why your unbalanced relationship ‘worked’ will show up, that doesn’t mean you are making a mistake by wanting something different. You will struggle to find ways to meet the needs that the relationship keeps at bay. There is safety in being with a needy person – they never really see you, except in relation to your ability to meet their needs. It will be a struggle – here’s the thing though, that’s where the magic happens. That’s where you learn about yourself and develop confidence by doing – it is a confidence that cannot be taken away by someone else.

Thanks for sticking with me throughout this blog post. Some may have a temptation to put off individual therapy and use this post to justify securing help for their partner. Resist the temptation. If you identify with this blog, hit the button to schedule a 15 minute consultation call to see if we are a good fit.

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