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Another view of codpendence: Narcissism and the Co-Narcissist

Recognizing The Co-Narcissism In Your Coupledom

The Beast Of Narcissistic Vulnerability In All Of Us: For some couples, the role of co-narcissist is fixed and rigid. The co-narcissistic partner is valued by the other as long as they satisfy their partner’s spoken and unspoken needs at the expense of their own individuality and emotional reality. The co-narcissist has been trained in childhood to subsume their identity into the folds of a parent’s needs, their day-to-day security in the “loving” parental bosom is only as good as their ability to mirror that parent’s greatness, goodness, talent, beauty, genius, or perfection in all things including parenting. By the time these youngsters reach adulthood, integrated into their psychological DNA is a finely attuned vigilance to another’s needs, along the lines of a lady’s maid or his lordship’s obedient servant, whose survival rests on anticipating and gratifying the lord’s or lady’s every whim. If they fail at their task, the beast dwelling within the seemingly normal human facade breaks out and roars, whines, whimpers, accuses, withholds or withdraws, with the taint of unworthiness, incompetence or cruelty smeared all over their partner’s character and self-image. In some Coupledoms, these roles are fixed. But in most Coupledoms, individuals take turns playing the parts, depending on a lot of variables including context, trauma, age, illness, loss and failure.
Owning The Narcissist Within: A surefire method to protect your Coupledom from Invasive Narcissistic Couples’ Disorder (my term), a virulent destroyer of mutual love and respect, is to own the narcissistic inclinations and attitudes within you. Most of us are replete in narcissistic habits of thinking, behaving and feeling. And a closer scrutiny of our tenaciously held belief systems in relationships will reveal some of the most toxic/self-absorbed, narcissistic ones. With an open mind and honest examination of self, matched by a willingness to hear how your partner experiences you, owning your narcissist within can save a whole marriage. Wow!
The Defensive You: What makes us all so defensive in exchanges with our partners about our “imperfections” is that we think any correction, suggestion or complaint, means we are all bad, all defective, failures at being lovable. So we bark, and balk about any single “criticism” or attack the other, feeling righteous and victimized. Oops, normal but not good and too much of it is creates long-term damage. Defensive responses, such as “I don’t do that but you do” (“turning the tables on the other” or “blame the victim”, familiar maneuvers to us all) or “I am never good enough.” Or “there is always something, I can never please you” can often be the narcissist in us speaking. Catch your defensiveness and you will find fearfulness, the threat that lurks beneath it and is based on very young notions that “I have to be perfect or I am unlovable, shameful or bad.” Change that nine-year old thinking and voila you have graduated middle school, skipped high school and now are an adult! At last.
Owning The Co-Narcissist Within: Alternatively, even as you are narcissistic at times, you may also be the one tiptoeing around on some issues or during particular stages of your relationship with your partner. Areas of discussion that are taboo are often indicative of co-narcissistic moments. A partner who won’t bring up a critical topic with their spouse ever, for fear that they will be perceived as having broken an unspoken vow, or being seen as an enemy, may often throw someone else under the bus as a consequence. Perhaps it concerns a child or parents, or the partner themselves, yet the threat of being perceived as hurtful or untrustworthy impairs judgment and impacts unfairly another, maybe you or your child. This could be around a spouse’s job loss, an illness, an addiction, or a sexual disappointment. If you notice that you are hyper-vigilant and micromanaging others, children particularly, around your spouse at certain times, you need to uncover the belief system behind these feelings, haul it out and question what you are doing, the ramifications for all, and make different choices, perhaps with help. This can be crucial to you, your marriage and your family."

Narcissism and Co-Narcissism

by Gudrun Zomerland, MFT

"If you seek more information about narcissism and co-narcissism, following are a few books that I found helpful:

Co-narcissism is very similar to co-dependency in that both conditions describe a survival style in which one person lives for the apparent survival of another. It can therefore be helpful for co-narcissists to read about co-dependency and to join programs like CoDA or Alanon to help change destructive patterns in relationships. "


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