Codependent and Narcissist

This was written by Aaron Karmin, MA, LCPC.

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The “dance” of codependency requires two people: the pleaser/fixer and the taker/controller. This inherently dysfunctional dance can only happen with one partner who is a codependent and another partner who is a narcissist (abuser or addict). Codependents do not know how to emotionally disconnect or avoid significant relationships with individuals who are selfish, controlling, and harmful to them. They find partners who are experienced with their dance style: a dance that begins as thrilling and exciting, but ends up rife with drama, conflict, and feelings of being trapped.

When a codependent and narcissist come together in a relationship, their “dance,” unfolds flawlessly: the narcissistic partner maintains the lead and the codependent follows. Because the codependent gives up their power, the dance is perfectly coordinated: no one gets their toes stepped on.

Typically, codependents give of themselves much more than their partners give to them. As a “generous” but bitter partner, they seem to be stuck on the dance floor, always waiting for “next song,” at which time their partner will finally understand their needs. The codependent confuses care-taking and sacrifice with love and responsibility. Although they are proud of their self-described strength, unselfishness, and endless compassion, they end up feeling deflated, empty, and yearning to be loved, but angry that they are not. They are essentially stuck in a pattern of giving and sacrificing, without the potential of receiving the same from their partner. When they dance, they often pretend to enjoy the dance, but usually hide their feelings of bitterness, sadness, and loneliness.

The codependent’s fears and insecurities create a sense of pessimism and doubt over ever finding a healthy partner, someone who could love them for who they are versus what they can do. Naturally, the narcissist is attracted to the codependent’s lack of self-worth and low self-esteem. They intuitively know that they will be able to control this person and be able to choose and control the dancing experience.

All codependents want balance in their relationships, but seem to consistently choose a partner who leads them to chaos and resentment. When given a chance to stop dancing with their narcissistic partner, or comfortably sit out the dance until someone healthy comes around, they choose to continue to dance. The codependent dares not to leave their narcissistic dance partner because their lack of self-esteem and low sense of self-worth manifests into the fear of being alone. Being alone is equivalent to feeling lonely, and loneliness is an intolerable feeling for a codependent.

Without self-esteem or feelings of personal power, the codependent does not know how to choose healthy (mutually giving) partners. Their inability to find a healthy partner is usually related to an unconscious motivation to find a person who is familiar…someone who reminds them of their powerless childhood. Many codependents come from families in which they were children of parents who were also experts at the dance. Their fear of being alone, compulsion to control and fix at any cost, and comfort in their role as the martyr who is endlessly loving, devoted, and patient, is a result of roles they observed early on in their childhood.

No matter how often the codependent tries to avoid “unhealthy” partners, they find themselves consistently on the dance floor dancing to different songs, but with the same dance partner. Through psychotherapy and, perhaps, a 12-step recovery program, the codependent begins to recognize that their dream to dance the grand dance of love, reciprocity, and mutuality, is indeed possible. Through therapy and/or change of lifestyle, they build self-esteem, personal power, and hope to finally dance with partners who are willing and capable to share the lead, communicate their movements, and pursue a shared rhythm.



Aaron Karmin MA, LCPC. Through  Roosevelt University in Chicago, IL. Aaron earned his masters degree in clinical professional psychology. In addition, he is a certified clinical hypnotherapist and holds an advanced certification in stress management, which involves teaching six mind-body techniques to enhance relaxation. Aaron has been a practicing counselor for over 10 years. He  has worked at all levels of mental health care from inpatient to outpatient, private to community, not for profit to Fortune 500 companies. He is a highly effective guest lecturer, group therapy leader, and individual therapist who is able to discuss a variety of topics including: Anger Management, Leadership, Relaxation Techniques, Communication Skills, and Goal Setting Strategies. Aaron recognizes the need for flexibility and creativity to address the mind and body and uses solution-based instructions to promote a healthy lifestyle.

His approach to anger management focuses on increasing frustration tolerance and impulse control by understanding triggers, identifying physical cues, recognizing thoughts, considering consequences, implementing solutions, choosing behaviors, and promoting expression. Aaron believes that when individuals feel in control of their situations and their lives, their depression and anxiety are replaced with feelings of security, confidence, competence, identity, responsibility, belonging, and self-respect, which are prerequisites for success at home and at work.

This entry was posted in covert abuse, emotional abuse, marriage, passive aggressive, passive aggressive behavior, relationships and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Codependent and Narcissist

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this article. I have been struggling with co-dependency my entire life, and although I have changed quite a bit, it is obviously not enough because I am still with this man who has hurt and destroyed my life for the past 18 years.

    • It’s so sad, isn’t it? :( I haven’t gone for awhile, but when I attended Al Anon, it really seemed to help me. Of course, I am still here. Unfortunately. I’m working on trying to have enough money to leave, but I’m not there yet. :( Hang in there!

  2. Karen says:

    No words. Just amazed at the parallels in our lives…most of us are codependent…we’re like PA magnets! Wow. I’m quickly understanding how to separate what I WANT to do for people and what I feel I’m doing to please.

  3. Cheryl says:

    Just discovered I was in a dance with a Narcissist Sociopath (now exhusband) and his 3 boys who were also like him as they reached teen years. Just recoverying from the part way they spit you out when they are done with you. Just understanding that I am a codependent and need to get help. Finding comfort through my faith.

  4. A Karmin says:

    The content of this post must be attributed to Ross Rosenberg

  5. Jen says:

    Finally feeling comfortable in my own skin. I am in the healing process of leaving a Narcissistic sociopath. It took me almost 5 years to realize what I have been dealing with, but I am almost there.

  6. terry says:

    i am married to a pa narc. have been 23 years,just now figuring out it’s not me.! trying to save money to get out. great article thanks,it’s right on

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