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.