Monkeyships, part 5: Scratch a codependent

(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is Steve’s control-addicted inner monkey.

That’s Bert at left, in a narcissistic mood.

This is the last of a five-part series.  The first four were about how control warps relationships [Monkeyships], how controlling backfires [The more you try to control somebody], how control blocks healthy communication  [Can we talk? No, damn it], and “split-level” relationships [Me first. / Yes, dear].

Bert speaking:)

Family session today.  Sally brought her two kids to meet Steve. 

The girl is twelve, the boy fifteen.  Sally’s worried about their reactions  to her new boyfriend.

The girl’s depressed, the boy angry.  The boyfriend is an active alcoholic.

Steve meets with the kids alone.  He asks how they feel about the boyfriend, whose name is Tim.

“I hate how she acts around him,” the girl says.

“How does she act?” Steve asks.


“I hate how he won’t let her finish an effing sentence,” the boy says. 

“You can curse here,” Steve tells him.

“He won’t let her finish a fucking sentence,” the boy scowls.

None of this surprises Steve, who met Tim last month when Sally brought him in for couples counseling.   At the time Steve diagnosed theirs as a classic narcissist/codependent (or split-level)  relationship, with Tim firmly in the driver’s seat.  Sally did seem scared of displeasing Tim.  And Tim often did interrupt Sally in mid-sentence.

He pointed this out to them.  They never returned as a couple.      

Now he asks the kids, “Have you told Mom how you feel?”

Both shake their heads.

“She won’t listen,” the boy says.  “Tim’s all she cares about.”

“Let’s bring her in and talk about it,” Steve says.

When Sally joins them, Steve tells her the kids have something to tell her, and asks her to just listen.  She nods.  They start. 

Sally cuts them off.  “It’s really hard for me,” she says. 

Steve again asks Sally to just listen.  Again she nods.  Again the kids try. 

Again Sally interrupts.  “Kids, here’s what you don’t understand,” she begins. 

The girl drops her eyes, and sinks back into the sofa cushions.  The boy bites his lip and frowns. 

Sally, oblivious, talks on. 

She has morphed into Tim. 


Steve, I don’t get this.  I thought Sally was a codependent.

She is.

Don’t codependents put other people first?

Well, that’s how it looks on the surface.

But with her kids she acted like Tim.  Why?

Scratch a codependent, find a narcissist.

Excuse me?

I know, it’s confusing.  I’ll explain.

Codependents only seem to put other people first.  What they’re really doing is trying to get their own needs met.  They just don’t think they can do it in an open and honest way. 

So they people-please and caretake and enable in hopes of getting something backSally defers to Tim in hopes he will reciprocate.  She hopes if  she makes him happy he’ll eventually love her in return. 

But underneath she’s as self-preoccupied as Tim is.  And that underlying narcissism is what came out in the session with her kids. 

 So she doesn’t love Tim?  Or her kids, for that matter?

That’s a good question.  The answer depends on how you define “love.”

If you’re talking about love as a feeling, yes, Sally would probably swear that she loves both Tim and the kids.  And since it’s her feeling, who am I to disagree?

But if you mean love as behavior, then I’d say, no, she can’t really love any of them.  Because loving behavior requires a kind of respectful awareness that narcissism doesn’t allow.

How so?   

Narcissism is like trying to drive a car that has a mirror instead of a windshield.

You look out over the dashboard and you see, not streets and traffic and sidewalks and pedestrians, but only your own preferences, feelings and needs.

You’re so preoccupied with those things that you’re don’t see where you’re going, or who you’re running over to get there.

That’s why it’s so painful to be in relationship with a narcissist, either the covert type (like Sally) or the overt type (like Tim). Because both types will run right over you and not even notice the bump.

That’s not what I call love.  More like hit and run.

Want more?

We are all aware of the term “King Baby.” Although the image conjured up by this phrase is someone who’s arrogant, snobbish, demanding, and aloof, the truth is that these are the very men who feel painfully inferior inside. In fact, the more a person displays this “kingly” behavior, the more second-rate he feels.

From Rokelle Lerner’s article “Narcissists and their relationships,” an explanation of the sort of overt narcissism some alcoholics display.


To “qualify” as an inverted narcissist, you must crave to be in a relationship with a narcissist, regardless of any abuse inflicted on you by him/her. You must actively seek relationships with narcissists and only with narcissists, no matter what your (bitter and traumatic) past experience has been. You must feel empty and unhappy in relationships with any other kind of person. 

From Sam Vaknin’s desciption of the sort of codependent — what he calls “The Inverted Narcissist” — who is attracted to relationships with the King Baby type. 


8 responses to “Monkeyships, part 5: Scratch a codependent

  • robk6169

    Respectfull awareness that narc. doesnt allow caught my attention, So my question is how do I become more aware of my narc. I dont want to be a narc. any longer I am really looking to make changes to my personallity or realy work my plan B and you guys help me every week, I never knew the co depedant was a narc. but your explanation makes totall sense thank you so much Steve, you to Burt

    • fritzfreud

      John, you write “How do I become more aware of my narcissism?” My two-part answer:

      (a) Listen for feedback. The universe (especially the people closest to you) will be happy to show you when and how you’re running over somebody’s toes.

      (b) Don’t defend against the feedback. Don’t take it personally. Keep reminding yourself that it’s just information — not criticism, nor rejection, not attack. Remember that it’s essential if you really want to change course. Actually, it’s a kind of gift. Be grateful for it, because it’s what offers you a second chance

  • Marie

    Good Post Steve. Very informative. Finding myself feeling very angry with “Sally” for being involved with an alcoholic and not being more protective of her children.

  • jpbauer

    Great response Steve. Very informative and helpful. And no doubt, keeping a journal to record one’s personal progress in this regard helps to build positive reinforcement with respect to your two-part answer.

  • The birth of Bert « Monkeytraps

    […] It’s a little long.  But Bert likes to tell it because, well, it’s about him.  And as we say,  scratch a codependent, find a narcissist. […]

  • Supplies « Monkeytraps

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  • crear facebook

    Hi there! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay. I’m
    undoubtedly enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

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