One root


In therapy we sometimes talk as if narcissists and codependents come from different planets.

I’ve done it myself.  In one post, for example, I contrasted their relationship behavior as Me First versus Yes, Dear.

I forgot how much they have in common.

Such as?

Well, both are hungry.  Both typically came from families unable to meet their childhood emotional needs.   So they spend their adult lives seeking attention and acceptance, approval and love.

And both are control addicts.  Yes, they control differently – narcissists more overtly, codependents more covertly.  But both spend most of their energy and time trying to transform the reality they’ve got into the reality they want.  And neither is good at going with the flow.

Finally, they’re both self-centered.

Narcissists, of course, are obvious about it.  Look at me.  Ain’t I special?  Gotta love me.

Codependents are more subtle.  You okay?  Anything I can do for you?  Sure, whatever you want.

Their Yes, dear behavior may manifest as people-pleasing, conflict avoidance, emotional dishonesty, self-sacrifice, self-abuse, or any number of other ways of disguising their true selves.

But behind it all is a desperate attempt to feed themselves by manipulating others — to get their needs met in the only way they know, and without much concern for (or even awareness of) how it impacts those they’re manipulating.

They may call it love or respect or being considerate or being nice.  But codependents put others first, not out of altruism, but in hopes that someday someone will return the favor.

So forget all that two-planets stuff.

Think of codependency as narcissism in sheep’s clothing.

And narcissists and codependents as two flowers with one root.

10 responses to “One root

  • juliemac30

    This makes a lot of sense, but don’t co-dependants mature and then resent their partner? I did and the more I learn, the more I see, the more I resent. Uh-oh, the co is becoming the narc!

    • Steve Hauptman

      Actually I think a swing into healthy narcissism — from selfless to selfish — is essential for recovering codependents.
      Kind of like a pendulum pulled too far to the left will compensate by swinging all the way to the right.
      Eventually the pendulum stops swinging and rests at the center. And eventually the recovering codependent centers down too, balanced between extremes, living in neither place but capable of moving towards either as the situation demands.

  • alexis

    Hard to add to this, Steve, ’cause you defined it so thoroughly. My only postscript is that ALL self-centered behavior is juvenile; that adults can be defined [among other ways] as those who have developed to the point that their lives are about something[s] bigger than themselves. In other words, it is the job of all of us to grow up {with the assistance of others, as it’s darn hard [impossible?] to accomplish it alone}.

    • Steve Hauptman

      Given how essential healthy relationships are to emotional maturity, I’m not sure it could be called “growing up” if you DID do it alone.

  • Lisa Marie

    I’m so glad that someone besides me sees that connection. I have been involved in a variety of ways with many narcissists over the years. So much so that I did quite a bit of research about them. I suspected and worried that I was a lot like them in certain ways (been struggling with the codependent thing for years)…I had several close friends and one therapist tell me that was not the case. I believe your post is right on the money. Co-dependents are also pre-disposed to be attracted to, and attract, narcissists.

    • Steve Hauptman

      Thanks, Lisa Marie.
      For a long time I avoided pointing out the connection, since so many codependents see themselves as victimized by narcissists, and I was afraid to offend or confuse them.
      But eventually I realized that (a) my being codependent with codependents was unhelpful, and (b) it’s important that everyone in recovery move past the victim/victimizer view to a recognition of the one root that links the two pathologies — unmet emotional needs.
      Like I like to say:
      We’re all monkeys on this bus.

  • Confession Time: Troll No More | betternotbroken

    […] to check out the post on how narcissism and codependency have the same roots. Check out the post One Root by Steve Hauptman it will really piss you off if you are a codependent and ranting about […]

  • sedge808

    ‘Well, both are hungry. Both typically came from families unable to meet their childhood emotional needs. So they spend their adult lives seeking attention and acceptance, approval and love.’

    how very true.

    ‘Think of codependency as narcissism in sheep’s clothing.’

    i so agree. i’m a CoDA from way back. and know this to be very true for me.
    Gavin. sedge808.

  • Doug

    Another gem. Thanks Steve.
    Your insight is like therapy on steroids.

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